Christmas 2014: Rise of the Guardians
Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy team up to fight for children's belief against the assuredly-British and delectably-evil Pitch Black.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ Part way through the film it's dropped that the majority of the events take place at Easter. However, with Jack Frost's main powers being related to snow and ice, and the large helping of appearances from Santa Claus, it's hard not to think of this as a Christmas film. For sure, we've learnt that Michigan gets more than its fair share of cold weather.
Of course, Christmas spirit is more than just featuring tropes from the festive season. The real weight of Christmas comes from bringing people together, spreading joy and happiness, and seeking to make good on your mistakes over the previous year. These are all things that Rise deals with, as we see Jack Frost not only discover himself, but find a new group of friends who he likes and respects, and with whom he'll seek to bring further joy and mirth to the world.
Christmas too is about entertaining children, so animated films with funny characters kind of automatically get a free pass.
Ho-ho-who's in it?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Being an animated film, I'm jointly judging the voicework, animation and character design here.
Alec Baldwin stands out as MVP for voice casting. He excels as the beefy, tattooed and clearly Russian Santa Claus, bringing a perfect mixture of charm and wisdom to the role. He also sounds nothing like the Alec Baldwin we've known 30 Rock or Hunt for the Red October. (For those intrigued, you can witness some in-the-booth action.)
Jude Law also excels as the antagonist of the flick, Pitch Black. With his very over-pronounced accent, he reminds us of quite how well Brits can fit the bad-guy role. The rest of the cast are perfectly suitable, though don't stand out as much as those two. Hugh Jackman plays the (Australian) Easter Bunny, Isla Fisher fills the role of the Tooth Fairy and various children play the supporting cast.
The characters themselves are delightful. The interpretation of Santa particularly stands out to me: he's a bit more rugged, more brutish, than we're used to, yet he is still clearly driven my bringing joy to the children of the world. Ultimately, it's nice to see someone mix up the formula a bit, and to do it so well. Equally, much more character is brought to the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, which all fits in with the highly stylised world that they inhabit.
In animated films, there are often smaller characters who travel in large packs and add some comic value to the scenario (this is most played by Despicable Me which puts these minions front and centre). Rise is no different, boasting four such underling creations: Yetis, elves, fairies and walking Easter eggs. All of them are adorable and, per their role, make up some of the funniest visual and one-shot gags. My favourite of the bunch are the yeti, who have some fantastic anatomical design and animation.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ If I had kids, I wouldn't hesitate to show them this. Batting it at a PG for "mild threat and language", it's suitable for the whole family and a whole lot of fun to boot. Whilst clearly being aimed at the children's market, there's a lot of enjoyment to be had for all, and the group of 20-somethings I watched it with had several laugh-out-loud moments.
Rise plays on the idea of children believing in characters like Santa, resolving that – even if you can't see them all the time – you should have faith that they'll be there for you when you need them. It takes a supernatural approach to each of the characters and ultimately provides a good moral message to not losing faith in something you believe in because of one small hiccup.
More importantly, it's cute as all heck.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ No Christmas music, because the film doesn't actually take place at Christmas.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I had a really good time with this film. It's not going to go down as a huge classic, but it's a really solid animated film that I'm surprised I'd never heard of before. This is the best family film we've had in a long time.