Thursday, March 14, 2013

DVD Review: Rise of the Guardians

I occasionally take flak from my friends because I refuse to judge kids movies differently from other movies, at least on an objective quality level. I will occasionally note that the content for this or that movie is slightly darker or more scary than I might expect (in the same way I might note that a bloody decapitation is pretty brutal for a PG-13 action movie) but overall, I refuse to let movies off the hook for story or character hiccups, just because it’s aimed at kids.

All of this is meant as long form defense against this film’s apparently huge army of fans, because I think this movie was good, not great. It’s certainly quite enjoyable and mostly well made, but it goes have its share of flaws. The plot is concerned a group of guardians (no shit) devoted to protecting the innocence of children the world over. There are perhaps a billion different jokes I could make about that, with varying degrees of tastelessness, so I’m just gonna shut up. Anyway, the team consists of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy and the plot consists of the recruitment of a new member, Jack Frost, to help battle the Boogeyman.

Okay so it’s a simple setup, but it’s a good one (albeit with a mind bogglingly generic title) and it works. The movie hits the ground running, skipping over most of the ‘explaining how things work’ which is usually the most boring aspect of fantasy action movies. It seems to be counting a lot on people getting the basics of everyone’s powers, based on their iconography. The design on most of the characters and their world works solidly, though I will say it’s weird seeing the Sandman as a short fat blonde guy when I’m used to him looking like a tall, thin pale black haired guy with completely black eyes (if you don’t get that reference, I truly pity you). And while this a personal preference, rather than an actual criticism, I like that the movie actually has action, rather than trying to avoid it like a lot of kid’s movies.

The voice actors are all solid, especially Alec Baldwin playing Santa. It’s weird to hear him interpreted with a Russian accent, but it works. Hugh Jackman appears to like the opportunity to use his actual accent (which I find weird, since rabbit overpopulation is destroying Australia, but whatever) and I’m starting to think Isla Fisher is a better voice actress than she is a live action actress. And hey, isn’t it nice to see Chris Pine show some emotion as Jack. Maybe he’s maturing as an actor?

That said the movie is not without it’s issues, mostly in a weirdly wobbly act structure. The movie is really eager to do flight based action and chase sequences, as they show off the 3D animation the best, and that means the second act amounts to a series of mini build ups and climaxes, which isn’t a problem in the second act, but it also means that the movie runs out of steam towards the third act. This isn’t helped by the fact that it begins to fall back on some tiresome clichés towards the climax (no spoilers, but you’ll see what I mean) It’s over eagerness to get to the action also means it undercuts the best part of the movie, IE the interplay between the characters, although I imagine if there are sequels, we’ll get more of that. And while this is, again, more of a personal preference than an actual complaint, I find it annoying that my favorite character (the Tooth Fairy…what? She was the most fun) doesn’t get involved in the combat much. Must have been hard to find applications for her powers?

Despite the (again, painfully generic) title, at the beginning of the movie the Guardians are pretty much done rising, and the movie is much more concerned with building up a franchise. And despite it’s flaws, they have my blessing to make a franchise, because the movie is a lot of fun. So if you’re inclined, definitely give it a watch. If nothing else, it represents a step forward for DreamWorks, as it contains almost no pop culture references. Well one. A little one. Still, worth seeing.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s not going to apologize for liking the Tooth Fairy the best.

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