"Rise of the Guardians" is based on the more indelibly titled book "The Guardians of Childhood" by William Joyce, but the name isn't the only thing that's been rendered forgettable in this uninspired computer-animated adaptation. The very idea behind the storythe joining-together of Old St. Nick with, among others, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairyimmediately zaps a person's imagination into overdrive at all of the limitless possibilities that could be done with such a premise. For the most part, however, it's a wasted concept that fails to take advantage of its own originality. Combine this with disappointingly off-putting character designs, a frantic pace that needs to slow its roll, and a distinct lack of holiday spiritall of the trailers and ads promoting the picture as a Christmas movie are lyingand what is left more resembles a stocking filled with coal rather than gifts and candy.
In a world where mythological figures such as Santa Claus, named North (voiced by Alec Baldwin); the Easter Bunny, named Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman); the Tooth Fairy, named Tooth (Isla Fisher), and the silent Sandman, named Sandy, coexist to bring peace and joy to children everywhere, Pitch (Jude Law) is the resident Boogeyman, an evil and conniving figure who wants to steal the innocence from believers. As the lights of faith and hope begin to go out across the globe, North, Bunnymund, Tooth and Sandy seek the help of Jack Frost (Chris Pine), a lonely spirit with the ability to freeze everything he touches. Jack is delighted that his new friends can see himhe is invisible to almost all regular peoplethen finds newfound purpose as he, his fellow guardians, and one special young boy named Jamie (Dakota Goyo) who still believes set out to put a stop once and for all to Pitch's devious plan.
"Rise of the Guardians" is the directorial debut of storyboard artist Peter Ramsey (2004's "Shark Tale
"), believe it or not the first black filmmaker to ever helm a major computer-animated feature. The screenplay is credited to David Lindsay-Abaire (2010's "Rabbit Hole
"), who one might assume would avoid kiddification for an added dose of maturity. There are certainly elements that dare to go as dark as Pitch's name, the most poignant and stirring being the flashbacks to Jack Frost's past and his path from ordinary boy to supernatural entity. Actually, Jack is the only character to live up to his fullest abilities; as the movie's lead protagonist, he is sympathetic and easy to care about. This unfortunately does not extend to the rest of the ensemble, with Santa reimagined as a muscled, tattooed Russian guy without a missus or any of the warmth that one would expect from the red-suited big guy; the Easter Bunny turned into some sort of boomerang-slinging warrior; and the Tooth Fairy made up to look like a gaudy nymphet. Villain Pitch's look is also botched; when one thinks of the boogeyman, it's safe to say the mind doesn't immediately wander to an image of a dark-haired emo kid with a bad attitude.
In addition to the weak characters, the respective places where they live before teaming up are also undercooked and unexplored. All that we see of Santa's North Pole home is a big cottage on a mountain and a scene or two in the elves' toy shop (speaking of the elves, they come off as unfunny rip-offs of the yellow minions from 2010's "Despicable Me
," whether that's the case or not). Bunnymund's hometown looks to consist of random patches of grass on the ground. Tooth is amusing just once, as she gets lost while gazing upon another character's chompers, but otherwise is a standard-issue fairy with few defining traits. The cast's voice work fits the movie's visualization of each figure, but this, too, is simply an extension of would-be hip twists on well-known symbols of childhood that were bad ideas to begin with. Alec Baldwin (2012's "Rock of Ages
") makes for a distinctly annoying North, while the natural charms and comedic timing of Isla Fisher (2012's "Bachelorette
"), such a standout voicing Beans in 2011's "Rango
," is rendered null and void here. Chris Pine (2012's "This Means War
") wins by default, since his Jack Frost is also the one successful lead who grows to become more than a two-dimensional gimmick.
Full disclosure: at the Saturday morning advance screening where "Rise of the Guardians" was seen by yours truly, there was enthusiastic audience applause at the end. Little kids may like it because it's colorful, things move around on the screen an awful lot, and it reaffirms for them the existence of Santa, the Easter Bunny, et. al. What it didn't do, save for in the Jack Frost scenes set three hundred years ago, is emotionally involve. At all. The film improves as it nears the end, but when compared to a like-minded classic like 2004's "The Polar Express
," it pales enormously. Cold and distant, "Rise of the Guardians" smells like a project completed by committee, its quirkiness either shaved off or the wrong kind. When all is said and done, there isn't a whole lot worth remembering.