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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 01:19 pm

Rousing visuals and heartfelt message in soaring Guardians

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When people console me for having to see every movie that comes out, even the ones that make going in for a root canal look like a more enjoyable option, I tell them that this aspect of being a film critic is not so bad. I know that if I keep my expectations low where movies like this are concerned there are times when I will be pleasantly surprised.

Such is the case with Peter Ramsey’s Rise of the Guardians, an absolutely delightful and at times wondrous animated feature that effectively reminds us that perhaps the most precious thing that children possess is the ability to have faith and hope in the inexplicable. Going in, I feared the worse what with an adventure that finds Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman joining forces to combat seemingly unstoppable evil. Gimme a break – is this the Fairy Tale Avengers? And while it does borrow some aspects from the Marvel blockbuster, at least the script by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the book by William Joyce, recreates the best part of that entertainment, namely the way the characters initially clash but then are able to put personal issues aside to form a cohesive unit.

The individuals of the group couldn’t be any more different and it’s their differing personalities that propel the film. Their disparate points of view and methods generate one conflict after another. Santa (voice by Alec Baldwin) is a burly gregarious monster of a man, surely of Nordic descent, whose lumberjack arms and barrel-like chest belie the fact that he’s nothing but an overgrown child. The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is a very large Australian rabbit with a chip on his shoulder who feels the big guy at the North Pole constantly overshadows his efforts. The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) is joy personified, gleeful over each molar, incisor and fang she and her helpers collect and store, as they contain childhood memories that, at times, need to be tapped into. Finally, the Sandman says not a word. He lets his work do the talking and may be the most powerful of the group as his sleep potions conquer all and he is the dispenser of dreams.

Their very existence is threatened by Pitch (voice by Jude Law), who controls the darkness and feeds on the fear of people. Jealous that the other Guardians have brought hope and light to the world, thus causing folks’ belief in him to wane, this boogeyman begins a campaign intent on making children believe in him by causing them to lose faith in the other guardians. Thus he prevents teeth from being collected, turns the dreams of children into nightmares and does his best to make sure Easter eggs aren’t delivered. And while this plan seems to be on the road to success, a wildcard, Jack Frost (Chris Pine) may have the power to thwart it. Irresponsible and only intent of causing turmoil, he’s been told he’s in line to join the guardian’s exclusive club, but he’s not buying it, unwilling to give up his autonomy and unsure that he truly deserves such a title.

Ramsey does a great job combining humor, poignancy and wonder without letting any of these elements become overwhelming or cloying. Santa’s workshop is a treasure trove of laughs as the brigade of clueless elves, all equipped with pointy heads and bells, pull one bonehead move after another while his Yetis, the real toymakers, blunder about, with one of the poor hairy creatures constantly screwing up one order after another. Santa’s gregarious nature is in keeping with his oversized physicality and it’s obvious Baldwin is having great fun here, employing a Germanic accent, which runs counter to the character’s optimistic nature. However, the actor delivers the film’s most touching moment when he explains just what purpose he and his cohorts serve. He explains the importance of fostering a sense of wonder in children. Make no mistake, he delivers a full performance here and it’s an absolute delight to hear.

Yet beneath all the astounding sights on hand (check out Santa’s workshop or the dreams contained in the granular wisps the Sandman dispenses every night) is a plea to maintain a sense of hope in the world even when all seems to be going to the dogs. Nurturing the notion that goodness can conquer all and that faith that positive things can happen even when things seem dire is hardly an original sentiment. But it is one that we can’t hear enough of and Rise succeeds handsomely in delivering this message with such earnestness that it may just convert some of the nonbelievers among us. 

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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