Amid the slew of predictable Yuletide fare, it is diverting when an original holiday film emerges, yet despite being blessed with a livewire premise, DreamWorks’ hotly anticipated Rise of the Guardians summarily squanders its promise by way of an oddly bland screenplay. Pitched as a more kiddie-friendly take on The Avengers, Guardians brings together the cream of the crop of children’s mythic heroes – Santa Claus, Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and The Sandman – for a superhero super-group that relies on children’s capacity to believe in them, yet even kids might have trouble getting invested in this surprisingly dull animated film.
While there are a few nice ideas – such as making Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) Eastern-European, and giving the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) an Aussie accent – Rise of the Guardians simply isn’t very interesting, largely because the conflict throughout is so benign. The Guardians, who have just recruited protagonist Jack Frost (Chris Pine) as their newest member, are bestowed with power because kids believe in them, and if this belief fades, so too do their powers, so the villain, Pitch (Jude Law), attempts to eradicate that belief. Pitch fleets in and out of the film indiscriminately with a sub-Voldemort sense of presence and menace (if voiced with commanding gusto by Law), while his motives are vague and forgettable.
Through and through, the film’s problem is with scripting; the gag rate is exceedingly low and it just doesn’t have the narrative chicanery needed to pull off its ambitious premise. Furthermore, the banter between the heroes lacks zing and is mostly procedural; there’s none of the frantic squabbling within the group that made Joss Whedon’s The Avengers such a hoot. Vocal performances, meanwhile, are largely rendered anonymous despite boasting a roster of top-shelf talent because of the script’s pronounced lack of wit. However, at the end of the day, it’s Chris Pine’s fatal miscasting in the lead role – his deep, raspy voice sounding distractingly inappropriate for a teenage boy – that really sinks the whole thing.
All this said, Rise of the Guardians is hardly an exhausting sit; it is gorgeously animated for the most part, and stands as one of the best recent arguments for 3D, unsurprising given DreamWorks’ sublime dimensional work on How to Train Your Dragon. It’s just a shame that its visual invention is not matched by the script, which goes through the motions of an epic “event” movie, yet has little of real ingenuity or originality to offer beyond the premise itself. Several of the most successful aspects feel derived from superior animated films; Santa Claus’ elves, for instance, with their diminutive size and brash clumsiness, are a clear effort to evoke the same sort of fanfare that Despicable Me’s minions have earned.
Were it not for the immaculate 3D and dynamic direction, DreamWorks’ latest might have been a complete failure; as it stands, it is a hugely disappointing waste of a grand premise. All style and no substance, Rise of the Guardians’ gorgeous visual presentation boasts a lot more dimension than its underwhelming script.
Rise of the Guardians is in UK cinemas November 30th.
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