Release Date: 30th November 2012
Director: Peter Ramsey
Starring: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman
Often regarded as playing second fiddle to Pixar, DreamWorks Animation’s filmography is fraught with significant peaks and troughs. The studio is infamous for generating copious sequels from well-intentioned and well-received releases (see Shrek, Madagascar) resulting in increasing audience dismay and diminishing box office returns. Recent critical successes with How To Train Your Dragon and the Kung Fu Panda films may lend the holiday season-inspired Rise of the Guardians some pre-emptive confidence, but you would do well to avoid what could be this year’s most banal adventure yet.
The premise is legitimately interesting, bringing together an Avengers-like group of protectors based on childhood mythical characters: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost. To keep things fresh, each character is imbued with a post-modern twist — Santa Claus is a Russian mafioso cryptically named ‘North’, Easter Bunny is a 6ft tall hunter with an Australian twang and Sandman is both a stout mute gnome and a capable wizard. Over the course of 97 minutes the Guardians combine forces in order to overthrow Pitch: a shadowy, powerful and malevolent boogyman with an English accent to ensure you know precisely how evil he truly is.
Comparisons to The Avengers are hard to avoid as we are treated to a poorly-emulated attempt at the superhero supergroup format. While Whedon’s script lent itself well to the ensemble cast, Guardians fixates on the origin story of Jack Frost (voiced by an incredibly bored Chris Pine) leaving little screen time for supporting characters aside from some child-friendly quips, hijinx and action sequences. Frost spends most of his time unable to remember where he came from and being filled with pseudo-teenage angst as nobody quite believes in him to the same degree as the other Guardians. His lonely, self-absorbed shtick grows tired fast and could have done with more of a change-up than taking a break every now and then to sled at high-speed or throw snowballs at the audience — which happens all-too-frequently, ruining the pace of the film entirely.
The production feels lazily constructed from both animation and sound perspectives. While obvious care has been paid to the 3D models of central characters the same cannot be said for the host of extras seen throughout, such as the children that reside in Frost’s hometown who look almost unfinished as they stiffly animate, fail to emote and generally lack the detail found in excess elsewhere. Similarly, the sound design seems incredibly thin even in larger action sequences, with a very light foley track drowned out continually by Alexandre Desplat’s relentless score. It is strikingly noticeable and disappointing to see such downfalls in production value given the film’s estimated $150 million budget.
The final scenes fittingly epitomise this laziness, signing off with a monologue that reads as though the writers simply hit ‘Find and Replace’ on Hiccup’s lines from the end of 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon. While there’s no doubt the desired effect was to channel that memorable, emotionally-resonant closer, here it feels out-of-place, forced and so distastefully used that any rare redeeming moments to be found are long forgotten by the time the credits start to roll.