Rise of the Guardians is an animated, family-themed version of The Avengers. In both films, a team of superhuman beings join forces to defeat an evil threat (one with a dashing British accent) before it can destroy the world. But rather than featuring superhero characters only some audiences are familiar with, in Guardians the team is made up of mythical beings such as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and the Sandman.

Directed by Peter Ramsey, written by David Lindsay-Abaire and co-produced by Guillermo Del Toro, Rise of the Guardians is full of wonder and excitement.  The myths of these characters build off our preconceptions to create an imaginative world that’s both gorgeous to look at and teeming with possibilities. If anything, the film’s biggest downfall is that it is so dead-set on creating audience excitement through elaborate action set pieces that it ends up losing a little steam and resonance. Read more after the jump.

While Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Sandman comprise the Guardians, none of them are the main character. That’s Jack Frost (Chris Pine), who begins the film as a newly-born mythic creature desperate to find his purpose outside of creating ice, wind and snow. He’s given that chance when he’s recruited to the Guardians to help defeat Pitch Black (Jude Law), a character who aims to strike fear in the hearts of children. The same children the Guardians are tasked with protecting.

Even before the conflict arises, the film is paced like a high-speed locomotive. Simple scenes of exposition are told with sweeping camera moves and lots of 3D animation bursting from the frame. Each of the characters are given very distinctive character traits, making it easy for the audience to pick out and relate to favorites among the Guardians.

While most of Rise of the Guardians is filled with high speed flights across rooftops or huge, epic fights, that’s not the best stuff. The film really shines when our previous knowledge of these long-standing characters is used as a basis to build the film’s world. We all know the Tooth Fairy takes teeth and leaves money, but did you know teeth contain our memories? Of course Santa Claus builds toys at the North Pole, but did you know about his army? The Easter Bunny is associated with eggs, but how does he paint them? At every turn the film enriches our preconceived notions of what these characters can do, making them increasingly interesting.

Then there’s Frost, a character with no real canonoized backstory and that’s exactly the point. He’s a mystery, unsure of his place, and he’s desperate for people to notice and like him. In this, Guardians has built a character that is flawed, possibly corruptible, but very powerful with a penchant for good. His character arc is what keeps the fantastic grounded in real emotions, giving the film its heart.

Even with that heart beating, Guardians is filled with so much kinetic energy and momentum, it can be exhausting. When it reaches the climactic battle, the encounter doesn’t feel much more exciting than several of the previous scenes. It’s still fun – especially when the film’s message is wrapped into it – but the pacing is detrimental to the overall effect.

There’s also the danger of going into the film with no personal connection to these characters, and the film doesn’t really help you with that. If you never believed in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy as a child, you won’t particularly care now. Still, if you did believe at any time, Rise of the Guardians is an action packed ride through your childhood and back again.

/Film Rating 7.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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