Lackluster "Guardians" Aimed Squarely At Young Audiences

“Rise Of The Guardians” is a phone-in of the highest order, just interesting and colorful enough to hold a child’s attention for 90 minutes but a thundering bore for anyone that’s been around the cinematic block. In a world of truly inventive animated films (we’ve been spoiled in the last fifteen years), “Guardians” seems inexplicably intent on being forgotten. It’s a repackaging of public domain characters (not an inherently bad idea) with a few nice ideas sprinkled on top, but the story is listless and the film’s voice actors sound like they’d rather be anywhere else but in a recording booth. It’s bad enough that the film is a chore, but even more unfortunately, some real talent was wasted in the process.

Based on a series of children’s books by William Joyce, “Guardians” was directed by longtime storyboard artist Peter Ramsey, who’s worked on films like “Men In Black,” “Fight Club,” and “Minority Report.” This is his directorial debut, but he definitely brought a unique, confident visual eye to the project. Many of the characters look familiar in their own Dreamworks Animation way, but the visuals are lush enough to occasionally distract from the tedious storytelling. The titular Guardians are voiced by Alec Baldwin (North – Santa Claus), Hugh Jackman (Bunny – the Easter Bunny), Isla Fisher (Tooth – the Tooth Fairy), Chris Pine (Jack Frost), and Jude Law (Pitch – the Boogeyman). Pine is the standout in the film’s lead role, but Law’s work is solid, too.

It’s Baldwin (in a thick Bavarian accent) and Jackman (in his regular Australian accent) that disappoint. If you’re hiring a voice actor to play up Santa’s Germanic origins, you don’t hire Alec Baldwin. It’s inevitable that studios are going to hire name actors in order to promote their films, but there are plenty of professional voice actors that would have done an infinitely better job (for a lot less money). The reliably lively Jackman similarly fails to register, and the oddity of an Australian Easter Bunny is brushed off with one line of dialogue. I’m sure it wasn’t written that way. It just didn’t matter. And it certainly doesn’t help that none of the dialogue is witty or even mildly funny.

The narrative follows Jack Frost as he comes to terms with his gift for mischief (through controlling the weather). None of the world’s children believe in him so he remains unseen (his name is dismissed as an expression), but his effects are felt nonetheless. When the Boogeyman starts wreaking havoc on kids’ dreams, Jack is made a Guardian and joins forces with his more famous brethren. A mute Mr. Sandman is also along for the ride, presumably mute because… what does anyone know about Mr. Sandman? Some attention is given to Jack’s previous life and why he can’t remember anything about it, but the story is mostly one-track and becomes tedious in a hurry. Thusly, the picture alternates between being action-oriented (its high points) and relentlessly talky (its low points).

Guillermo Del Toro acted as an executive producer on “Rise Of The Guardians,” making its shortcomings even more perplexing. His films are rarely short on imagination, but this one is entirely lacking any kind of spark. Some weird creative choices only confuse things further. Why is this ostensibly Christmas-themed movie set at Easter? Why are pony-tailed Yetis doing all of Santa’s toy making? However, the film’s simplicity makes it ideal for the youngest of audiences, who should react well to the animation and easily understandable plot. As long as parents aren’t expecting something that’s equally suited for them, they should be able to make it through without falling asleep.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: November 21, 2012
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Director: Peter Ramsey
Screenwriter: David Lindsay-Abaire
Starring: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law
MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some mildly scary action)