It’s a pity that if a CGI animated movie doesn’t have the Pixar name or a bunch of annoying talking animals, it’s almost destined to fall behind at the box office.
Such was the case with last year’s “Rise of the Guardians,” which comes from the mind of awesome children’s book author William Joyce, who also won an Oscar last year for his short “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.” It’s out this week on DVD and Blu-ray.
“Rise of the Guardians” was produced by the folks at Dreamworks animation, and the film is positively dreamy. And I don’t say that just because the Sandman is a main character.
Inexplicably, it wasn’t included with the Oscar nominees for animated picture. (I don’t think it should have won, but it was better than “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”)
Hopefully with the Easter Bunny a prominent character (and a couple cute, wind-up Easter eggs in some packages), it will appear in a lot of Easter baskets to delight an audience that may have missed it at the theater.
In the movie, the mythical icons of childhood are real characters and are tasked by the Man in the Moon with protecting children and their dreams, as long as the kids believe. The big four are North (aka Santa Claus, Alec Baldwin), the Bunnymund (aka the Easter Bunny, Hugh Jackman), Toothiana (aka the Tooth Fairy, Isla Fisher) and the Sandman, who’s silent but still wonderfully expressive with his dream sand.
The story is told from the point of view of Jack Frost (Chris Pine), who’s called to join the Guardians in the fight against Pitch (Jude Law), aka the Boogeyman, who wants to bring fear into the hearts of the world’s children and make them stop believing in the Guardians.
Jack Frost’s feeling a bit lost as he wanders around and tries to figure out his place in the world. That’s something we can all relate to, and it gives the film instant appeal. When he’s called to duty, he balks at the responsibility in (stereo)typical teen fashion, and we follow his journey from neophyte to hero, with some help in the human world by the name of Jamie (Dakota Goyo), who refuses to stop believing.
But a movie needs more than a great story. In this case, it’s got some top-notch voice work and brilliantly inventive animation. All the actors do a fantastic job of bringing their characters to life, even Baldwin’s silly Russian accent.
But the animators went a step beyond to create an incredible world for these characters to interact in. North’s workshop is level after level of wonder — better than I ever imagined it. Bunny’s warren is ancient and filled with color — not just the eggs. Tooth’s kingdom is a stunning conglomeration of floating buildings. It’s just one beautiful landscape after another. Even Pitch’s home has a dark beauty. And it was interesting to learn about all the real-world influences on the architecture in the bonus features.
When Sandman brings out his sand, the screen lights up with wonder. And when Pitch corrupts it, the results are dark but still amazing. The movie is worth watching for the visuals alone.
Sure, the movie has humor, heart and all that good stuff, but I like that it’s a bit of a different message from other modern animated films. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was until I watched the extras and someone mentioned that the cliche message is to believe in yourself, but this film wants you to believe in something else. It’s OK to dream and believe in the things that help you hold on to the best parts of childhood.
And that’s a message that always bears repeating.