Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

When I was a young ‘un I used to love the Christmas period. Well, I still do, but I used to love it even more and nothing signalled the arrival of Santa Claus (and the birth of some other dude… Ghandi?) than Christmas specials hitting TV and wintry films arriving at the cinema. There was Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street and The Santa Clause to name but three. Yes, the early 1990’s were a golden age for Christmas films. It was also a golden time for The Santa Clause’s Tim Allen who was still enjoying his fame thanks to Home Improvement. Although since then, he donned a space suit and started yabbering on about going to “Infinity” (an impossibility), the loon has been unable to find regular employment. Nowadays however, I rely on Die Hard and Die Hard 2 to get me in the mood for Christmas. Nothing embodies Christmas like Bruce Willis in a vest. So how does Rise of the Guardians fare in bringing about some Christmas cheer… despite being set at Easter?

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians is every child’s fantasy come true. Or I like to think it would be, as kids are a bit “too” mature nowadays and probably fantasise about semi-naked pictures of Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus more than true fantasy. Regardless, Rise of the Guardians follows the exploits of a superteam of Santa Clause / North (Alec Baldwin by way of Moscow), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman (voiceless) as they fight the resurrected evil that is the Boogey Man / Pitch Black (Jude Law). However, to stop the nefarious Pitch Black from eradicating the joy from every child on Earth and shattering their belief in the four heroes, they need the help of a newly selected Guardian: Jack Frost (Chris Pine). But Jack has issues. Cue the story…

The premise certinaly isn’t unoriginal. It’s also quite delectable timing considering how The Avengers have primed audiences for big team ups this year. And how do you get bigger than Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny teaming up? Well, I guess you could pursue South Park’s Super Best Friends route, but we all know how well that would go down nowadays considering who is in that team. He who shall not be named… No, not Voldermort you fool. Someone else. Anyway, getting back on track, the story itself has a nice set up and follows a tale of temptation and redemption. Sure, you’re not going to see a twisting Seven Psychopaths style storyline, and you can probably see every twist and turn coming (it’s a kids’ film after all), but it’s one of those movies that you can switch off and just enjoy for what it is.

Avengers Assemble! Or Guardians Garrison! Whichever.

Avengers Assemble! Or Guardians Garrison! Whichever.

Now I’m going to need to draw on a few other big animated films from this year in order to assess its quality. Namely, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Brave and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. I’m well aware that I’ve reviewed other movies that are “animated” this year, but I’m excluding the stop-motion brilliance of Frankenweenie and the creditable ParaNorman (let’s also forget about Wreck-It Ralph, as I annoyingly have to wait until February to see this thanks to a lapse UK release schedule). So how does it compare? Well, favourably. I wouldn’t say it’s better than those other films per se, but it is different, and is equally enjoyable. This goes for both adults and children. In fact, I’d argue that it’s far more enjoyable for the youngsters than any other animated film this year. Bold statement, but there we go. It combines those childhood fantasies with a superhero-esque team up. How can that not be enjoyable?!

Regular readers will know I never applaud actors for essentially just reading from a script to lend voices to a film and this will be no exception. All voice work is fantastic and I especially loved Alec Baldwin‘s North – beautifully Russian and beautifully funny too. It’s also nice to see Jackman in something a little more “cuddly” than late. I’m sure Les Miserables will alter his image in the public’s eye too (though to me, he’ll always be Wolverine).

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

What I’m more inclined to comment on here is the quality of the animation. Once again, it’s utterly sublime. At least to my eyes. Another fantastic job from the guys at Dreamworks. Hell, if you see Pixar or Dreamworks stamped in front of a movie, you know you’re getting a quality looking piece of work. It doesn’t always tie closely with the quality of the film itself, but is always a reliable gage of animation quality, which is no bad thing.

Although the film was fun overall, I just felt it was a bit vapid in places. It’s hard to put my finger on why this is exactly, but I didn’t leave the screen thinking it was as solid as it could have been. I was engaged, I laughed and I enjoyed it all, but something was lacking for me. Don’t get me wrong, Rise of the Guardians is a solid film and one that probably deserves to be seen this December, especially if you have kids, but it doesn’t leave me as spellbound as it should do. Or maybe I’m just still bitter about not having Wreck-It Ralph in the UK yet. Bah humbug indeed.

All in all, Rise of the Guardians is a beautifully put together Christmas film. It’s just one that’s lacking that biting edge and indeed lacking Christmas itself, despite the copious amounts of snow on show. Considering the film’s set at Easter there’s a hell of a lot of snow on show. I mean, where is it set? Siberia? Considering the thin smattering of Christmassy films on show this year, Rise of the Guardians should be your ideal choice to get you in the mood. Especially if you have children, who’ll simply lap it up.

But me? I’ll be going to Nakatomi Plaza again and “we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”, as Bruce himself says to me on an almost yearly basis. Because, as well know, nothing really represents Christmas like a load of guns, terrorists and Holly McClane ruining John’s December year after year. Yippee-ki-yay turkeystuffer!!

Die Hard at Christmas

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

The animated sequel is something that’s hard to pull off owing to the law of diminishing returns. Each subsequent entry in a franchise seems to scramble for a new hook or new way of breathing life into its core set of characters. Not all of them can pull this off. Whilst Toy Story successfully spawned two sequels (although I think the original is by far the best), other franchises, such as Cars, have produced very lacklustre sequels that were thin on ideas. This year we’ve seen two of the “B-list” animated franchises: Ice Age and now Madagascar. Whilst I really enjoyed Ice Age: Continental Drift (so did the box office), others lambasted it for being so thin on character and featuring another nonsensical plot. So how does Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted stack up in comparison?

For those unfamiliar with the series so far, it follows a collection of animals on their wild adventures. There’s Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), as well as a couple of other oddballs including a battalion of penguins and an eccentric lemur called King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen). In the past we’ve seen them find a way to get out of a New York zoo and wind up in Madagascar. They then decided they didn’t like it there so tried to fly back home, but got dumped in mainland Africa. And now we see them once again trying to get back to New York, but by way of Europe by serendipitously joining the circus to evade the clutches of Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). She’s a bit like Ace Ventura pet detective, but way less likeable, wears less amazing clothes and generally likes to kill her captured animals. OK, so not like Ace… this comparison doesn’t fit… like a glove.

Yep, all pretty regular behaviour…

So there you have it, the typical eccentric plot of a threequel, but how does it fair? Surprisingly well, I must say. It seems like the writers have thrown caution to the wind and embraced every wild idea they could come up with on their late night benders. You want Chris Rock singing an incredibly annoying song about polka dots and afros? You got it! You want a giraffe and a hippo to fall in love and do the tightrope together? You got it! You want a lemur to fall in love with a grizzly bear that rides around on a children’s tricycle? You got it! Yes, the ideas are bombastic and absurd, but they work beautifully in the context of the film.

Now, for me, the biggest thing that I dislike about a film starring Chris Rock is Chris Rock. I just don’t get his humour – it really grates on me. People tell me he’s the “new Eddie Murphy” – but I like Eddie Murphy; that guy has charisma and is genuinely funny. I can’t say the same for Rock, especially in his stand-up. However, all of his utterances that caused me to squirm in my seat are already in the trailer; thus eliminating his annoyances from the film itself as I’d already seen them / heard his schtick. With that said, all of the cast are great – but as ever, this is just voice acting… it’s pretty hard to commend someone for “great acting abilities” if all they’re doing is reading lines. It is funny how this is Ben Stiller‘s best work in quite some time though. I really hope that guy catches a break soon so he can be acting in genuinely funny films again. I just hope the Adam Sandler effect hasn’t enveloped him yet.

What makes the film so fun is the characterisation and therefore the humour. All of the animals’ personalities are conveyed so well on screen owing to the writing and choice of accents / actors. Although once again it’s probably Sacha Baron Cohen that steals the most laughs with his always-eccentric Julian and absurdly Robin Williams-esque accent. His character’s romance with Sonya the grizzly bear is both humourous and at times quite touching (once you get through the absurdity of a tutu-ed bear on a tricycle). Also, mention has to go to the visuals. I’ve never thought of the Madagascar series as being mind-blowingly beautiful but there are some spectacular scenes in there that just look fantastic.

If I’m honest, I found the film as humourous as Ice Age: Continental Drift, but without the “slow” moments. Madagascar 3 doesn’t know where the brake pedal is and hurtles along at a rapid pace. This therefore eliminates the weaknesses I saw in Ice Age: Continental Drift – the slow romance scenes with the young mammoths. Therefore kudos must be given for the pacing of this film, which makes it even more suitable for the youngsters in the audience. In a year that’s seen so many “mature” animated films, it’s great to see something that is aimed at the kids, as opposed to aiming at the adults. Sure, there are laughs to be had for us more mature folks, but it’s not expressly for us. And that’s what makes it a great watch.

With Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted I think you know what you’re getting yourself in for when you purchase the ticket… it’s about talking animals. And it ably delivers on its aims of entertainment. Whilst it’s by no means going to catapult the franchise into the upper echelons and make it as note-worthy as Toy Story, it’s definitely injected fresh life into the premise. I just wonder where they’ll go from here…

And who doesn’t like some wild speculation on that fact? I don’t think they’ll go the totally bonkers route that Ice Age has pursued… but who knows. I’m sure the writing team have read the reviews praising their off-the-wall humour, so maybe we will? Aliens? Dinosaurs? Space? Who knows where we’ll be heading next!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star