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By Daniel Lammin
8th April 2013

I doubt anyone was more surprised by the tremendous artistic and critical success of Dreamworks’ ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ (2010) than the Dreamworks team themselves. Long working in the immense shadow of Pixar, they had finally created a work of animation so accomplished that not only stood up against the best of Pixar, but in some cases exceeded it. Their latest animated event, ‘Rise of the Guardians’, appears to be an attempt to replicate that success, the horrid pop-culture references of early shockers like ‘Shark Tale’ (2004) and the later Shrek films done away with and replaced by epic visuals and a stronger artistic vision.

The film takes the four great mythological figures of childhood, Santa Claus aka ‘North’ (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny aka ‘Bunny’ (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy aka ‘Tooth’ (Ilsa Fisher) and the Sandman aka ‘Sandy’, and teams them together as the Guardians, protectors of the hopes and dreams of children. When the boogeyman, Pitch Black (Jude Law), threatens of dreams of children all over the world, the Guardians are forced to seek the help of Jack Frost (Chris Pine), a rogue spirit of snow and ice still trying to figure out where he fits in the world.


It’s a big story with epic potential, and director Peter Ramsey takes full advantage of this. Visually, ‘Guardians’ is one of the most beautiful and striking animated films yet, not aiming for the tiresome realism of the early 2000s, but a more painterly, artistic approach. The scale of the action sequences is immense, and having Roger Deakins as your visual consultant and Guillermo del Toro as your producer always helps. Composer Alexandre Desplat also helps out with a terrific and sweeping score.

For all its visual majesty, however, ‘Rise of the Guardians’ falters and trips on its content, the result being a surprisingly empty film. David Lindsay-Abaire’s screenplay is unexpectedly awful, crippled with horribly obvious clichés and some terrible dialogue. Jude Law in particular suffers from the sub-par writing, the beautiful venom of his voice completely at odds with the dull lifelessness of the words coming out of his mouth. The film leaps from set-piece to set-piece, but assumes that with these sets of characters and their ideological conceits, the heart will come with it. Unfortunately, they assume wrong, and hearing these characters speak of "hope" and "believing" so often just emphasises how much the film is lacking both of these ideals.

‘Rise of the Guardians’ leaves you feeling relatively unfulfilled.

Everything is played to the mantra of "bigger is better", but in almost every case, bigger certainly isn’t better; more often it's distracting and tedious. While ‘Dragon’ swept us up in its grandeur, daring and tremendous emotional power, ‘Rise of the Guardians’ leaves you feeling relatively unfulfilled, and with little memory of what you just watched. If Dreamworks hopes to continue to build on the success of ‘Dragon’, they need to first work out what it was they got right in the first place. ‘Guardians’, unfortunately, demonstrates none of that.

A film as visually breathtaking as this deserves only the best Blu-ray can offer, and Paramount have spared nothing in its 1080p 1.78:1 transfer. The painterly tones and textures of the film come vividly to life with stunning clarity, especially when dealing with Jack’s ice worlds and Pitch’s nightmare kingdoms. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track is also a success, robust and electric, especially when it comes to Desplat’s score. ‘Guardians’ is also available in Blu-ray 3D.

Animated films rarely offer much in terms of scholarly extras, and ‘Guardians’ is no exception. There are around forty-five minutes of production featurettes, covering the visual conception of the film and how these mythic figures were reinterpreted, but never delving very far. The filmmaker’s commentary provides a bit more detail on the filmmaking. The disc also offers two games and a selection of trailers for other Dreamworks Animation films. Slight stuff, but worth at least a watch.

RELEASE DATE: 10/04/2013
RUN TIME: 1h 37m
CAST: Hugh Jackman - E. Aster Bunnymund
Chris Pine - Jack Frost
Alec Baldwin - North
Isla Fisher - Tooth
Jude Law - Pitch
DIRECTOR: Peter Ramsey
WRITERS: William Joyce
David Lindsay-Abaire
PRODUCERS: Nancy Bernstein
Christina Steinberg
SCORE: Alexandre Desplat
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