One of the joys of being a child is feeling safe simply by believing. They can go to bed happy night after night by simply having faith in unseen protectors, who shower them with gifts and sweet dreams. Many of us may have left this behind after learning life’s harsh lessons, but it is this feeling of snug sanctuary that permeates throughout Rise of the Guardians – and gives it a spark of cinematic magic.
The story is a nice mishmash of our favourite childhood heroes. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and the Sandman – known here as North, Tooth, Bunnymund and Sandy – are the Guardians charged with keeping the children away from those that would do them harm. But when Pitch the Bogeyman returns stronger than ever, they turn to the carefree Jack Frost to bolster their forces and defeat Pitch once and for all. It is not a particularly ground-breaking plot, after all, Avengers Assemble already gave us a great example of a bunch of renegade heroes working together to fend off a charismatic British-sounding villain. The beauty of Guardians is not in its originality – or lack thereof – but in its unabashed tribute to the joys of being young again. No matter your level of cynicism (or maturity, if you want to be diplomatic), sequences like the introduction to Santa’s workshop will definitely make you smile and long for the happier days of pre-adolescence.
The character designs are fantastic, and strike the right balance between updating our heroes with some really cool tweaks and keeping the classic motifs that made them loveable in the first place. Some of the subtler details, like Santa’s Naughty and Nice tattoos and Jack’s frost patterns, are downright stunning. Even the minor characters, like Santa’s elves and the baby tooth fairies, are great though it would be stretching it to suggest they create the same levels of adoration as the Minions in Despicable Me. The voice acting is pitch perfect – although a certain silent little man steals the show as the most endearing animated character of the year. It was definitely helped by the actual dialogue, which was funny (like the Tooth Fairy gushing over Jack Frost), appropriately sombre when it needed to be (like when the Guardians begin to face the possibility of being forgotten) and never saccharine or over-done. As far as the use of 3D goes, it is nothing special; Rise of the Guardians is no Hugo when it comes to making the best of the format. That being said, watching Sandman create his dreams with just that little added bit of depth left you with a sense of awe.
Rise of the Guardians might be predictable as far the storyline goes, but the story-telling is absolutely brilliant. It definitely bodes well for Peter Ramsey, for whom this is a first-time feature as a director, and a little Oscar love come February would not be surprising. As for this intrepid writer, a firm non-believer in out-of-sight magical heroes since hitting “adulthood” at the age of thirteen, a sizeable chunk of my childhood has been brought back. I will go to bed happy tonight, my faith in the Guardians fully restored.