To borrow loosely from the holiday classic film “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and now he has tattoos.”
The new visual upgrades are the artistic handiwork of director Peter Ramsey, who has the distinction of being the first African-American man to helm an animated feature film. Certainly not a small feat and a well-earned one.
I love a good underdog story, and there is nothing better than a group of immortals fighting to maintain the delicate balance of good versus evil.
On holiday cue, now playing at a theater near you is “Rise of the Guardians,” an animated film that brings together Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman.
It’s been earning solid box-office buzz, and with the family holidays season right on top of us, I recommend you place this first on your movie choice list.
Ramsey’s movie has just enough genuine childhood wonder, stunning color, well placed jokes and high-tech theatrics to make it a delight. More to the point, it’s worth your holiday time and holiday money.
Here is the skinny: The aforementioned immortals, the Guardians, are about to gain a new, somewhat clueless member: Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), a handsome, punkish kid who enjoys turning almost anything into ice and doesn’t really jive with the antiquated honor codes that the rest of the magical collective lives by.
A generation gap between immortals. OK. I buy it.
The Easter Bunny (voiced by the smooth Hugh Jackman with his melting Australian accent) doesn’t think much of young Jack. The Tooth Fairy and her baby teeth team of fairy workers have an instant crush. It’s not his wavy blonde hair or matinee idol good looks. It’s the shine of his perfectly flossed, pearly white teeth.
Cue the bad guy. He’s super bad—the one, the only Pitch Black, aka the bogeyman (voiced by U.K. export Jude Law). Black is the color and black is the mood that Pitch spreads. He wants to destroy all good childhood dreams and replace them with lingering nightmares and perpetual darkness.
Well, not on the Guardians’ watch. These Christmas-loving, Easter egg-hunting, money exchanging for a lost tooth Guardians are going to fight for the good of all children and, frankly, they need help, even if it’s “Jack Frost, nipping at your nose” help.
The story is based on a series of books written by children’s author William Joyce, and the screenplay written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire delivers strong characters that you actually care about along with a solid plot.
Poor Jack, like most teenagers, has no idea who he is. The story opens with him testing his powers, but when he discovers he is invisible to the people around him, his word turns chilly indeed. No one believes in him. “Jack Frost nipping at your nose” and a few snow days to his credit is all most kids know.
No one wants to be ignored for eternity, so there’s a nice amount of pathos for us to care about Jack’s fate. A warm heart can feel his pain every time a kid passes through his spectral frame without noting his existence.
Here, the skill of the screenwriter is evident. Part of Pitch’s plan to defeat all of the Guardians is fiendishly simple: Stop hope. Stop faith. Stop the children from believing in all of them, just like they do with Jack Frost.
This film has a lush villain; it’s one of the best things about the flick. He is scary in both intent and his look. Visually, Pitch is always shrouded in darkness and followed around by black clouds that suck the life force out of whatever they touch. The design team knows how to make raw fear artistic and interesting. It works.
A solid story in place, the dazzling 3-D eye candy arrives in full DreamWorks Animation force. Under Ramsey’s direction, there are great performances. Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin with a Russian accent) has a sled that travels at warp speed. He also has funny, hard-working elves and Yeti honor guards. (Yes, that’s another name for Big Foot.) The Sandman has skills and is not afraid of the big, bad bogeyman. Nice touch for such a small figure who never utters a single word.
This is a good-looking film. Under the visual guidance of Roger Deakins and Guillermo del Toro, who served as technical guides, you expect nothing less than stunning, and it delivers!
There is no disappointment in “Rise of the Guardians,” except maybe having to wait for the sequel and the reveal of the identity of “the man on the moon.” This is a hip take on a classic, and I’m casting my vote that in installment No. 2, we’ll discover the man in the moon is actually a shape-shifting woman.
You can bet there will be a sequel—just ask the man in the moon!