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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 30, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 48
The other side of Santa
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The other side of Santa

Visually seductive Guardians rises to the occasion

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Now showing


When the happiness of the world's children is in jeopardy, it falls to the Guardians to protect it. Selected for duty by the mysterious Man in the Moon, Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the Sandman have protected the hopes and dreams of little kids around the globe for centuries, doing whatever it takes to make sure that the little ones' collective belief in the wondrous and fantastical never dies.

But now, a mysterious power is rising. Banished ages ago, the Guardians' long-forgotten enemy Pitch (Jude Law), otherwise known as the Boogeyman, has returned to wreak his vengeance. He wants to transform a child's dream into a nightmare - to make their belief in all that's well and good in the world vanish into the ether, knowing that by doing so the power his enemies use to battle him will slowly disappear.

JACK FROST TO THE RESCUE
Enter Jack Frost (Chris Pine). A playful sprite, he's spent the last few hundred years playing pranks and making kids merry, and even if they don't know he's around the smile on their faces as he brings forth an unexpected snow day has kept him moderately content. But now the Man in the Moon wants more from him, and tags Jack to become the newest Guardian - and while the others are not certain he's up to the challenge, when push comes to shove this winter-loving spirit might be the only thing standing between Pitch and the happiness of the world's children.

Based on the award-winning stories of author William Joyce, DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians is a joy-filled frolic through the holidays that is as whimsical as it is energetic, as thoughtful as it filled with action. It never takes its audience for granted, doesn't speak down to kid and adult alike, bit by delectable bit revealing a story of sacrifice, understanding and togetherness that's virtually impossible to resist.

It begins with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's (Rabbit Hole) thoughtful and multilayered script. He's taken these supernatural icons and made them real, grounding them in the here-and-now and allowing the ideas in Joyce's stories to take shape and materialize in a way that's honest and natural. The power of the Guardians comes from a child's belief in their abilities, and when that belief vanishes so does their magic. It's an interesting idea, one that is instantly relatable for any viewer of any age, the dreams of youth the passions that drive us as we enter into adulthood.

OUT OF CHARACTER?
Granted, seeing Santa and the Easter Bunny as yuletide, candy-colored, egg-throwing superheroes can be a little disconcerting. These are harbingers of peace and understanding, so watching them dispatch ghoulish black stallions with broadswords and boomerangs is something of a game-changer.

Yet Lindsay-Abaire and director Peter Ramsey don't go out of their way to make these beings of light and joy akin to second-rate X-Men. No, they make sure each of them maintains the core of who they are, remains beholden to the childlike beliefs that have driven their collective narratives for generations. There is action, but it isn't overwhelming or pointless - instead, it revolves around the idea that children are the driving force that keeps imagination and wonderment alive. The magic circling around this story is sprung forth from a place of love, a belief that fantasy and reality can combine together to become the most powerful of forces, this innate goodness a euphoric symphony of peace that permeates the proceedings start to finish.

The vocal work is universally excellent, but it is Law, Baldwin (who is unrecognizable), and Pine who stand out. They all dig inside their respective characters, making them come alive in a way that is continually surprising. Law in particular makes Pitch an odious yet pitiable villain, one you want to see defeated yet can't help but feel somewhat sorry for in the process.

But the star is the Sandman. Without saying a word, with only an array of facial expressions and magical signals made with his trademark sleep sand to get his points across, there is a benign serenity, a strange, surreal, comforting calm to this supernatural figure that's uniquely heartening. While the script's center revolves around Jack, and it is his story being told, the heart of the picture is without a doubt the Sandman, and whenever he is not around his absence cannot help but be felt.

DREAMWORKS DOES IT AGAIN
The animation is a stunning as ever, DreamWorks delivering a visual marvel that ranks right up there with their greatest achievements. In large part, I am sure, due to the help of executive producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and visual consultant Roger Deakins (Skyfall), the movie has a look and a feel uniquely its own. It casts a mesmerizing spell, and in a year filled to the brim with outstanding-looking animated motion pictures (Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, ParaNorman, and The Secret World of Arrietty immediately come to mind), this one might be the most visually spectacular of the whole darn lot.

Rise of the Guardians builds to a moving climax of emotion and heart, a sequence that speaks to the very best of who we wish we could be and the imaginative power that fuels our collective fantasies both as children and adults. It is a moment where heroes, and not the ones you expect, rise and the truth behind villainy is revealed. It is a beauteous sequence showcasing what sacrifice - true, selfless, and coming from a place of eternal love - truly entails, revealing how the power of faith can battle even the most destructive of foes.

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