Thursday, December 6, 2012 —
I have seen a lot of animated features this year. I had hoped to find an “Up,” “Toy Story 3”, or a “Finding Nemo” during 2012. But there has not been one. There have been many good or even better than good, animated features. I have liked several and have given them very good reviews: “Brave,” “The Lorax,” “Madagascar 3,” “Para-Norman,” “The Pirates!” “Band of Misfits” and “Frankenweenie.” I liked all those films, but not one of them soared the way I hoped it would, not even Pixar’s annual entry, “Brave.”
So I entered the theater hoping that “Rise of the Guardians” would be that animated feature, the one that came at least close to perfection. Did it rise to the occasion?
First, let me tell you what I liked about the film. It is the most breath-taking animated feature of the year. “Brave” is a beautiful film. “Lorax” and “Madagascar 3” are a celebration of color. “Para-Norman” and “The Pirates!” have their own unique looks. And “Frankenweenie” has the extraordinary black and white cinematography that sets it apart from all the rest. “Rise of the Guardians,” however, is a constant feast of almost all of those things: beauty and color, a unique look and something special that sets it apart from the rest. The only element of the visuals for which I did not care were the look of Santa’s elves who appeared more like Hershey Kisses than elves. But besides that, this was a visual treat all the way through.
Second, I have been moved several times this year by animated features, but “Rise” moved me the most with its story. There are several moments of clarity and truth in the film, especially early on in a conversation between Santa (called North in the film) and Jack Frost. And then the climax of the film is ripe with sentiment, and I embraced it fully with tears in my eyes.
Third, I liked the characters. They were well conceived and lots of fun. I especially enjoyed the Easter Bunny voiced by Hugh Jackman, the Sandman, the little pixies who assist the tooth fairy and Jack Frost. One slight curiosity is why did the filmmakers cast 32-year-old Chris Pine to play a character who is obviously a young boy. I do wonder if the filmmakers took much of Jack’s look from the Rankin and Bass television special “Jack Frost.” The character in “Rise” is very similar to the title character in the special which first aired in 1979.
Fourth, I liked the story. I understand that the screenplay is based upon a series of books by author William Joyce. It is always great praise of a film when it causes one to seek out the source material. I would like to read Joyce’s series. As for the story of the film, I especially enjoyed the back-story of Jack Frost and the idea of the death of belief among children. There is depth to this story and that is always admirable and welcome in an animated feature.
One negative aspect of the film, which is only slight, is that sometimes the action sequences move so fast, it is hard to tell exactly what is happening on screen. But this was only a minor distraction in the midst of so much that works well.
So what is my verdict? I think “Rise of the Guardians” is possibly the best animated feature of the year. Does it belong beside “Toy Story 3,” “Up” or “Finding Nemo?” No, but that is a very high standard. In a year with many very good animated features, “Rise” is the best I have seen in 2012.
Roger W. Thomas of Albemarle reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.