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Beautiful artistry can't save jumbled plot in 'Guardians'

Paramount

By Natalie Gadbois, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 26, 2012

Why are filmmakers trying to change the holidays? Over the years, moviemakers have attempted to technify movies to keep up with changing technology and tastes, and it has almost never worked. This is proven in “Rise of the Guardians,” which tries to take a fresh look at Christmas, Easter, the Tooth Fairy and even formerly insignificant Jack Frost, but only confuses the traditions we love.

Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) is the roguish and isolated Jack Frost, who combats his loneliness by bringing joy to children via snow days. Jack is wildly unhappy because he doesn’t feel appreciated by the other magical creatures — the question of what he actually does is left for the audience to guess at. He is promoted by the mysterious Man in the Moon, an unexplained presence, to join the Guardians, a select group of holiday favorites who vow to protect the children of the world.

The Guardians are composed of a Russian, tattooed Santa (a barely recognizable Alec Baldwin, “Rock of Ages”), a cocky, six-foot-tall Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman, “Real Steel”), an understandably perky Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher, “Bachelorette”), and a (blessedly silent) Sandman.

Though their duties vary widely, the Guardians all share the goal of bringing happiness to children, which is threatened when the truly evil Pitch (Jude Law, “Sherlock Holmes”), also known as the Boogeyman, begins his comprehensive plan to take away children’s hopes and instilling them with all-consuming fear. He does so by sending his Night-Mares, ghoulish horses, to change the dreams sent by the Sandman into children’s worst fears. Deeply hurt and extremely dangerous, Pitch is actually terrifying because nothing is more frightening than a physical form of your nightmares.

Pitch is by far the most vibrant character, perhaps because he's entirely new — no one has ever tried to personify the Boogeyman before. However, the other characters, though at times funny in their interactions, falter because they aren’t what we know and love, and the plot is too convoluted to let us get to know them. In their race to stop the Boogeyman, the intrepid guardians travel from the North Pole to rural Pennsylvania, to Tooth Mountain, to the Rabbit’s Warren in a dizzying flash of bright colors and magical minor characters. None of it makes sense, and the overstuffed plot only serves to distract from these excellent actors and the beautiful animation.

The film is overly conceptual as it not only attempts to turn Christmas, but all the other holidays, on their heads. It wastes the talents of these actors and the surprising vitality they bring to these revamped characters by placing the focus on Jack Frost, who is a weak character at best. Really, his essential gift to children is snow days? The core of the film is supposedly about Jack finding himself and growing into his role as a Guardian, but in the end no one really cares. As he and Pitch battle in the climax, you almost want Pitch to win, because he’s at least entertaining in a glossy Voldemort sort of way.

Perhaps the issue isn't that director Peter Ramsey (“Monster vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space”) tried to recreate the holidays, but that he does too much too quickly, and instead creates a feeling of discord among all these characters and their respective traditions. Ramsey began his career as an illustrator and storyboard artist, which shows in the crystalline animation and fantastical scenes. “Guardians” is an artistic gem, and the animators bring vibrancy and personality to the characters and their magical homes, but this artistry does not lend itself to a very linear plot.

This is not a typical Christmas film, but it is part of a newly forming shift toward revolutionizing holiday movies. Separately, most of the factors of this film work — Santa and Bunny humorously banter, Pitch is chilling and the animation is stunning, but everything together becomes a jumbled, unnecessary mess.