‘Rise of the Guardians’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:59 am,

Rise of the Guardians Jack Frost Bunny Rise of the Guardians Review

Rise of the Guardians presents a surprisingly heartfelt, though often predictable, narrative about the power of belief – and the importance of companionship.

Pre-release buzz for Rise of the Guardians, the latest film from DreamWorks Animation, has drawn a wide-variety of reactions due primarily to the film’s silly but, at the same time, intriguing premise – a team of universally beloved folkloric legends tasked with protecting the children of Earth from evil threats. Before the movie’s helmer, Peter Ramsey, came onboard (with only Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space and second-unit directorial credits to his name), Rise of the Guardians was the brainchild of fan-favorite writer and production designer, William Joyce (Meet the Robinsons and Robots) – who is also publishing a standalone Guardians of Childhood book series that traces the origins of each character depicted in the film.

Rise of the Guardians takes place several hundred years after the books but, despite dropping “Childhood” from the movie title, the final film still spends a lot of time servicing the juice box crowd. As a result, should adult viewers and cautiously optimistic animation fans pass on Rise of the Guardians or does the movie offer a healthy balance of humor and heart (plus holiday fun) for all ages?

Fortunately, thanks to a solid mix of clever twists on familiar mythological beings, both the script (penned by Oz: The Great and Powerful contributor David Lindsay-Abaire) and visual aesthetic (Guillermo del Toro serves as a producer) offer plenty for older moviegoers to enjoy. As an example, instead of the typically jolly grandfather portrayal of Santa, Guardians paints the legendary character as sword-wielding, tattooed, brawler North – the Guardian of Wonder (voiced by Alec Baldwin). Rise of the Guardians falls short of serving the more mature and thought-provoking thematic material as well as ambitious storytelling depicted in other genre-blurring animated offerings, such as Pixar’s Up and Toy Story 3 or Nickelodeon’s Rango; however, the film’s likable roster of main characters, and some smart supporting additions (such as North’s yetis and elves), deliver plenty of enjoyable moments and even a few impactful (albeit familiar) dramatic beats.

Rise of the Guardians Heroes Rise of the Guardians Review

Sandy, Bunny, North, Tooth, and Jack Frost in ‘Rise of the Guardians’

The core storyline follows Jack Frost (Chris Pine), a reckless and lonely “legend” invisible to everyone around him. With no friends of his own, and lacking any memory of his pre-Frost life, he moves from town to town thanklessly providing snow days to the children of the Earth. Then, one day, an ancient evil is reawakened. When Nightmare King, Pitch (Jude Law), begins poisoning the dreams of children around the world with fear, the Moon summons Jack to join an elite group of “Guardians,” North, Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth (Isla Fisher), and Sandy, charged with protecting Earth’s children. Unsure of his own abilities, it’s up to Jack to take down Pitch before the Nightmare King can snuff out his fellow guardians – replacing the light of childhood “belief” with darkness and terror.

In the wrong hands, the fundamental premise might have been a cheesy and convoluted mess but Rise of the Guardians presents a surprisingly heartfelt, though often predictable, narrative about the power of belief – and the importance of companionship. Some viewers will, no doubt, scoff at the belief “message” – since, for anyone who no longer believes in Santa, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or Sandman, the core message loses some of its magic. That said, even if the various story beats are centered around a thin moral and a fairly traditional coming of age tale, the characters flesh out the experience with an enjoyable group dynamic – and an especially charming mix of rivalry and camaraderie. One scene in particular, which sees the Guardians join forces to assist Tooth in collecting teeth, serves as a sharp example of how the filmmakers expanded on a goofy concept with solid writing and slick art design – delivering a batch of memorable characters that blend kick butt exploits with lighthearted hijinks (along with tongue-in-cheek riffs on long-standing mythology).

Frost is an entertaining lead protagonist and offers an enjoyable “newcomer” perspective that helps to educate viewers on the cheeky setup. Similarly, characters like the Sandman (Sandy), who does not “speak” the entire film, are surprisingly impactful in spite of their folklore roots. Though, the juxtaposition of Pitch and Frost is often on-the-nose – clearly intended to exemplify how characters that have experienced the pain of neglect and isolation can ultimately choose very different paths for their futures –  one of inspiration, the other of fear. As a result, the primary conflict relies on a lot of standard good versus evil tropes and, subsequently, execution that’s short on surprises.

Rise of the Guardians Jude Law Pitch Black Rise of the Guardians Review

Pitch (Jude Law) in ‘Rise of the Guardians’

As mentioned, Rise of the Guardians isn’t likely to challenge older moviegoers with opportunities for post-viewing introspection but that doesn’t mean that, moment-to-moment, post-adolescent viewers won’t be swept up in the onscreen story beats. The movie offers a number of smart set pieces that take full advantage of the reimagined heroes – each one providing insight into the larger Guardians world (with peeks into Santa’s workshop, Bunny’s egg sanctuary, etc). The film can also be surprisingly somber at times and a few plot developments will be heartbreaking, regardless of age. That said, none of the darker developments are outright manipulative; instead, they serve as important turning points in the “power of belief” concept.

Rise of the Guardians is playing in 3D theaters and the value of the premium up-charge is debatable. There’s no doubt that, like a lot of animated films, the visuals are enhanced by the added 3D depth. Certain character designs and environments look great in 3D but action is often frantic and the effect can have a negative impact on fast-moving sequences – lost in a blur of flashy colors and quick motions.

Given the childhood-centric plot, Rise of the Guardians is going to be underwhelming for older moviegoers hoping for an especially unique animated film experience. However, while the project relies heavily on very standard plot developments, the lively and entertaining characters, coupled with a rich art style, definitely expand the film’s appeal and onscreen value. Rise of the Guardians isn’t as memorable as some of its contemporaries, and the overarching message will be hard to translate for non-believing adults, but the film still offers a worthwhile dose of harmless fun and worthwhile heart.

If you’re still on the fence about Rise of the Guardians, check out the trailer below:


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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Rise of the Guardians is Rated PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. its like they tried to do another sherk type film, instead of fairy tale characters they have folklore characters. to bad it doesnt seem to work out but im still looking forward to seeing it because i saw a 3 minute spot when i was at the cinema and it looked really good, it got me interested when i was not previously

    • Sherk? Is that some bad direct to video rip-off of ShREk?

      • ha. ha. ha… its not that difficult to make a mistake while typing.

  2. I love sherk

    • I love Sherk and Doonky too

  3. Chris Pine and Alec Baldwin Santa Clause are enough for me.

  4. This is one of those films where your critical skills can be kissed goodbye. Just grab a compliant child, sit back and enjoy the sweetness with just enough of an edge that modern kids don’t get bored. It really is okay to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny when you know you couldn’t take them in a fight.

  5. I haven’t seen the movie (not out in my country yet), but it had good reviews so far. My only complaint so far, the marketing a.k.a trailers and all, actually made me lost interest to watch it. Idk, even some people feel the same when I showed them the trailers.

  6. In terms of Dreamworks animated flicks, I think How To Train Your Dragon and Shrek are pretty great, while stuff like Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda don’t quite impress me. Which side do you think this is closer to?

    • I’m torn because while I dislike Madagascar, I liked all the Shreks, How to Train Your Dragon and KF Panda.

    • This one isn’t as easily comparable. However, I’d say the tone is closer to How to Train Your Dragon – darker, respectively than most of the other DreamWorks Animation offerings but still with a very kid-focused story.

      In general, it’s less slap-stick than Shrek and Madagascar.

      • Oh, that’s quite interesting. I mean I liked Shrek despite the slapstick because it had quite a bit of adult humour and satire too. But if this isn’t slapstick I think I may be able to get past the seemingly kiddy premise, might give this a chance. Thanks!

  7. It was a good movie I went to see it yesterday and It is a Full-Legnth animated movie. Holiday & Fantasy Spirits teaming up battling the forces of evil. Very Fantasticly

  8. Took my 12 year old and I wasn’t bored, so compared to some of the garbage out there this was at least entertaining. Loved the yetes, strong vocal casting makes the characters lively, gotta love Jackman’s,”I’m a bunny!”

  9. I took my 3 and half year old daughter to see it, along with her grandparents. Three generations all loved it and found it highly enjoyable. It is both darker and less reliant on humour than How to Train Your Dragon and doesn’t fall back on slapstick, like Shrek does. The banter between the Guardians (especially once Jack is in their fold) is a lot of fun. I would have liked to have seen more development of Jack’s background, but you can only cram so much into a kids’ film and this does cram a lot in. We’re given a new take on mythical characters, plus the main plot.

    My main two objections were: 1/ the casting of Jude Law as Pitch. Not that he doesn’t do a great job (he does), but it gets very boring to have British actors cast as bad guys. 2/ Why on earth did Bunny have an Australian accent? Rabbits aren’t even native to Australia! That made absolutely no sense.

    It’s unfair to say that this movie doesn’t contain much entertainment for adults. It has plenty, especially if those adults can suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to believe in magic for a couple of hours :)

  10. Was looking for a movie to watch and this happened to be premiering that day so I went to go see it, with no background knowledge on it.

    Absolutely loved it. Amazing characters, heartwarming (and heartbreaking) moments, gorgeous art. What I especially loved about it was how each character had so much potential for backstory (which apparently exists in book form) leaving me imagining their past and future lives and interactions days after I watched the movie. Even if the main premise was predictable, the ideas and feelings allowed me to claim this as one of my favorite animated movies.

  11. You and I both!


  13. This is my all time favourite movie. Who cares if the Bunny is Australian? I’m Australian and I loved the fact they actually got a REAL Aussie actor to voice him, it just fits the bunny so well. I’ve seen movies where they have people try to do an aussie accent and fail soooo badly at it. “G’day mate” is not a common thing unless you’re a real bloke from the outback or grew up with it. From what I’ve heard, G’day isn’t always a hello here. But You do hear it from time to time. I’m just saying I’m really happy that Bunny had a real accent and used real Australian slang in it, not some other person failing at it. The Movie is amazing.

  14. I heard many positive reviews about this movie. I like the animation movies a lot. So, am very eager to watch this weekend.

  15. Here is a list of character team up for the next Rise of the Guardians (Part 2):

    Father Time
    Mother Nature

  16. This is a really insightful review and I agree with most of what it says, but I liked Rise of the Guardians more than this reviewer.
    Don’t understand the 3 stars. I’d have to give this film at least 4.5 stars. No, it’s not perfect, but I think it’s up there with the best that Pixar and Dreamworks animation has to offer – Please understand that I’m an animation lover who doesn’t worship Pixar and doesn’t degenerate Dreamworks because they are not Apple, I mean Pixar – Pixar and Dreamworks have both had equally good and equally bad films (I’m looking at you Shrek 3 and Cars 2). The trailers doesn’t do it justice – they make it look cynical and cheap-looking. It’s not – it’s damn heartfelt. It has a ton of emotion, a great character arc for Jack Frost, some terrific voice casting and action scenes that drive the story and do a great job of showing off the 3D. I don’t know how to describe it other than saying it’s like the Folklore Avengers. I’m definitely buying it when it hits DVD. Might even upgrade my TV for it. It’s too bad it didn’t do better, because the book series looks really good and these are some compelling versions of these mythical characters who I’d love to see again on film. Santa with tats and a Russian accent? An Easter Bunny who’s as tall as a man? This is a cool film. I think when more people check it out on DVD it will take on a cult following that will only grow over the years. You owe it to yourself to check it out. There are some real surprises in this film. If you’re cynical about the holidays or don’t remember what it’s like being a kid, then you might want to pass. But before you do, ask yourself this question, “What is your center?”

    • the movie actually has done better and it looks like joyce ( the creator of the books) and del toro and everyone else wants a sequel for it and since this movie has the cult following like you mentioned, (it literally exploded all over the internet and continues to do so) i think a sequel is well in the works

  17. Hope Dreamworks would make a sequel for this film. With 2 new guardian members, St. Patrick and Hollow Man for the guardian of Halloween (He is a bad guy but later became a good guy and helps the guardians defeat Pitch) and St. Patrick who became a new member in the end of the film (Just like Jack Frost). And also a third sequel with a new member named Heart Beat (The Guardian of Love who makes the children have their crushes and love their parents) Heart Beat is a Teenage boy, like to Jack Frost, with a new enemy named Devil Jack, a devil.

  18. I loved this film. It was just so well done! Someone said it was like a “Folklore Avengers.” I couldn’t agree more. LOVED IT! There is so much I want to say but I don’t know how to put it in words but if you are iffy about whether you should watch the movie, I say do it! They banter/conversation between the characters is amazing, it really made me laugh. Very great film. :)

  19. Communist Santa clause made the movie for me, just saying.