Rise of the Guardians fell under the radar somewhat in late 2012. A family entertainment for Christmas (set at Easter) with some wonderful animation and an undeniable sweetness at its core, it has under-performed hugely for DreamWorks, only now in late January taking in twice its $145m budget, which will elevate it to just a notch above “disappointing”.
Exactly what went wrong is unclear. Admittedly trying to portray childhood fantasy icons such as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy as Avengers-style superbeings is a bit much to ask of audiences, but compared to other US animated films released in recent years this was still a step above the average.
For all its problems, from the basics of its premise to its mismanaged marketing, I for one enjoyed Rise of the Guardians. The animation was as strong as DreamWorks has ever produced, and the story provided a deeply affecting reversal in the final act for the character of Jack Frost that was as good as any moment in How to Train Your Dragon (although Dragon admittedly had more than its fair share of those moments).
But while I liked Guardians, I could not shy away from the fact that the universe it created repeatedly threw up mental roadblocks for me. Overt silliness in the dialogue or subtle visual references to other projects (intentional or not) would grab me by the brain and drag me right out of the movie. I imagine, given the box office returns and lack of word-of-mouth, that I cannot be alone in this.
Here are the issues that troubled me most.
1. Guardians! Guardians! Guardians!
It’s not DreamWorks’ fault of course, but my goodness there are a lot of films with “guardians” in the title doing the rounds of late. Back in 2010, Zack ‘300’ Snyder directed Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, a CGI owl fantasy movie. If you know five people who saw it, you’re probably lying.
Elsewhere, Marvel have announced their most risky project for “Phase 2” of their Avengers series, Guardians of the Galaxy, which features a brigade of intergalactic superheroes (including a rocket-powered racoon – take THAT magic owls!).
Of course what both of those films have over Rise of the Guardians is that we know from the title precisely what they are guardians of. Rise of the Guardians could be set at a foster home for all anyone can tell.
2. Guardians Will Rise
It was an unfortunate year to choose “rise” to be the load-bearing noun in your movie title. The Dark Knight Rises was one of the biggest hits of 2012, and laid a flat-out claim to the verb “rise” and all its subsidiaries.
But Rise of the Guardians really is a nothing title. In fact, when we first meet the Guardians as a group, they are already an assembled unit; there really is no rising going on here. It’s just a title for the sake of it; that “rise” could be the most redundant noun in a movie title since Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem.
3. Where have I seen this before?
I won’t be the first to point out the fact that Rise of the Guardians is more or less the film that happens when you open all the doors in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Far more troubling though is the similarities to the plot of (sorry about this) The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.
Seriously, just try and see how much of that trailer you can get through before wanting to jam a fork in your eyes.
In this secular fantasy, the Guardians take their orders from The Man in the Moon – who traditionally appears in all DreamWorks films as a part of the company’s logo. In Guardians, is he a stand-in for God, or an overt advertisement for the company that produced the film?
It’s like having James Bond report for duty, only to learn that M has been replaced by MGM, a giant 80-year-old lion.
5. Tom Hiddleston!
What a 2012 Tom Hiddleston had! Riding high from the get-go after strong performances in War Horse and The Deep Blue Sea, he played the maniacal villain Loki in The Avengers before voicing the dastardly Pitch Black in Rise of the Guardians. How could things possibly get any better for… wait. That was Jude Law?! Well fuck me they sound alike!
6. Santa LOLZ
Santa Claus having a Russian accent makes a lot more sense than the English accent he regularly has in films (although it’s not quite the Turkish accent it should be). But seriously, Alec Baldwin does the voice?! That’s the best Russian accent they could dig up?!
Further to the film’s secular standpoint, Guardians moves away from calling him Santa and he is regularly referred to in the film as “North”.
But wait a second, his name is North, he travels all over the world, and his best friend is the Easter Bunny? Where have I see this one before…?
7. Rabbit-proof farce
Hugh Jackman’s Easter Bunny gets upset when people get his species wrong and think he’s a kangaroo. “It’s the accent, isn’t it?” he asks in his actual Hugh Jackman voice. Yes, it is. That, and the boomerangs. If you want people to not think you’re a magic kangaroo, put down the goddamn boomerangs.
8. Oh Guillermo…
Executive producer and top-tier visual fantasist Guillermo del Toro’s fingerprints are all over this movie, but nowhere more so than in its interpretation of the Tooth Fairy as a humanoid hummingbird woman. Honestly, I preferred his tooth fairies in Hellboy 2.
9. I represent the estate of Miyazaki Hayao…
You know, I can handle the fact that Santa’s workshop shares its architectural plan with the bathhouse from Spirited Away. What I can’t handle is that the yetis that populate it look like this:
10. Safe sex elves
I get the need to redesign the look of Santa’s elves, but why must they look like they’re wearing festive condoms? It brings a whole new meaning to the term “bell-end”.
11. Putting all your eggs in one basket case
Living eggs that walk were creepy enough in Garfield and Friends. This was the stuff of candy-coloured nightmares.
12. The last three issues, combined
So the film explains where the Guardians come from rather well, but where the hell do all their minions come from?! Are the little hummingbird fairies actually the Tooth Fairy’s children?! This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.
13. Rabbit Hole 2
Based on the book series The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce, the film was adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire. When he’s not scribbling family entertainment like Robots or the Shrek musical, Lindsay-Abaire is busy winning Pulitzer Prizes for work like his play Rabbit Hole, about family disintegration following the loss of a child. No one else finds this combination jarring?
Is it a coincidence that the Easter Bunny in Guardians has the ability to open magic rabbit holes anywhere he chooses? Does David Lindsay-Abaire shit in the woods?