Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Khamani Griffin, Kamil McFadden, Georgie Grieve, Emily Nordwind, Jacob Bertrand, Olivia Mattingly, Dominique Grund, Ryan Crego, April Lawrence
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the books by William Joyce
Directed by: Peter Ramsey
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action
Running Time: 97
Date: 10/10/2012

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Scrappy Holidays

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Last year, at Christmastime, on two separate occasions, I brought my son to see Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (a revival of the 1964 film), and the then-new Arthur Christmas. Both were wonderful experiences that made our holiday brighter. But something else occurred to me: Santa Claus is cool. He's like a superhero, or a super-spy, or a badass. He can do just about anything, and look good doing it.

This year's Rise of the Guardians takes that idea and runs with it. Here, Santa Claus is called "Nicholas St. North" and speaks with a Russian accent (provided by a very funny Alec Baldwin). He's tall and burly, with large "Naughty" and "Nice" tattoos covering his forearms. He's the leader -- obviously -- of the Guardians, a kind of supergroup consisting of the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman, with his natural Australian accent), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), and the Sandman (who has no voice).

The "Boogeyman," also known as "Pitch" (voiced by Jude Law), is loose, and his evil plan is to get kids of the world to stop believing in the Guardians so that he can take over. The Man in the Moon, who holds some kind of sway over the Guardians, appoints a new member to the team: Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine). Unfortunately, Jack is kind of a loose cannon who doesn't quite know what his purpose is.

The movie does contain some of the usual kid lessons, but they're good ones, and the movie doesn't slow down for them. It incorporates them into a brisk 97-minute running time.

The director is Peter Ramsey, who makes his feature debut after a lengthy career as a behind-the-scenes artist. As a DreamWorks production, his film employs a hard look, with sharp edges; it doesn't quite come across in stills, but in motion, the characters somehow achieve warmth and fluidity. The movie's many chase scenes and dazzling set pieces are handled well, with slick clarity and thrilling speed. (If only live-action movies would take a cue from this new breed of animation.)

Incidentally, even though Santa Claus is the group's leader and even though it's getting a Thanksgiving release, this isn't really a Christmas movie; rather, it's set at Easter time. However, I suppose this is a benefit, as kids can watch the movie at any time of year.
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