RISE OF THE GUARDIANS – Blu-ray review

What if the stuff your childhood was built on was more than ideas and fantasy, but instead a fairly important component to your protection from evil and all the devastation it brings with it? Depending on your upbringing, this could be good or bad, but for most of us, we’d probably jump at the opportunity to know that the things we believed ever so significantly in as children were indeed real. Such is the premise behind DreamWorks’ “Rise of the Guardians,” which lands on the shelves in a nifty Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy set I enjoyed more than I first anticipated.

Rather than craft some already done up story about holiday heroes prancing through a make-believe world, writer David Lindsay-Abaire and director Peter Ramsey put together a more entertaining perspective: have the heroes and figures from childhood transcend their world and be relevant in ours. And no, I’m not talking about “heroes” like G.I. Joe, but rather Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman. Oh, and Jack Frost…but more about him momentarily.

My childhood depictions for the above listed characters were mainly positive, because every single one of them did really good things for me. Santa brought gifts at Christmas, right? And the Tooth Fairy shelled out cold hard cash for my pearly whites while the Sandman made sure I got all the rest I could. And the Easter Bunny was responsible for the best post-holiday clearance candy selection I could have hoped for. The twist in “Rise of the Guardians” is that these individuals aren’t operating in silos, but rather are working together to keep children believing in them, and thus, in the good of the world.

Of course, for this theory to work, you have to suspend just a small amount of disbelief, but heck, “Rise of the Guardians” isn’t really a film for those of us who live in the vastly overrated real world. It is, however, an opportunity for us to enjoy an experience with our children, who probably need as many positive memories during their increasingly delicate upbringings as they can get.

Jack Frost (Chris Pine) opens “Rise of the Guardians” with his story about coming up from a freezing lake thanks to the aid of the ‘Man in the Moon,’ and from that moment forward, he’s able to wield weather to his heart’s desire, yet feels unfulfilled because no one believes in him. Fast forward a few hundred years, and Santa (Alec Baldwin) gets word that the Bogeyman (Jude Law) is up to no good. He quickly enlists reinforcements, starting with the Sandman (who doesn’t have a voice performer because he has no lines), then the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and finally the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher). We get a little back story about how the idea behind the Guardians came to fruition, but not enough to slow the film’s pace. And that’s a good thing, because things spill into reality pretty darn fast.

Things begin to focus on a little boy who believes in only good and all the heroes we’ve noted. Jamie (Dakota Goyo) quickly becomes relevant because Pitch figures out if he can stop the children from believing in the Guardians, he’ll be able to control things to his heart’s desire. The ‘Man in the Moon,’ sensing something’s up, tells the current Guardians that Jack Frost is their newest addition, and the film then shifts to focus on his important, albeit bumpy, integration with the others set up against the backdrop of saving imagination and the children who possess it.

“Rise of the Guardians” is no doubt a film made for children, but it’s appealing to broader audiences for several reasons. It’s sharply written and well cast, which isn’t always the case for contemporary animated films. It flips our more or less traditional understandings of the heroes from our childhood around to make them seem more intriguing, fun and dynamic. And of course, it’s able to move at a pace where even the slower moments feature enough plot or character development and interaction to be interesting. I suppose it’s somewhat traditional in the sense that there is good versus evil here, but heaven forbid we play around just a bit with what we know (or think we know) about how these more or less targeted films should behave.

Visually, there are many shining moments, especially as everyone piles into Santa’s sleigh and shoots from fantasy into reality and back at a hundred miles per hour, or as Pitch and Jack Frost duel high above Earth with their varying powers and abilities. Both worlds, the real and the fantasy, work together in solid harmony, which clearly contributes to the film’s credibility with its target audience. While “Rise of the Guardians” ignores the fact that today’s youth are essentially being raised in front of the TV and their iPhones, it might simultaneously be campaigning for a simpler time to be highlighted again, and for playing outside on a snow day after having the Tooth Fairy come and leave you a quarter to have a greater relevance.

I liked “Rise of the Guardians” more than I expected I would, and it was a refreshing experience that has enough balance for parents and their kids to enjoy it together. While it may not go down in history like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” I can see it holding its own for at least a little while among children who like the story, and adults like me who still want and hope to believe.

Among the sharper CGI films I’ve seen on Blu-ray in quite some time, “Rise of the Guardians” uses beautiful looking imagery to maximize its impact. There’s low key conversations and some near epic confrontations, all of which come through with some excellent vivid coloration with the 1080p High Definition 1.85:1 video transfer. The image is so darn clear all the way through that, even though it’s very clearly not real, it might as well be. For those young people growing up in the most tech savvy era ever, they’ve come to expect this high quality stuff, and “Rise of the Guardians” doesn’t disappoint at all.

I also greatly appreciated DreamWorks leaning on an English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio transfer, as it really brings out the audio that “Rise of the Guardians” needed to tie into the visuals for the whole thing to work out well. All spoken words are audible with no difficulty, and to the extent that natural background noise has a role, it’s also right there for you to take in. There are explosions and chases in “Rise of the Guardians,” and the film’s music is so very well selected and placed that it enhances the drama and action with the greatest of ease. Additional audio selections are French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digitals , along with an English Audio Description track. Subtitles are English, French and Spanish. The film’s sound is often as good as, perhaps better than, its visuals.

There are a few extras to discuss, including a standard DVD second disc and digital copy for download, plus some excellent Check E. Cheese’s coupons and four behind the scenes featurettes. There’s also a filmmaker’s commentary. It’s a nice blend, and like the film itself, these are fun to take in. Last but not least, two “Hopping Eggs” are included (they literally wind up…and hop around), just in time for Easter.

A Final Word:
“Rise of the Guardians” is a sharp looking and creative film that grows on you as it runs its course. I enjoyed it on a few different levels, and for reasons that were much simpler than I anticipate. Good stuff for the youngsters, and perhaps for us older folks, too.