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Thursday, 9 April 2015

Rise of the Guardians.

Rise of the Guardians.

I would have reviewed this film a long time ago, but certain things got in the way. Certain things like 'I watched it several months before starting this blog' and 'Fan opinion over this film are very divided' and 'I really didn't want to.' But time and a lack of items on my schedule have compelled me to talk about it, so here we are.

Rise of the Guardians, based on The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce (the same writer who penned the book that would later become Epic of all things), tells the story of Jack Frost, a spirit of winter who is invisible to everyone around him and haunted by his mysterious past, because of course he is. When Pitch Black, the Boogeyman, starts threatening the world's children with nightmares, Jack is forced to team up with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman in order to save the world - or at the very least, childrens' collective belief in a Turkish saint and a rabbit. 

My hatred for the film is incalculable - it is like a terrible tidal wave of death and blood - but I'm not sure how much of that is because the film is bad or how much of it is that certain elements of it rubbed me the wrong way.

Not the pun of the nightmare themed villain using horses, that's fine.

Let's rattle off the good things, at least: The animation is absolutely stunning. I complained about Epic looking nice but not having any distinctiveness to it - well, Rise of the Guardians is distinctive, and masterfully done, and Dreamworks deserves all the credit in the world for an astounding piece of animation work. 

The voice acting, too, is very strong. Jude Law provides the film's standout performance as Pitch Black, and everyone else is bringing their A-game - even Chris Pine, whose voice absolutely doesn't fit with the character's design, because nothing about Jack Frost suggests that he should have that deep a voice unless he's been smoking fifty cigarettes a day for a few years.

The plot is well-paced, if also pretty much a congealed mass of cliches. I wouldn't say that the writers are necessarily trying to hide that: Nothing about the story screams an overt attempt to maintain any kind of pretense of originality, but maybe that's just because there really is no way to make this story remotely new. That's not necessarily an issue - I like a well-executed take on what would otherwise be cliches - but the execution feels lacklustre, and there's a sense of being flung between dramatic shots, as if the trailer was conceived first and then the film was created around it.

How old are you meant to be? Are you a child? Are you a young adult?

What really grates, though, is the bizarre ethnocentrism of it all. 

Part of that is that the Easter Bunny is portrayed as an overt and absurd Australian stereotype, something that's more than a little bit skeevy when you consider that rabbits are an ecosystem-wrecking pest in Australia, and a holdover from an unpleasant imperialist history. Hugh Jackman, who apparently pushed for the Bunny to be ultra-Australian, is somewhat to blame for this, but Dreamworks frankly should have known better and told him no.

The other thing, although it might be a minor quibble, is that in a story that very much pushes that it's about the world, it still ultimately comes down to an American suburb. Were there no more interesting settings? A favela in Brazil, an inner city neighbourhood in Hong Kong, a beach in Sydney enjoying a roasty winter, where Jack providing a sudden snow would actually mean something? American studios kind of need to learn that their US audience's heads won't explode if you remind them that other places exist.

I am filled with loathing.

And maybe that is a minor quibble, but I'll tell you this: The second a big globe with lights dotted over it appeared, I called that the last light would be in the US. That's not just because that's what always happens, it's that this film takes an almost aggressively demeaning approach to other nations, paying lip service to their existence by having Santa and the Bunny be Slavic and Australian respectively, but playing them off as the most overwrought and reductive stereotypes possible, while the American-seeming characters like Jack and the Tooth Fairy (I predict people protesting 'they aren't American!' but they really kind of are in this film) are permitted to have their own personalities.

So, that's why I can never like Rise of the Guardians, but it is a film which does exist and which a lot of people do enjoy, so in the interests of neutrality, I'll say this: If you enjoy films that are animated nicely and well voice-acted, you may enjoy this film! Check it out! If you do not enjoy a subtle but pervasive undercurrent of jingoism, you may not enjoy this film and you should not check it out.

That covers everything, I think.

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