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Review: Rise of the Guardians the movie stands above traditional mushy Holiday fare

Rise of the Guardians (2012) Screenshot - rise of the guardians

You ever get tired of all those cruddy holiday movies?  I know I sure do.  I don't mean the classics like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story.  No, I mean the Lifetime movies about the "magic of Christmas" or the ones about the bratty kids who learn their lesson – the movies that really have nothing new to say about the holidays, merely existing to make someone feel warm and fuzzy, even for just a few seconds.

Well, Rise of the Guardians isn't like that.  Granted, it is family fare, and way more fun than I expected it to be, but it's not about nuzzling your face in sand and making you feel as if your egg nog is going to come back up.  Instead, it's a traditional action/adventure film, with some good laughs thrown in and the kind of hearty performances you don't usually expect from a film such as this.

The story revolves around Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), a troublemaker who lives for snow days and causing snowball fights, since he has the power to generate cold and ice.  However, he's been lonely all these years, as no one can really see him – though that doesn't stop him from trying.  One day, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), buffed up as if he just came from the gym, leads him back to the lair of Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), where their team, the Guardians, are waiting.  Also on board are the silent Sandman and the quirky Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher).

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It turns out the Guardians have a purpose – to protect the children that so strongly believe in them.  However, that's easier said than done when the boogey man, Pitch Black (Jude Law), pops back into existence and vows to destroy all the good will of kids, replacing it with fear.  And he's quite effective at it, though Jack may very well hold the key to stopping him – provided he doesn't let personal longings get in the way.

The project of long-time cinematographer and first time director Peter Ramsey, Rise of the Guardians does a fantastic job of holding interest, creating beautiful fantasy worlds to stare at in awe, whether it's the Easter Bunny's green-filled haven or Santa's majestic factory, complete with a launch slide for his rollicking sleigh.  This is a film that can definitely be embraced in 3D, though 2D works just as well if you're not in the mood to wear glasses.  What's more, the characters aren't their usual fluffy selves, which I found quite wonderful about.  Easter Bunny's packing some attitude, while Santa actually has "Naughty" and "Nice" tattooed on his arms, and isn't afraid to swing around a pair of swords.  Some of Tooth Fairy's smaller allies are a bit annoying, though Santa's elves make up for them, especially when they don't get to play their music – or get an unexpected smooch.

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Credit a quality voice cast for bringing the characters to life as well.  Chris Pine (who debuted as Kirk in the Star Trek reboot three years ago) is great as Frost, packing him with energy and yet a hint of longing.  Jackman's having fun as Bunny, with a mean Australian accent and just a hint of Wolverine snarl underneath the colored eggs.  Isla Fisher makes a fitting Tooth Fairy, while Jude Law chews up scenery galore as the snarling Pitch.  But it's a surprising turn by Alec Baldwin that steals the show, with a thick Russian accent and plenty of joyful spirit.  ("I feel it…in my belly!")

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If you're tired of the usual Christmas fare (and, again, not talking about movies like Elf or even Arthur Christmas), Rise of the Guardians is a thrilling (yet brief – it runs under 90 minutes) spectacle that the whole family will enjoy.  Try saying that about the rest of the holiday sludge out there.

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Robert Workman
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