Rise of the Guardians Review
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As another holiday season begins, you might find yourself coming face-to-face with a jolly old elf who’s all dressed in red. He’ll probably have a round belly—one that might even shake when he laughs, like a bowlful of jelly. But I doubt that the Santa Claus at your neighborhood mall will show off his tattoos and speak in a thick accent like the magical crime-fighter in the animated adventure Rise of the Guardians.

Based on the series of novels by William Joyce, Rise of the Guardians introduces a group of immortal heroes known as The Guardians—including Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), and the silent Sandman. For hundreds of years, it’s been the Guardians’ job to protect the world’s children while filling their lives with awe and wonder. But now they find themselves under attack by the Pitch Black, a.k.a. the Boogeyman (Jude Law), who threatens to turn children’s wonder and belief into fear and doubt.

To help with the coming battle, the Guardians’ leader, the Man in the Moon, recruits a new member: Jack Frost (Chris Pine). But the troublemaking loner isn’t convinced that he wants to be a part of the group.

You might expect an animated movie about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to be a light and fluffy little kid’s movie—but Rise of the Guardians is often extremely dark, with a big, scary villain who haunts children’s nightmares and a band of classic heroes as you’ve never seen them before. Santa is a sword-wielding, tattooed tough guy who reigns over a workshop filled with yetis and creepy little elves. The Easter Bunny is angry and bitter (and Australian). Only the Tooth Fairy is as cute and as flighty as you may have once imagined her.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical about these beloved characters turned hard-hitting warriors, but they actually work—in a weird and wonderful kind of way. Santa may be pretty rough around the edges, but, deep down, he still has a softer, jollier side. And the Easter Bunny’s competitive streak creates some entertaining tension. Jack Frost, meanwhile, keeps things playful—despite the chip on his shoulder.

In the same way, the story is clever and imaginative, with plenty of humorous touches—but it’s also surprisingly sweet. After all, these characters exist solely to provide children with happiness and protection—and their undying devotion to the adorable kids in the movie is sure to warm your heart.

Rise of the Guardians definitely isn’t the typical kids’ movie. It’s dark and haunting, but it’s also smart and funny—and lovable, too. And, as if the clever story and intriguing characters weren’t already (more than) enough to make it worth watching, the stunning animation makes it even better. So if you’re in the mood for an unconventional adventure this holiday season, assemble the whole family for this fun-filled animated thriller.

Blu-ray Review:
Unlike most holiday-themed movies, which often postpone their home video release for a full year—until the next holiday season—Rise of the Guardians is open to a few more options. It runs the full gamut of holidays—so while the presence of good ol’ St. Nick made it perfect for a theatrical release during the Christmas season, his partner in crime, the Easter Bunny, makes an Easter Blu-ray release possible. And this release takes full advantage, too, packaging the Blu-ray with a pair of wind-up hopping Easter eggs.

This two-disc release also comes with a number of special features—including two Blu-ray-only games. Rock, Paper, Scissors with Sandy is exactly what you’d expect: you make your selection and wait for Sandy to make his. Jack Frost Snowball Showdown! is more like a classic video game, in which you use the arrows on your remote to move Jack back and forth—both to avoid being hit by snowballs and to aim at his moving targets. While both are well designed and worth a look, though, Blu-ray games are still a tough sell—because they’re just not easy to control. Rock, Paper, Scissors doesn’t require a whole lot of fast movement, so it’s easier to play (though not especially exciting), but Snowball Showdown can be frustrating.

Other extras include Behind the Magic, a four-part making-of feature that explores everything from the characters and their magical worlds to the powerful score by Alexandre Desplat. There’s also a commentary track with director Peter Ramsey and producers Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein, along with a feature on Guardians creator William Joyce, who discusses his inspiration for the characters and their story. And, finally, for a little more Guardians fun, there’s Sandy’s Dream Guide, an interactive feature that helps you interpret your dreams.

Though the release features a number of extras, none of them are the kind that you need to make time to watch. If you do have some extra time, though—and you’re especially interested in the story—you’re sure to find the making-of extras worth checking out.

Listen to the review on Reel Discovery:

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