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Rise of the Guardians (U) - UK Première
Empire, Leicester Square
15th November 2012

★★★☆☆

With Jack Frost the star of the film, it was only right that a blue carpet was rolled out for the occasion. We only wish we had followed Amanda Holden's lead and taken a small child with us, because the pre-film fun in the park with ice slides and balloon modelling was definitely aimed at littleys.

The film itself though does have a wider appeal. Dreamworks historically may be considered inferior to rival animation studio Pixar, but they've both had their share of hits and misses in recent years. Rise of the Guardians doesn't quite have the emotional punch of Disney Pixar's Brave, which was released this summer, but the decision to convert that film to 3D during post production left the effects somewhat disappointing. In Rise of the Guardians, you feel as if the action is coming towards you, making it far more engaging. This is made considerably more impressive considering this is just Peter Ramsay's second directorial effort, and his first to be released on the big screen.

As a family-friendly tale, the plot is relatively tame, revolving around the desperate longings of Jack Frost (Chris Pine) to find out who he is and, at the same time, the efforts of the existing guardians, North (Alec Baldwin), Tooth (Isla Fisher), Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and Sandy to protect children around the world from bogeyman Pitch (Jude Law). Yes, even the ones on the naughty list!

With so many cherished childhood figures in the script, it's inevitable that some traditional themes are rehashed. But there is also a lot of originality, particularly in the depiction of Santa, who is transformed into a gruff heavily-tattooed Russian bearing cutlasses. He's padded out with cookies, but apart from that, the character is reasonably faithful to William Joyce's Nicholas St North from his series of books The Guardians of Childhood. It's perhaps Bunny (formerly known as E. Aster Bunnymund) who is adapted the most for the screenplay, inexplicably turning into a grumpy boomerang carrying Aussie.

Ramsey, who was charged with ensuring Joyce's concept was not lost in translation, explained before the première that Joyce first came up with the concept of the Guardians when asked whether the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy knew each other. Here, the Guardians are clearly old friends, with a natural camaraderie between all and a dose of friendly rivalry over who makes children happier.

As always seems to be the case with Dreamworks, they have gone for stunt casting rather than following Pixar's lead of character actors. But Baldwin and Fisher particularly acquit themselves well, even if some other voicework is particularly middle-of-the-road.

In the darker scenes with Pitch, it's easier to see why Guillermo del Toro acted as executive producer. Shades of Hellboy peek through, but much to Pitch's disappointment, he won't cause any lasting nightmares. The film is perfectly fine for younger children.

And that is perhaps where the film's weakness lies, in the narrowing of the target audience. It's a great children's film that adults won't mind sitting through, but it's not necessarily one that adults will want to go see on their own. Wreck-It Ralph, with its retro gamer nostalgia and charming characters will entice both big kids and little kids into the cinemas when it opens next February. We suspect with this film, it will be a case of the little kids dragging the big kids to the pictures.

The ending may be a little twee, but that's probably what you should expect from a U rated film this close to Christmas. Just the right film to get you and yours into the holiday spirit.

Rise of the Guardians was released in the UK on 30th November 2012.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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