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Rise of the Guardians: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + Hopping Eggs Review

Rise of the Guardians (2012) movie poster Rise of the Guardians

Theatrical Release: November 21, 2012 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Peter Ramsey / Writers: David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), William Joyce (Guardians of Childhood book series and The Man in the Moon short film)

Voice Cast: Chris Pine (Jack Frost), Alec Baldwin (North), Jude Law (Pitch), Isla Fisher (Tooth), Hugh Jackman (Bunny), Dakota Goyo (Jamie Bennett), Khamani Griffin (Caleb), Kamil McFadden (Claude), Georgie Grieve (Sophie Bennett), Emily Nordwind (Jamie's Mom, Jack's Mother), Jacob Bertrand (Monty), Olivia Mattingly (Pippa, Jack's Sister), Dominique Grund (Cupcake)

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Based on William Joyce's recent, ongoing Guardians of Childhood book series, Rise of the Guardians unites Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman in a world-saving effort.
The premise is reminiscent of one of the weaker aspects of Tim Allen's The Santa Clause sequels, but the film is little like that. Guardians represents the new DreamWorks Animation, dark and adventurous like How to Train Your Dragon as opposed to the comic irreverence that Shrek and its sequels established as the studio's signature tone.

Guardians opens with its protagonist Jack Frost (voiced by Star Trek's Chris Pine), a pixie-ish, hoodied, white-haired adolescent resembling the hero of a modern video game, discovering his identity three hundred years ago. He produces frost by touch, picks up his staff, and discovers that no one can see him. In the present day, Frost looks the same and is still struggling with his anonymity. We later learn that his invisibility is the result of children not believing in him. Santa leaves gifts under the tree, the Tooth Fairy leaves money under the pillow, but kids don't care about Frost's brand of chill.

Hipster Jack Frost isn't big on joining the Guardians. How original...Pitch Black the Boogeyman wants to rule the world!

You can't accuse this film of relying on the standard old notions of these legendary characters. Santa Claus is a burly Russian man (Alec Baldwin adopting a thick accent) with "Nice" and "Naughty" tattooed on his respective forearms. Gibberish-speaking Yetis, not elves, do most of his toy manufacturing. The Easter Bunny is human-sized, upright, and understandably mistaken for a kangaroo (Hugh Jackman uses his natural Aussie accent). For some reason, the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) is a colorful small bird with even smaller ones as her assistants. The Sandman, meanwhile, is short, golden, and silent, relying on pantomime to convey his ideas.

After North (that's Santa) spots some ominous dark sand around his globe of the world, the Guardians convene and The Man in the Moon (who, not visually personified, can be imagined as anyone from God to the boy who usually fishes in the DreamWorks logo) decides that Jack Frost is to help them on this mission to protect the world from the Boogeyman, Pitch Black (Jude Law).

Looking for some credit and power, Pitch robs the Tooth Fairy's archives of lost teeth and childhood memories while also kidnapping her countless assistants. Immediately, some of the children of the world stop believing in the Tooth Fairy, as lights on North's globe dim in real-time response to their diminished faith.

Santa Claus, a.k.a. North, senses something afoot in his belly and on his giant world globe. When the children of the world start losing faith, young Jamie Bennett remains a believer.

Guardians doesn't plot the most imaginative of conflict for its heroes to combat. Jack Frost remains in the foreground, gripped by self-doubt even after his past life is discovered. While his arc has interest, it doesn't translate very well to the action the film is compelled to supply, pitting hero against villain in battles resembling those of Harry Potter and Voldemort. These central segments seem destined to lose a good portion of the audience. They're not particularly kid-friendly; cute and comedic moments are relegated to the beginning and end. At the same time, they're not exciting enough to impress teens or artistic enough to captivate adults.

At least, Rise of the Guardians is different, which is a very good thing to be at a time when a major new computer animated film seems to open each month. There was refreshing variety to 2012's cartoon output in genre, look, and sensibilities. Guardians doesn't conveniently fit into any existing mold. It's not a chatty crowd-pleaser or another universe standing as a funny reflection of ours. The animation is great and unlike anything we've seen from DreamWorks before. Again, Dragon is the best comparison (as the home video covers emphasize), but Guardians applies its ambitions to wintry cities and urban rooftops, as these larger than life characters are shown to be part of our world.

Though theatrically released around the lucrative year-end holidays, Guardians is set in the days before Easter, which makes the pastel color scheme, on-pack toy eggs, and timing of the various DVD and Blu-ray editions opportune but fitting. The cover art even seems to take steps to obscure the presence of Santa, whose red suit is hidden.

When the world needs saving and the Avengers and Incredibles aren't around, why not turn to The Guardians?

DreamWorks had to try a new marketing approach, after the Christmas angle didn't work in theaters. Just barely crossing the $100 million mark domestically, Guardians was the studio's weakest performer since Aardman's Flushed Away bombed in 2006. For a lower-grossing in-house DreamWorks movie,
we must look all the way back to Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, a traditionally animated flick released in 2003 when that medium struggled. Guardians earned $200 million overseas, but that doesn't yet put it in the black when the film's $145 million production budget plus unknown but substantial marketing costs are considered.

Such commercial failure was largely unexpected and long unknown to DreamWorks, whose stock price dove from a year-high $21.99 in early November to a lowly $16.27 in early December, from which it hasn't really recovered. Recently, the company attributed an $87 million write-down to this film and laid off 350 employees, 15 percent of its workforce. This can't be good news for 20th Century Fox, whose five-year distribution deal with DreamWorks, entitling them to 8% of theatrical and home video revenue, begins with this month's The Croods. It's a curious thing for DreamWorks' brand to be declining in value while the company's output has been generally increasing in quality.

Despite a lot of pre-release buzz -- including a new award for cinematic excellence at the Rome Film Festival and the Hollywood Film Awards' animation prize -- Guardians does not add to the upward creative trend. In terms of entertainment value, it is one of DreamWorks' weakest films in a while. In terms of artistry, it is on par with the two Shrek sequels considered two too many. My estimation seems to have been echoed by the film's exclusion from the Academy Awards' Best Animated Feature race. Early hype pegged Guardians as a shoo-in for a nomination and a promising candidate for a win (which DreamWorks hasn't had since Shrek took the inaugural award). With their timing conducive to the Academy's short memory, DreamWorks did everything they could in the way of a campaign, even hurting the modest chances of their stronger 2012 release, the surprisingly good Madagascar 3. But they came up empty, losing nominations not to any esoteric imports but a more deserving mix of mainstream hits and flops from Disney, Pixar, Aardman, and Focus Features.

Hoping its seasonal timeliness overshadows the stench of its failure to connect with the public, Guardians hits stores on Tuesday as the final chapter of the DreamWorks-Paramount partnership in no fewer than five DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D editions, two of them joined by a couple of hopping egg toys.

Rise of the Guardians: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + Hopping Eggs combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, English DVS)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, English DVS), Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; BD Movie-only: English for Hearing Impaired
DVD Movie & Extras Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 12, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP), standalone DVD with Toy Eggs ($29.98 SRP), combo pack without eggs ($39.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($54.99 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Unsurprisingly, Rise of the Guardians offers exquisite picture and sound on Blu-ray. The 1.78:1 picture is as flawless as direct digital transfers can be, showcasing some of DreamWorks' best animation to date with dazzling clarity and detail. The default 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is equally powerful, with a directional effect getting your attention at the start of the studio's opening logo (which is modified to include Jack Frost). From the flittering of Tooth's wings to the tinkles of the magic that pervades the film, the sound design is immersive and spectacular. The decision to have opera singer Renιe Fleming perform an original end credits song, meanwhile, is kind of bizarre. Both the movie and extras (even an audio commentary) are nicely equipped with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

In the Blu-ray game "Jack Frost Snowball Showdown!", you throw and dodge your way to success. Concept art establishes the legendary characters' atypical looks in "Behind the Magic."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The all-HD bonus features begin with two Blu-ray Exclusives, both of which are smoothly played games. "Jack Frost Snowball Showdown!" is a fun old-fashioned snowball fight,
in which you aim at targets and try to dodge incoming hurls for three short timed, scored levels. "Rock, Paper, Scissors with Sandy" lets you play the signal-throwing game a single time or in a best of 3 or 5 series. It's a simple, random, and diverting exercise, complete with the ties you frequently experience in real life.

The remaining extras are classified as Legendary Features, which seems to be DreamWorks' way of saying you'll find them on both discs here, though that isn't true.

"Behind the Magic" (27:43) is a making-of documentary comprised of four topical featurettes: "Dreaming Up the Look" discusses the design of the guardians' worlds, "Naughty & Nice: Designing Memorable Characters" considers the film's reconfigurations of its legendary personalities, "Enchanting Effects" touches on Nightmares and other illusions, and "Creating An Epic Score" pays notice to Alexandre Desplat's compositions.

"The Man Behind the Guardians" (6:25) interviews author William Joyce, who explains the ideas on which the book series was conceived and reflects on the history of legendary characters.

Isla Fisher looks her very best to record the Tooth Fairy's lines in "Dreamers and Believers." Sandman interprets the images of your dreams, like ballerinas.

"Dreamers and Believers: The Cast of Rise of the Guardians" (10:47) celebrates the voice actors with clips of them recording their lines, crew member praise, and comments from the celebrities themselves about the reimagined famous characters they portray.

"Sandy's Dream Guide" is a little interactive feature that identifies the significance of 16 apparently common dream subjects (flying, homework, a bicycle) and how they reflect on you.

A filmmakers' audio commentary features director Peter Ramsey and producers Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein. With Ramsey leading the way, they discuss elements as they arise, from a mix of creative and technical standpoints. Among the topics discussed are visuals, casting, and influences. It's an okay listen, but not one that many will be interested enough to hear.

"Previews" holds the two ads with which the disc opens, for The Croods and "Dragons: Riders of Berk", along with ads for "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness", Madly Madagascar, and the Rise of the Guardians video game.

The long-standard World of DreamWorks Animation promotional sectional is reduced to just a single music video for the Shrek ("I'm a Believer"), Madagascar ("I Like to Move It, Move It"), How to Train Your Dragon ("Fly High"), and Kung Fu Panda ("Kung Fu Fighting") franchises.

Finally, "Sneak Peek" serves up a theatrical trailer for the upcoming summer release Turbo.

Connect the dots to create the outline of North in this DVD-ROM printable. With a bit more effort and color ink, you can create a 3-dimensional figure of Sandman and other characters from this DVD-ROM template. The five guardians take turns sharing their domains on the inspired main menu.

With Paramount relegating digital copies to Internet downloads, the DVD included here is identical to the one sold on its own. It includes the audio commentary, "Dreamers and Believers", Sandy's Dream Guide, previews, World of DreamWorks Animation, and the sneak peek. That means that besides the two games, "Behind the Magic" and "The Man Behind the Guardians" are also Blu-ray-exclusives. The DVD also holds one exclusive in the form of a DVD-ROM section the menu calls "More Magic."

These are the kind of HP printables that are regularly attached to DreamWorks Animation films. The PDF documents include a Bunnymund egg holder, a "Spot the Differences" sheet,

3 character coloring pages, and 3 connect-the-dots pages. Those braver at arts and crafts (and fearless of color ink cartridge costs) may be more excited by constructing a Tooth Fairy Kit or three-dimensional paper "toys" of Bunny, Sandman, and three elves. I don't know how many people take the time to check out DVD-ROM extras these days, but it is nice DreamWorks takes the effort to supply these potentially enjoyable activities.

The main menu creatively takes turns inside the worlds of the five heroes, with what look like books turning to play clips. The Blu-ray doesn't resume playback or make full use of the pop-up menus on extras, but does it support placing bookmarks on the film.

For a limited time, some copies of the 1-disc and 2-disc editions of Rise of the Guardians, including the combo pack I received for review, come equipped with 2 hopping egg toys, which are packaged in a camera-sized box that is attached to the slipcover with non-tear adhesive. Resembling those in the film, the two colorful eggs wind up and hop around. It's a nice bonus that adds nothing to Paramount and DreamWorks' standard list prices.

Inside the slipcovered ordinary Blu-ray case are your digital copy/UltraViolet directions and unique redemption code as well as a couple of unimpressive Chuck E. Cheese's coupons.

Jamie's younger sister Sophie, Jack Frost and the Easter Bunny enjoy an eye-opening look at the Bunny's colorful Easter Island.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You can come up with many theories for why Rise of the Guardians became the rare animated film from DreamWorks or really any studio these days to flop at the box office. You can blame the title evoking that boring owl movie, you can blame the always staunch holiday season competition, you can blame the marketing campaign or the unusual depictions of legendary figures. But I think the failure largely has to be attributed to the film itself, which despite impressive visuals, some good ideas, and nice moments does not add up to one's satisfaction. Though its artistic ambitions are admirable, Guardians is neither as fun as DreamWorks' standard comedies (e.g. Megamind) nor as exciting as their better-regarded, more action-packed tales like the Kung Fu Panda movies.

At least the film's Blu-ray combo pack cannot be faulted in any major way. The feature presentation is a sheer delight and though not as extensive as some of the company's output, the supplements are both ample and substantial. Plus, the toy eggs are a nice touch and a fitting free bonus. My reservations about the film are the only thing keeping me from recommending this set, so if you enjoyed it or are confident you will, then don't hesitate to pick up this fine release.

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Blu-ray + DVD + Eggs • Blu-ray 3D Combo • DVD + Eggs • Blu-ray Combo • DVD • Instant Video

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The Santa Clause (3-Movie Collection) • Arthur Christmas • DreamWorks Holiday Classics • Prep & Landing
Directed by Peter Ramsey: Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space
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Reviewed March 7, 2013.



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