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12 Days of Christmas

Rise Of The Guardians

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Peter Ramsey

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law and Chris Pine

Released: 30th November 2012 (UK)

Expectations were slightly lowered for Rise of the Guardians after word of mouth began to get out, but I still held out hope for the film, not divulging in any full reviews as to why others were so disappointed as of yet. I can guess to what some of these complaints might be, but overall I was pretty thrilled with the experience the movie delivered, not to mention a fine amount of escapism and isn’t that what animated children’s films are generally for? There is a sense of, as one character puts it, wonder about the world in which the animators have created for these events to take place in. It is in these events though that the biggest let down comes a calling. Nearly everything about the movie, from the high-wattage stars doing the voice work to the wonderfully creative character designs and their humble homes is engaging and most importantly feels fresh yet it is the adventure the writers have given them to go on that feels all the more stale due to those standout qualities. Still, I liked the film enough to recommend it in that it serves its purpose and might, on any other year been a standout for its beautiful animation and character development but in the world we live in it has the unfortunate task of following upWreck-It Ralph and that is a tough act to follow on any year. Where Ralph took the clever elements of its concept and turned them into a full fledged story committed to that world Guardians takes its grand idea and drapes it over standard action/adventure beats that have us knowing where these icons of culture are going before we really get to know them.

The elves are eerily similar to a minion-type
species in another popular animated film.

The film starts off in a very promising way as far as story development by focusing on the generally overlooked Jack Frost (Chris Pine) as a newly birthed figment of children’s imaginations that has come to exist for unknown purposes. After three hundred years Frost has been reduced to little more than a saying never mind having a physical incarnation such as big dogs like Santa, the Easter bunny, or the tooth fairy. Like a care free trouble-making teen Pine plays Frost with a sense of fun and enthusiasm but overall feels and sounds a little old for the role. His actions and persona give off a distinct personality while his voice that conveys all of this is somewhat contradicting. That is not to say it is completely distracting, I was able to get past it eventually but still found it hard to imagine him as anything more than a version of the Captain Kirk Pine portrays. Unfortunately, Frost is the lead and he is the thinnest of all the members on his guardian squad. Making up what the man in the moon has destined to be the guardians of children all over the world are the aforementioned Santa Clause aka North (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the tooth fairy affectionately called tooth (Isla Fisher), and the silent but easily lovable Sandman aka Sandy. When an old foe from the dark ages called Pitch (Jude Law) comes back into the world with a plan to turn the children of the world against their favorite holiday patriarchs and keepers of innocence these four are called together for the first time to join forces to protect those children, to help them keep believing in the fact they do exist. For such an assignment Frost is called in to become the newest guardian but he has his own doubts about such a role and can likely see more of a connection between he and Pitch rather than he and North.

The Sandman, The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), North
(Alec Baldwin), Tooth (Isla Fisher), and Jack Frost
(Chris Pine) make up the Guardians.

Beginning with what makes the film so appealing though it is easiest to go for the supporting players. While the North Pole is imagined in a way we haven’t seen before it is in these set designs we find as much of the magic as we do in seeing these figments of our imagination come to life. There is not so much a workshop feel to the place as there is a factory with bright colors and yeti’s in place of the elves building the toys. Don’t fear though, your kids won’t be scarred forever as Dreamworks has effectively turned the elves into minion-like characters that are cute to look at and are a guaranteed laugh when you cut to them physically abusing one another at any point. Santa, with his Russian accent and sleeve of tattoos down both arms is rougher than any other imagining but he is a strong leader and is able to coerce his rag tag bunch to work together without delving into typical team dilemmas. Jackman gets some pretty great moments as the Easter bunny and one of the better dwellings. Designed as a type of magic garden there are tunnels marked with each country through the plant growth around them leading to where he needs to hide the eggs. The same can be said for the tooth fairy who is designed as a pretty hummingbird and matches her sweet essence with a motherly instinct as she watches over all her smaller fairies doing the field work of taking teeth and leaving gifts. The ideas that went into the designs of each of their residence and the powers they possess are all impressive. Each of them equally contributing to the different aspects of childhood and what keeps those times pure and innocent are all on point and that more than anything else gave me reassurance the children who were in the audience, who would now forever see these characters in the form this film presented them as a good thing; as a way of letting them know it isn’t foolish to believe but is instead a way to hold onto what you only have for a short time.

Jack Frost comes to believe in himself because
the children of the world still do.

Unfortunately there is a downside to all of this which comes back to the formulaic way in which all of this is wrapped up so neatly with no sense of improvisation. The villain who is voiced by Law but sounds and looks like a cousin of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from the Avengers is rather typical and is never as menacing as the guardians would have us believe. He isn’t necessarily not evil enough because who is to say what is too evil for a children’s movie, but he certainly doesn’t strike an original note or pose as any kind of threat with a true feeling of need to fulfill the agenda he supposedly has. He wants to be remembered, to be believed in, well then why doesn’t he just change his ways? If it is what he says it is that he is after, then become a person who can attain such a goal. Done, simple as that. I need more from my villains and children who won’t look deeper than the fact he looks and sounds evil are being cheated by the makers of this by not delivering fully what is in their job description. The script, for all its reliance on hundreds of good vs. evil scenarios we’ve seen before does feel a thin overall and when it comes down to it probably a little scattered because it truly is trying to do too much. It is to each of the characters that make up this league of guardians that the movie owes its salvation. I enjoyed simply hanging out with them so much to the point that it didn’t bother me they were not going on a bigger adventure, it bothered me because they deserve a better more engaging nemesis and a better reason to summon their powers, but this is a children’s movie and I can only get so fussy about it before I feel a little ridiculous. So, I will leave it at that. Go for the face time with some of your favorite childhood friends but understand it likely won’t have the staying power to come back around next Christmas for another visit. It is fun, charming, pleasant, but it is no classic.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

12 Days of Christmas

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

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Reviewer: Luke Walkley

Director: Ron Howard

Stars: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen (Narrated by Anthony Hopkins)

Released: 1st December 2000

Dr Seuss’ tales have been the subject of a number of movie adaptations in the past few years, most recently his ecological tale, The Lorax. However in 2000, Ron Howard took the task of bringing the tale of the Christmas-hating Grinch to the big screen.

The Grinch (Carrey) plots to steal Christmas and everything involved with it from the inhabitants of Whoville. However a small child, Cindy Lou Who (Momsen) attempts to befirend The Grinch and convince the inhabitants of Whoville, especially the Mayor, that The Grinch is not really evil.

Like the book, the appeal of Dr Seuss creations are the imaginative and unusual characters and environments he dreams up. The first thing that strikes the audience about this film is the use of prosthetics recreating the appearance of the Who’s and capturing The Grinch fantastically while still allowing for Carrey’s persona to shine through the green hair.

The cast, consisting of relative unknowns other than Carrey and Momsen (now of Gossip Girl fame) are acceptable but pale into insignificance alongside Carrey’s performance as the Grinch. Taking the character and making it his own, Carrey’s unique personality brings the Grinch to life with his comedic talents.

Guided by Anthony Hopkins subtle narration, the plotline is light and the main villain of the piece switches between the Grinch and the Mayor of Whoville, causing the final result to be a mismatch of comedy and compassion but with no real narrative. However, it’s a children’s book and Carrey makes the film accessible to people of all ages settling down to watch a Christmas film with the family.

While Howard has done his best to create a memorable Christmas movie, It’s not a film that is particularly great and without the presence of Carrey it’s hard to think of reasons why this film would do well. While the make-up and visual effect of the overall film feel like the viewer is in a Dr Seuss book, the film should be renamed ‘How Jim Carrey Stole The Show’

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12 Days of Christmas

Elf

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Released: November 28th 2003 UK)

Director: Jon Favreau

Stars:Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan

Certificate:PG (UK)

Reviewer: Luke Walkley

Will Ferrell has graced us with some great comedies. While he may not be to everyone’s taste, his career has given us fine comedy roles including Ron Burgundy in Anchorman and Brennan Huff in Step Brothers. It is his performance as Buddy the Elf that is perhaps his most well known to movie watchers.

Buddy a Man brought up as an Elf after sneaking into Santa’s sleigh during a visit to his orhpanage, inadvertently causes mayhem in his Elf home due to his abnormal size. Sent to the United States to search for his true identity and his real father, Buddy experiences the highs and lows of being a real human when he meets his father. A misdirected man, who happens to be on Santa Claus’ naughty list.

As mentioned Will Ferrell has a knack for playing memorable comic characters and Buddy is certainly one of them. Unable to accept the reality of his situation, he continues on his journey through New York believing he is an actual elf. The misconception leads to more than one inconvenient situation for him and the people around him. However it is Ferrells comic timing that hits home even the most predictable encounter. Fantastic facial expressions and the high possibility that Will Ferrell might actually believe he is an elf in real life all add up to create a fantastic persona.

The supporting cast lend themselves well to the overall feel. James Caan gives a stern performance as Walter Hobbs, the man who had forgotten about his family and focused solely on his work. Zooey Deschanel lends to the film, her relatively unknown at the time, acting and singing talents as Jovie, A young lady who works with Buddy at Gimbels, a Christmas superstore where he can put his previous lifestyle as an Elf, to good use.
The film actually manages to deliver a subtle sentimental message amongst the comedy. While the theme of forgotten family is always present amongst Christmas films, it is easy to watch Elf and forget that it does contain a message of family.

The plotline is hardly Inception, but its exactly what you should expect from a Christmas comedy. With an overall family feel, Ferrells comedy style allows for some more adult humour to be entwined within the dialogue. Elf is certainly one of the best Christmas films of recent years and while it may not stand the test of time, its style certainly sits well within this age of the brat-pack comedy.

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