“Rise of the Guardians”: a review from the Savannah Film Festival

When Jack Frost was nipping at your nose, what did you imagine he looked like?

Jack Frost comes to glorious animated 3-D life in DreamWorks’ upcoming Rise of the Guardians, which screened on Saturday for the closing night of the Savannah Film Festival.

As it turns out, Jack is a perpetual teenager who has spent several centuries having fun — starting snowball fights, leading kids on wild sled rides, stirring cold winds that blow books down the street.

Voiced by Chris Pine and created as a long-limbed, rangy youth, Jack is both emotionally undeveloped and a little world weary. He has no purpose, he has no friends, and he seems to have accepted his alienation from both the humans who can’t see him and from the supernatural creatures who can.

But all that changes fast, when the Man in the Moon (unseen, unheard) mysteriously elevates Jack to the level of “guardian” — a small circle of fantasy characters whose job is to protect children: Santa Claus (called North and voiced by Alec Baldwin), E. Aster Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and Sandy the Sandman, who remains mute.

Jack’s skills are needed by the Guardians because of the resurgent power of the boogeyman, Pitch Black, voiced with slippery sinisterness by Jude Law, a perfect match for the character’s frightening formality. I have no idea how children think, but I’m guessing that some will be truly scared by Pitch, especially at moments when he and his nightmare horses — reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings — have the upper hand over the occasionally hapless, often bickering band of Guardians.

Jack Frost has an added burden that his fellow Guardians don’t: since no mortal really believes in him, no one can see him. Pitch’s goal is to destroy the wonder that children have for all the Guardians so that they will similarly vanish.

There are some particularly beautiful and disturbing moments, especially when Jack finally recovers his memories of how his mortal life ended and when the adorable Sandy is surrounded in battle, but under the direction of Peter Ramsey the film is dominated by humorous asides, well-drawn characters, sharp details, fast battle and chase scenes, and truly stunning animation. The legendary stories of the characters are given wonderful twists — the tattooed North’s workshop is staffed by useless elves and busy yetis, the Jackman-voiced boomerang-wielding Bunny looks more kangaroo than rabbit.

I watched the RealD 3D film from the front row of Trustees, and the overall visual effect was stunning.

The film’s official site has background on the Guardians plus some cool images and downloads.

Rise of the Guardians will be released nationwide on Nov. 21.

Here’s one of the official trailers, from which the image above is drawn: