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DreamWorks Countdown 25: ‘Rise of the Guardians’

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When most people talk about the best films of DreamWorks Animation, films like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 are usually the first to come up. I find that it’s rare that Rise of the Guardians is included in that conversation, which is a shame because, to me, it’s one of DWA’s best films and one of the best animated films of the last decade.

Visually, Rise of the Guardians is stunning. There’s an incredible amount of detail present in every visual aspect of Peter Ramsey’s film, from the character designs to the textures and environments. The film cost $145 million to make, and you can see every dollar spent on screen. Seriously, this is one that’s worth owning on Blu-ray. (I’d say the soundtrack is worth owning, too — the score, composed by Alexandre Desplat, adds to the immense scope of the film and is as effective and compelling as the score for any live-action blockbuster.)

The film is especially successful on a narrative level. David Lindsay-Abaire’s screenplay, based on stories written by William Joyce, is epic, mature, and whimsical in ways that not many animated films are. There is no shortage of characters here, but still, Jack Frost shines as a protagonist — you understand him and connect to him on an emotional level, and you’re invested in his journey every step of the way.

While not every DreamWorks Animation film is a home run in terms of story, one of the studio’s most consistent strengths (and in some cases, a saving grace) is casting. Like Shrek and a number of other DreamWorks Animation films, Rise of the Guardians boasts a cast of well-known, “A-list” actors, including Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, and Jude Law, but they’re not cast just for the sake of casting celebrities — they’re cast because they’re right for their respective roles, and you really get the sense that these actors understand and care about their characters. This is especially true of Chris Pine, whose performance here as Jack Frost feels every bit as genuine and nuanced as a performance in a live-action film.

Rise of the Guardians was generally received well by critics and audiences, but unfortunately, the film didn’t quite meet expectations at the box office. (The studio reported a loss of $83 million and was forced to lay off 350 employees as a result.) The film was made with the intent to launch a franchise, but further films never materialized. I would really have liked to see a sequel or some sort of spin-off to Rise of the Guardians, but I understand from a business perspective why it wouldn’t make sense for DreamWorks Animation to pursue those.

I do think there’s potential for more films to be made based on these characters and William Joyce’s books, but I would be very surprised if another Rise of the Guardians movie were announced by DreamWorks Animation at this point. (The studio recently put a sequel to The Croods back into development, though, so I guess it’s not impossible, although unlikely, that they’ll give this property another chance, too.)

I know a lot of animation fans were upset when Brave won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature over Wreck-It Ralph, but I would argue that Rise of the Guardians was actually more deserving of that award than either of those films. I understand that film is subjective and that I may be in the minority here, but while I enjoyed both Brave and Wreck-It Ralph, Rise of the Guardians far exceeded my expectations and resonated with me on a very personal level.

The film definitely has its fans, but I wish that it were more highly regarded and that more people had gone out to the theater to see it when it was released. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the film underperformed, but if I had to guess, it may have had something to do with the title, which isn’t unique or telling of what the film is really about. I understand the logic behind selling it as a holiday-centric Avengers, but it’s possible that that approach was just too broad.

Regardless, I’m glad that Rise of the Guardians was made and that I was able to experience the film in a theater. I hope that more people come to it as time goes on because it really is a special film that I think deserves more love than it gets.

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About Angelo Thomas

Angelo Thomas is a writer, director, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to writing for Rotoscopers, he writes for The Royal Blog of Oz and guest hosts The Royal Podcast of Oz. Angelo was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. He is currently studying Film & Video in Columbus, Ohio at the Columbus College of Art & Design, where he has also worked as an assistant in Marketing & Communications. His favorite film of all time is The Wizard of Oz, which has influenced much of his personal and professional work. In terms of his love for animation, Tangled and Frozen aren't just great animated films in his opinion — they're some of the best films ever made. Angelo is always prepared to give and defend his opinions when it comes to film and animation, which he often does on social media. He can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr @imangelothomas.
  • Oh my goodness yes, thank you for that statement about how Rise of the Guardians should have been the Oscar winner! Its score and animation is stunning – this came out a year before Frozen yet I find the effects of the frost and snow are far superior in Guardians. While I agree that the story definitely wasn’t as focused as it could have been, the big emotional set pieces (especially Jack’s backstory, and Jamie and Jack meeting) are some of the most impactful material Dreamworks has put out. Plus if you look further into the backstory of William Joyce’s books, it all instantly becomes even more touching, especially with the dedication before the credits. Great informative article!

    • Angelo Thomas

      Thank you!

    • Manuel Orozco

      I actually think Wreck It Ralph is better

  • Angela Weaver

    I completely agree that Rise of Guardians was a vastly underrated film and should have been an Oscar winner. The visuals are stunning. The details in every environment are unbelievable. And the story works emotionally. They may have made a mistake by not following the books in terms of introducing the characters and then having the big team up movie, a la Marvel. Then again, there’s no guarantee you’ll get more than one film and I’m so very happy that we have ROTG.

  • Marielle

    The story is cool and the particle effects on Sandman and Pitch are beautiful. I would have liked to see a sequel. I think it could have been another of DreamWorks’ great adventure franchises like How to Train Your Dragon. I’m not sure why the movie wasn’t a bigger success. Some problems I can see is that the humor doesn’t hit and the title is bland. It doesn’t tell you that it’s going to be about Santa, Easter Bunny, etc. Personally, I also don’t like the character design/animation and the voice acting. Jack Frost doesn’t sound young and Santa’s Russian accent is bad. But despite these flaws, I still really enjoyed the movie and I think they had a strong property on their hands.

    • Chelsea Warner

      I think the original title was something like “The Guardians of Childhood”. That would have been a better title IMO.

  • Alex Beezley

    I loved the darker tone, the animation, and the score in Rise of the Guardians; most of the characters are also very strong. However, I felt like the plot was somewhat disjointed. The story itself is very good and creative, but it can be difficult to follow. Nevertheless, I do think that this is one of the best films of 2012 and definitely better than the other offering from DreamWorks Animation in that year.

  • I personally have a SUPER soft spot for this one! The characters are so loveable, the story really intrigues me and the Jack Frost love is real with me!! One of my personal faves definitely :))))

  • I really like Rise of the Guardians. Sure, the story was
    a little weak IMO, but the animation was amazing and
    the characters were so enjoyable. I also liked how this
    was slightly more mature than your typical DW movie.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I just saw the movie last night for the first time. And I totally agree.

  • Jeremiah

    I concur with every darn thing you said, from the stellar voice acting to the dreadful lack of success leading to the dreadful lack of a sequel. I would add Dreamworks deserves congrats for seriously stepping up the animation game. We get some beautiful effects, memorable sets, and exciting action sequences.

  • Chelsea Warner

    I need to watch this one again. I saw it in the theaters and I remember liking it, but I never seen it since.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I saw the movie for the first time last night. I liked it too

  • MissE

    Thanks for mentioning your love for this film. This one has a special place in my heart, particularly because of Jack and Pitch. Pitch sent me whirling head over heels into an obsession with British-accented, misunderstood villains, while Jack reminded me a lot of myself, and he has become one of the very few protagonists that I sincerely love. You can tell there is a lot of passion and love that was put into this movie, what with its beautiful animation, score, and character development. The movie isn’t perfect and sadly it doesn’t hold up quite as well on rewatch, but it’s still a film I will always cherish in my memories.

  • I’m honestly pretty “meh” on this one. It had likeable parts, for sure (Sandman was a standout favorite), but I just had a hard time getting into it.

    What’s surprised me most, though, is that in the year’s following, I’ve hardly ever seen it in the line-up of TV movies during holiday seasons. Why isn’t this in the rotation at Christmastime or Easter? It feels like a perfect fit to me. (Maybe I’d just been watching the wrong channels?)

  • I saw this film twice when in came out in theaters. I enjoyed it for its visual and narrative storytelling. This film is what inspired me to want to take writing seriously. Yes, RotG, get me into wanting to become a screenplay writer. But not just any screenplay writer, one for animated films. I can’t draw but I still want to be involved with animation and this film taught me that animated characters can be just and compelling and interesting as live-action ones.

    The HTTYD franchise will always be my favorite DW’s has made, but RotG is a close second.

    I was sad that RotG did not become a smash hit when it came out or that DW’s has any future plans for it yet, but all in all I am glad that this movie exists. I’m disappointed Guardians was snubbed at the Oscars too but I still love the film and William Joyce and his children for coming up with an amazing concept.

    This film helped me believe again. In both the Guardians and in my writing talent. Someday I hope I can create something that inspires another person like this film has done for me.

  • Amber Dvorak

    Very well-written review – I need to see this one!

  • Manuel Orozco

    I actually never seen Rise of the Guardians before due to my unknown history with the source material that inspired it. However I was watching the Disney Santa Clause trilogy on the week before Christmas from Netflix. Santa Clause being part of a legend council with Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Jack Frost gave me the idea that it could be similar to how they team up in this movie. Just gave me a curious feeling how come I never watched it before. But I will try and do it sometimes.

  • Max

    It failed in the box office because there were so many more popular movies like Twilight and Skyfall that were out that month which were more anticipated. If they moved the movie release earlier or after the holidays maybe it would have made more (although it did make double the budget in box office). It sold millions when it came out on blu-ray, so add that to the money it already made and Dreamworks made nearly as much as they did with some of their other successful movies. The Croods is not as good as Rise of the Guardians which has a better review score. It only made £200 million more BECAUSE they released it at a good time. and that’s getting a sequel?

    The fact it was supposed to be the first movie of the franchise makes me really sad because I enjoyed it. Yet another of my favourite movies not getting any sort of sequel. Give us a TV show or something!

  • Sophie

    William Joyce, the Guardians of Childhood author, mentioned back in 2013 that he was in talks with Dreamworks about a sequel, so we know that it didn’t fail in the box office that badly that they didn’t even discuss it. They did, and we have no idea how that went because after that no one-him, the director, the creators-mentioned it again. If someone asked one of them maybe we would get our answer once and for all.

  • Ms Devine

    i honestly cannot agree more.

    my kids & i have fallen in love with this movie….
    my son of 6 years old equally adores ‘The Rise Of The Guardians’ as much as his 12 year old sister!!

    i have to admit, it’s a firm favourite of mine too.

    it is by far, one of the best animated movies made, not just by DreamWorks Animation but, out of all animation movies made by the various companies out there!

    ‘Rise Of The Guardians’ deserves to be a far bigger success….

    the characters are a little different from the usual, mainstream, generic versions we are all accustomed to watching on-screen or reading about in children’s books.
    but, in my opinion, it adds to the magic of the movie!!

    brilliant story line & overall plot.
    perfectly matched soundtrack & exciting score.

    it held everyone’s attention, from the beginning right the way through to the very end- we were glued to the screen with anticipation!

    i can’t think of any other movie that can keep my son interested & excited to watch it all, as well be the full focus for my teen daughters time…..

    even after numerous occasions of ‘movie nights’ at home, watching ‘Rise Of The Guardians’ it can still have everyone on the sofa for the entire movie!

    it is very sad that this is a relatively unknown movie.
    i can only wonder if it has anything to do with another ‘guardian’ film of a similar title?
    i can personally recall confusion from other parents of a younger kids over these movies & the age rating given.
    not everyone was aware there was a family friendly, animated movie, of a shared title??