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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 student, a filmmaker, and an advocate for eating disorder recovery and awareness, among other things. It's his goal for everything he makes or has a hand in to be something he finds genuinely exciting and engaging and to have some level of meaning and ambition, whether it's a short narrative film, an LGBTQ+ documentary, or even a Taylor Swift music video —​ because that's how the magic happens.