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'Rise of the Guardians' review: Naughty posing as nice

Zero stars (out of four)

“Hey kids, what would you think about a movie in which pizza and ice cream were voiced by your mom and Selena Gomez and had sleepovers and fought crime? Would you like that?”

That kind of foolish, focus-grouped approach theoretically inspired the 3-D animated “Rise of the Guardians,” in which tattooed and/or snarky versions of commercialized icons associated with religious holidays (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny), inclusive children’s figures (the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman) and a character that barely figures into childhood at all (Jack Frost) combine to defend the world’s kids. Actually, they only protect kids who believe in them, so that wipes out a large, unrecognized-by-the-film percentage of the planet right there. These beings operate vaguely in service of hope and wonder and other generalized concepts but also in their own self-interest; much of their desire to make kids believe is so Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) and the others feel validated.

The group’s enemy is Pitch (Jude Law, effectively menacing), a bogeyman who haunts dreams with demon horses as if that’s the only thing kids have nightmares about. Some details worth mentioning: Santa (known as North and voiced by Alec Baldwin) is Eastern European, Jack Frost experiences a Jesus-like resurrection and the Man in the Moon is the one who recruits guardians to their posts.

There’s imagination-driven suspension of disbelief and there's total, shameless garbage. Those annoying birds in “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” were boring; the characters in “Rise of the Guardians” are flat-out offensive, corrupting the curiosities of young viewers into a toxic soup of bland earnestness and hectic action. The script by David Lindsay-Abaire, adapted from William Joyce’s “The Guardians of Childhood” and Joyce’s short film “Man in the Moon,” seems to have “forced, whimsical laugh” written on every page.

David, just because characters yell “Wahoo!” and cackle while flying through the air doesn’t mean a movie’s fun.

All kids lose teeth. Not all kids love freezing weather or recognize Santa. Without identifying what this fantasy ensemble means to children, “Rise” cares much more about its irritating characters than the youngsters they supposedly live to protect. Director Peter Ramsey, whose previous directing credit is the TV movie “Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space,” delivers a film as vapid and false as “The Polar Express,” “Hop” and the tale of Dwayne Johnson becoming the Tooth Fairy. Combined.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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