If we’re going solely based on visual flair, Rise of the Guardians is hands down the best animated film of the year. From the dazzling, manic bird-like Tooth Fairy and her minions to the glimmering strands of dream stuff spun by the Sandman, there’s so much gorgeous and imaginative work here. The colors are vivid, the movements smooth, the designs quirky yet not overly busy. It’s worth the price of admission just to watch the dark majesty of the Boogeyman’s unleashed nightmares roll across the screen like evil storm clouds.
Which makes it all the more frustrating that the story is merely okay. There are individual moments that work mostly because they deal with familiar beats and emotions: loss, despair, loneliness, joy, triumph. But the film doesn’t feel like it’s building towards any of those moments. They work, in no small part due to the quality of the animation and a great score by Alexandre Desplat, but there’s no cumulative effect. This robs the climax of a sense of completion. We’re happy to see good triumph over evil, but we don’t really feel it the way we should.
Still, I’ll take an effort like this over another soulless Ice Age or Madagascar any day. The thematic ambition may not match the visual, but when the visual is this good, that’s a fine consolation prize.