(Making this it’s own post so people can actually find it)
I really understand the love for this film, I REALLY do because I loved it too…up until I saw it.
The film is absolutely visually stunning, well directed and well shot. Every artist that worked on this film from a visual standpoint did an absolutely fucking FANTASTIC job.
However, where the film looses it’s audience is with it’s story, which is a disgrace with all the amazing work that went into it elsewhere. While it has a LOT of promise in the beginning, the film trips up and lands on it’s face by the end. It spends more time on action sequences than actual character development.
A major element of good story telling is change. This theory says that a character should go from one state of mind/experience to another. They can even start out one way, go through a change in emotional/physical state, and still come back to roughly the same place again…only they’re changed in some major way that totally differs from the beginning. For example: A character is unaccepted -> the character goes through an experience that makes them suddenly accepted -> they realize the acceptance comes at a price they can’t pay/keep up -> the character returns to their original state wiser for the experience. Another theory expands on the idea, by saying that change itself is based on what the character learns from their experience and how that knowledge alters their perception of their world.
So, getting back to Guardians: Aside from Jack, no one changes by the end of the film. No one. At all. Every character starts at one place and ends up at pretty much the exact same place with no difference in their world view.
- North is still his jolly Russian self.
- Tooth is still cute and really into flossing.
- Bunny is still…well, Bunny (though I will concede that he grows from begrudgingly tolerating Jack to accepting him).
- Pitch is still desperate to be recognized.
- The kids still believe.
- The Man in the Moon is still an omnipotent-catalyst-enigma that’s never explained.
The film is beautiful, but pretty pictures and cool action sequences don’t get butts in seats, especially on subjects audiences feel tired of or already know so much about that they have no interest in seeing a film based on the idea (“Oh look, another holiday movie where childhood/Christmas/______ holiday is threatened and must be saved.”). It’s tired. People are sick of these films, and while RotG did it’s very best to reinterpret the tried and true ‘holiday movie’ it didn’t work because ultimately many audiences aren’t seeing it as anything other than the standard holiday you-gotta-believe storyline, and they’re right.
The world is beautiful and expansive. The visuals and design on all fronts are stunning. The character design well thought out and wonderfully executed. The artists, actors, musicians and directors at Dreamworks are beyond capable and I cannot sing their praises enough!
Seriously, I bought the art book because I admired and was inspired by the design so much. They really know how to do their jobs and they do those jobs so well!
The art isn’t the problem. The editing isn’t the problem. The directing, acting, music and camera work are not the problem. The STORY is the problem. Dreamworks has had this problem for a long time. They put so much effort into the artwork that they tend to not focus on the story. Instead they do their best to make up for bad story with pop culture jokes and gags. An exception to this is How to Train Your Dragon. Not a single pop culture joke, the stakes matter to the viewer, the characters have more depth than the standard Dreamworks film, and the writing is well really constructed.
So why would something as (arguably) bad as Madagascar 3 wipe the floor with Rise of the Guardians?
When looking at Madagascar 3, we have to take into account when it was actually released. In the US that was June 8th, the start of summer vacation for many kids. At that point, it was the only childrens animated film in theaters in the US. There wasn’t anything else to take a kid to at the beginning of the summer (unless they were really into the idea of Mirror,Mirror - which based on it’s Box Office figures is a big ‘lol no’). Madagascar 3 didn’t do well because it was a good movie. It did well because people knew what they were getting. Parents knew it was going to be moderately tolerable and would entertain the kids for 93 minutes. It was established. It was safe. Above all, it was the only option. Again: Madagascar 3 didn’t do well because it was a good movie, it did well because it was an established franchise that was released when there was no competition and the idea behind it is still (arguably) fresh in comparison to tired holiday-folklore focused films.
Rise of the Guardians was released this past weekend. Meanwhile Wreck-It Ralph is still holding its own in the top 10 (currently at #6) Box Office list three weeks after its release.
Why would Wreck-It Ralph continue to succeed while RotG is not? One could chock it up to pandering to gamers with established characters, but aren’t the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa, Sandman and Jack Frost all well established characters with much longer history and appeal than video games collectively? One could chock it up to the fact it’s Disney, and people trust Disney. For that I have no argument, audiences are pretty biased to Disney. One could also say perhaps it’s because Wreck-It Ralph tapped into a colorful and captivating idea, but Guardians has done that beautifully themselves. Could it be advertising? Probably not considering both companies put their production house funded marketing teams into full gear.
So what’s it all come down to? Why has Wreck-It Ralph done so much better even though it (arguably) isn’t as visually captivating as Guardians nor does it (arguably) have as interesting an idea?
Say it with me kids: STORY!
All the main characters within Wreck-It Ralph change in the end. All of them. Every one.
- Ralph makes peace with his place in the world by coming to terms with his place in it and making friends.
- Calhoun moves on from her “most tragic back story ever” to find happiness with Felix.
- Venellope confirms her place as a racer and discovers her true role within SugarRush.
- Felix actually realizes how screwed he is without Ralph around and stops treating Ralph like a passive dick.
- The Nicelanders stop being assholes and treat Ralph like he’s a person rather than a one dimensional villain with no place other than that role.
- Turbo is discovered, looses his place within the game he’s infiltrated and ultimately becomes the source of his own undoing.
Wreck-It Ralph also has story points and character relations that mean actually mean something, which ultimately moves people. When Ralph crushes Vanellopes car that scene is brutal. It’s hard to watch. It grips people because the idea of loosing something precious is a universal fear and experience. That’s what makes the scene so powerful - anyone can put themselves in Vanellopes place and watch Ralph destroy their dream and it fucking HURTS. That makes an audience feel deep empathy for a character. That’s emotional connection. That’s gripping. That’s the power of good story telling. Guardian’s doesn’t have that.
Rise of the Guardians isn’t failing because audiences would rather see crappy franchise movies. It’s failing because it’s an idea that’s been done to death with a mediocre story and it’s release didn’t mesh with all the other HUGE films coming to theaters at the same time.
Ultimately Rise of the Guardians is a
holy shit this is beyond gorgeous film, but it may as well be an expensive pretty box that contains a cheap plastic toy. It’s all packaging and no content.