When I went to see the adorable Wreck-It Ralph a couple of weeks ago, I saw ads for another animated movie, Rise of the Guardians. Pretty much all I knew was that it was about Santa Claus and Jack Frost and the like, and there was a monster to fight…but this put it close enough to fairy tales to pique my interest, and so I went to see it this past weekend. And it was excellent!
The movie focuses on the great mythical figures of childhood–I’m not sure quite what to call them, and “anthropomorphic manifestations” is too long, so let’s call them fables for convenience. The main fables are Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman–and Jack Frost, our lead character. The first four are Guardians, protecting children through the centuries. Now childhood is threatened by Pitch Black, the Bogeyman, and the Guardians are seeking Jack Frost’s help to fight back.
Jack has his own worries to think about–no humans can see him, no children believe in him and he doesn’t know what his purpose is meant to be–but he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to be a Guardian. Irresponsible and free-spirited, he doesn’t see himself as Guardian material, yet finds himself pulled into the fight against Pitch.
It’s a good plot that keeps moving at a quick pace, and the movie is enormous fun. I love the way they play with the portrayal of the fables. These aren’t the simple, saccharine characters who show up on Hallmark cards. Santa (Alec Baldwin) seems to resemble a Russian mob boss who runs the North Pole with the help of tiny, hilariously-inept elves and a lot of Yetis. The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is Australian, wields a boomerang with deadly effect, and uses magic rabbit holes to get around. The Sandman is a tiny gold man with clouds of sand around him all the time, who doesn’t speak but flashes symbols above his head. The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) is a hyperactive cross between a humming bird and a human who is a little too interested in everyone’s teeth, and is surrounded by a crowd of tiny, hummingbird fairies. And Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is an outwardly-tough prankster with a good heart, who is in fact deeply lonely. Pitch (Jude Law) is suitably frightening, although I must admit a sneaking sympathy with him too.
The characters are engaging, both fun and appealing, and the humor is great–and this movie is SO beautiful. It’s not the kind of beautiful animation you see in Brave, with all those landscapes (and Merida’s amazing hair!), but the animated medium lets them do incredible things with the magic. It’s more like some of the scenes from Fantasia, with lights and shapes and beautiful patterns. Jack leaves lacy flowers of frost behind him everywhere he touches, and there’s a wonderful opening scene as he leaps around a frozen lake leaving patterns in his wake. The Sandman sends dreams as golden streamers of light soaring through the air to each sleeping child. And Pitch’s nightmares are horrifying black stallions that stream shadows behind them. It’s all so vivid, and so magical.
I have one criticism–the holidays are very much simplified down, and the movie exists in a world where Easter simply won’t happen if there aren’t any eggs, and Christmas is irrevocably and entirely ruined if Santa doesn’t come. I don’t appreciate that message…but I’m also somewhat resigned to it in this kind of story. Movies almost always equate Christmas with Santa, and I guess I’ll have to watch The Nativity Story if I want something else–or A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Aside from that, this actually has a quite nice message, about the wonders and joys of childhood and their importance. The story takes a J.M. Barrie-esque twist, as it turns out that the Guardians need the belief of children to give them strength. I like that balance, of the children needing the Guardians but also the Guardians needing the children. And even if Santa isn’t really the deepest part of Christmas, this is a fairly deep Santa–somewhere inside the Russian mob boss, that is.
Technically, this is set around Easter, but it feels very much like a Christmas movie. After all, two major characters are Santa Claus and Jack Frost, and most of the settings feature snow. It has a Christmas movie atmosphere too. As the cliche phrase puts it, it would be “fun for the whole family.” I know it made me smile all the way through!
Movie site: http://www.riseoftheguardians.com/