Rise of the Guardians (2012)

I was not particularly optimistic about Rise of the Guardians. But I should have trusted Dreamworks. They have made the best clap-if-you-believe-in-fairies movie I have ever seen. I thought I was over the whole childlike-holiday-spirit movie ethos, but apparently not. The movie was amazing. How on earth did it not make a profit? It was way, way better than the creepy adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Hogfather, which covers a lot of the same ground. There are also maybe some echoes of Epic here, but Epic wasn’t nearly as good.

Apparently, Rise of the Guardians (like that weird, weird mess, Meet the Robinsons) is the brainchild of writer William Joyce. Oh, hey, wait, Epic is his too, actually. Huh. He must really have a thing for hummingbirds.

Anyway, the premise of Rise of the Guardians is that a lonely magical teen named Jack Frost is called in to help four others (Santa aka Nicholas St. North, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman) who guard the children of the world because the Bogeyman, Pitch Black, is trying to gain power again by making them afraid. If he succeeds, he could destroy belief, and with it, the guardians themselves, along with all hope and happiness. But Jack is just a carefree punk who doesn’t know where he came from. What could he possibly do?


For more on what I liked (with SPOILERS), keep reading.

I liked:

The characters.

(When they stand together, they’re quite a colorful team: Red, yellow, green, blue, and gray.)

  • The gruff Santa character’s Russian accent.
  • The Sandman’s nonverbal communication.
  • The Tooth Fairy’s chipper dorkiness.
  • The Easter Bunny’s Australian accent and chip-on-the-shoulder attitude.
  • The understandably neglected-feeling villain, who uses his vulnerability as a weapon. (I see what you did there, Pitch Black.)
  • The fiercely loyal human boy and his cute little sister.
  • Jack Frost’s loneliness and benevolence.

The world building.

(All the guardians, and the villain, have a kind of lair and a kind of magic transportation method.)

  • The elves at the north pole, which are basically like minions but triangular and red instead of pill-shaped and yellow. (The yetis are the ones that make the toys.)
  • The roller-coaster sky sleigh.
  • The place where the humming bird fairies keep the teeth, and the explanation for what the teeth do: store the best memories of childhood.
  • The bunny’s warren on Easter Island. The mossy statues… get it? Ha ha ha.
  • Eggs with legs. [Insert Futurama Fry Meme: Not sure whether cute or just weird.]
  • The lair of the villain under the rotten wooden skeleton of an old bed.

The visuals… wish I’d seen this in 3D, actually.

  • The joyride sequences: flying, sledding, sleighing, etc.
  • The beautiful, frightening, shadowy night mares.
  • The golden sand of good dreams filled with animal friends: unicorns, dinosaurs, dolphins, fish.

The themes.

  • Find your center, your purpose, and live it.
  • Stand up for what you believe in.
  • Defend your friends.
  • Use laughter to drive out fear.

If there was a weakness, I think it was that I was unsure exactly how the eggs got destroyed on Easter morning. It seemed like the Bogeyman led Jack to where the eggs were with an illusion, and made Jack fight and thrash around from fear when he didn’t know where he was. Then the illusion fell away and he was among the broken eggs. It’s not clear how Jack was in the warren when he thought he wasn’t, though.

And speaking of location, location, location… once someone points it out to you, you start seeing China in every movie. Hollywood movie makers want East Asian ticket buyers to feel at least a little bit at home, I guess. But do they save their teeth for the tooth fairy? Not traditionally, they don’t. Maybe in Shanghai, where the guardians go, it’s a hip new trend.

Nevertheless, the movie has a very western, very American kind of cultural vibe, despite a nod to the tooth mouse of Europe (who also operates in some countries in Latin America, Wikipedia informs me).

Though secularized, the movie clearly revolves around faith—not fame or popularity, as is claimed elsewhere—and the two primary Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter, which represent the birth and rebirth of Jesus. The role of God is played by the moon, or rather the Man in the Moon. Jack Frost himself is rather Christlike: he dies to save someone else, then he’s raised from the dead and keeps watch over a human flock with his shepherd’s crook.

Jack Frost is not just benevolent, though. He’s mischievous and, well, cool. I almost wish I was a tween again so I could legit have a crush on him. Wait, no, I take it back. Middle school was horrible. Never mind. Still. He can fly! Never mind the ice thing, flying is the best super power ever, even if it comes saddled with invisibility—which isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. And I sure could use some winter once in a while. If I believe in Jack Frost hard enough, do you think he’d come to Singapore?