With the voices of Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Peter Ramsey. Rated PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action. 97 minutes.
Notes for a review of RISE OF THE GUARDIANS:
Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine) is asked to join an elite team of mythic heroes to fight Pitch Black (Jude Law), also known as the Boogie Man. Selected by the mysterious (and silent) Man in the Moon, the Guardians included a macho Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), an Australian Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman.
We’re in “Avengers” territory here. All of these characters – except, possibly, the Sandman – have appeared in their own films, but now they’re united in an action-packed romp against an enemy set to destroy them all. These are tough characters. Santa has a Russian accent, tattoos on his arms (that read “Naughty” and “Nice”) and wields not one but two swords. The Easter Bunny flings boomerangs. The Tooth Fairy has an army of underlings and you do not want to cross the Sandman.
Jack isn’t clear why he should join this muscular fighting force, but comes to learn that if Pitch succeeds, children will lose their hopes and dreams and have only nightmares. When one of their number is seemingly killed, Jack knows he has to throw his lot in with these superheroes…
(There’s other stuff going on here. Perhaps a different tack is more appropriate.)
Children can’t see Jack Frost because they don’t believe in him. When Pitch destroys the Easter eggs and kidnaps all the Tooth Fairy’s helpers, the characters start to fade away since children no longer have faith in them. The film raises a number of theological issues from the importance of faith to the need for “proof.” The human child who helps turn the tide has actually seen the supernatural characters and thus “believes.”
There’s a thread of paganism running through the film, from the mysterious “Man in the Moon,” who speaks to the Guardians at key moments although is unheard by us, to the arguing between Santa and the Easter Bunny as to which holiday is more important. It turns out not to be about which miracle is greater – that is, the birth vs. resurrection of Jesus – but presents vs. eggs.
Viewers are invited to “believe” in the characters to help defeat the villainous Boogie Man, as if faith in the Tooth Fairy ought to be the focus of our world.
(Perhaps Christian theology is not the best approach for a Jewish film critic.)
“Rise of the Guardians” is a charming fantasy that children will appreciate more than cynical adults. They will get that the protection of childhood fantasies is what gives children the hopes that they will grow up into a better world while Pitch Black offers nothing but cynicism and despair. Mixing adventure, comedy and a bit of drama, it teaches the important lesson that good is possible in the world, but you have to work at it.
As for adults who want to read too much into a children’s animated film, it’s important to remember: it’s only a movie.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.