My friend and I were chatting about how Dreamworks has yet to produce a film that surpasses the Pixar series. I think I’m going to have to revise my previous claim. I may upset some of fans of Shrek or How to Train Your Dragon, but this movie may be my personal favorite from Dreamworks. Overall, it makes for an empowering and heartwarming experience that can speak to any stage of one’s life. It’s no secret that fear, doubts, and anxiety can weaken people’s faith—in themselves and in others. Disillusionment is a scary thing, especially when it happens to children, whom we want to protect and nurture. Like many Christmas movies, this story meditates on what might happen when kids stop believing. All of our beloved mystical creations like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, Sandman, and Easter Bunny make a team of Guardians that nurture children’s dreams and wonder for life. The film showcases unique and clever renditions of each mythical character. When an evil sulky boogeyman, Pitch Black (Jude Law), brings nightmares into town, the Man of the Moon appoints a new guardian—Jack Frost, a fun, mischievous, and kind spirit who summons winter delights with a brush of his skin.
The movie opens with Jack (Chris Pine), who wakes up from a frozen lake with no recollection of his past. He soon realizes that he can create ice, snow, and slippery ice paths for the kids to enjoy. Even from the beginning, the computer graphic design makes Jack’s frosty flight absolutely mesmerizing—I myself returned to a child-like state of wonder. While he delivers joy and fun times to children, they can’t see him. Although he is surrounded by so many people, he tries hard to not be disheartened by his state of isolation. When the Guardians decide to welcome him, Jack hesitates because he doesn’t believe he has anything to offer—after all, people don’t see or believe in him.
Meanwhile, Pitch Black corrupts the dreams that Sandman weaves with nightmares, instilling fear and disbelief into the children’s minds. These nightmares slowly diminish the kids’ enthusiasm and belief, rendering childhood rituals and holidays obsolete. Pitch Black won’t rest until he extinguishes every last bit of belief. Throughout the movie, Jack learns why he has been chosen for the guardianship and learns to truly own his gift for bringing fun and gaiety to the children.
Although most of us aren’t Jack Frost or Santa Claus, we all think about why we exist and what we are meant to do in life. Sometimes, we second guess ourselves and surmise that we do not belong or do not deserve a certain position or reward. Through his journey, Jack learns that he is indeed strong enough to protect the children from darkness. Viewers will most definitely feel his joy when he begins to realize, bit by bit, that he has a genuine gift for understanding and reaching out to children. I don’t think I’ve ever identified this much with an animated character in a very long time. Usually I’m left thinking that they’re kind of unreasonable. Jack’s introspection felt very refreshing and rather sincere, especially since a lot of the heroes and heroines of animated films tend to be confused and hapless underdogs who manage to save the day despite their constant blunders, simply because they have “a lot of heart.” That’s all fine and dandy, as long as you don’t leave us with just that kind of a vague answer (I’m talking to you, Arthur Christmas). Our protagonist proves to be capable of genuine development instead of merely playing the self-pitying victim or reluctant hero (A.K.A. the “Why won’t anyone like me? I’m so endearing” deal). I think the film ingeniously defines what it exactly means to have “a lot of heart.” You’ll have to see the movie to understand what I mean.
But beyond all the amazing character work and inspiring “uplifting-ness” this movie’s got, it also features really interesting takes on “stock” mythical characters. To start with, they’re a team of eccentric superstars. Santa Claus, a.k.a North (Alec Baldwin), boasts tattoos of “naughty” on one arm and “nice” on the other. He’s a jolly-but-tough leader, unafraid to showcase his prowess with swords and has a Russian accent. The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is tall, self-assured, cocky, and has the coolest accent ever. He has some of the best lines and exchanges with Pine’s Jack Frost. The ebullient Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) sends little baby teeth fairies to collect children’s teeth–and there’s a fascinating story behind this tradition. The Sandman, a mute but arguably the most powerful Guardian, weaves dreams of gold dust. For once, these superheroes aren’t the fail-safe answer to the problem of sulky villains. They are portrayed just as vulnerable to and fearful of a darkness that begins to slowly envelop the world, and even they, too, need a little help (and even a reality check). Might this be a comment on grown-ups not having all the answers? The movie beautifully illustrates how people can confront dark moments and doubts if they are able to remember their wonder and zest for life. For those who disapprove of asking children to believe in mythical figures, the point is to believe in something, and that is easier said than done.
The movie had some great lines as well. At one point, a character remarks that “children are what we’ll ever be,” that we can preserve the youth and integrity of our inner selves rather than growing old, bitter, and disillusioned. I liked how the movie wasn’t afraid to meditate on childhood and what it means to be a kid because when faced with fear, we return to our childlike wonder and vulnerability. Overcoming fear requires quite a bit of imagination and performance.
Replete with excellent voice acting, dialogue, and story, Rise of the Guardians is an absolute winner for the winter holidays. Parents and younger children will adore this magical film about the importance of belief and imagination.