Rise of the Guardians: Super Hero Santa?
Although Rise of the Guardians is loosely adapted by screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire from William Joyce’s book series “The Guardians of Childhood” and from Joyce’s short film “The Man in the Moon,” the theme is taken from the most famous line in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” In the film, first-time feature director Peter Ramsey weaves the story of Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine), the mysterious, lonely imp who brings winter and enjoys the inherent fun in all things icy, slick, and cold, but who longs for a family and home and for children to believe in him and, therefore, see him.
Unfortunately, there’s another creature very much like Jack, but Pitch Black (voice of Jude Law), a lonely, embittered boogeyman, wants to spread fear among the children of earth and creates Nightmares, black horses streaming sandy darkness which destroys children’s dreams. Now the Guardians of childhood innocence — North (voice of Alec Baldwin), a huge Russian Santa; Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), an Aussie Easter Bunny the size of a Kangaroo; Tooth (voice of Isla Fisher), a birdlike Tooth Fairy; and Sandy, the Sandman whose golden, shimmering sands of sweet dreams have been hijacked by Pitch — must protect the world’s children from Pitch’s fearful, galloping Nightmares. The Guardians conscript the reluctant Jack, who refuses their sudden attention until Pitch raids Tooth’s castle and steals all the teeth she’s collected. When Jack learns that baby teeth contain memories of the person’s past, including his own, he decides to help the Guardians retrieve the teeth so he can remember his human life. Meanwhile, Pitch deprives children of security and hope, and North, Bunny, Tooth, and Sandy, who derive their power from the children’s belief in them, start to lose their super powers.
Although Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman as super heroes jars the imagination at first, in this film, which is structured as every super hero film is with big battles and moments when all seems lost, it has a realism that’s appealing. North as Santa is big, strong, and full of wonder, not soft, round, and jolly like the traditional American Santa, while Bunny aka the Easter Bunny has a slight mean streak and a no-nonsense demeanor. This Tooth Fairy’s beautiful array of glimmering feathers, her fascination with teeth, and her flock of tiny hummingbird-esque assistants make her a thing of joy to watch. However, it is the mute and sleepy Sandman aka Sandy whose golden, shimmering body and streaming golden sands of sleep epitomize the magic created by writers Lindsay-Abaire and Joyce and director Ramsey in Rise of the Guardians.
Although speechless, the slumbering Sandy ultimately speaks the most eloquently with the nonverbal language of film. The voice talents, however, are not to be overlooked, and the animators often add real emotion to the characters’ movements which look like real acting, especially for Jack. Ramsey does an exceptional job of bringing real drama and characters to screen in this animated film; however, parents need to be aware that there’s also a real edginess to the film’s darker themes, probably influenced by executive producer Guillermo del Toro, whose work includes delicious horror films. While some children’s characters appear in the film, they are never developed, and children in the audience will have only Jack to identify with, and his existence in the freezing cold of memory loss and loneliness is stark stuff for tots. Fortunately, that’s a subplot and undercurrent beneath the exciting, action adventure of super heroes saving not just pleasant dreams, coins under pillows, Easter egg hunts, and Christmas presents, but hope from the evil Pitch.
In addition to the powerful theme of hope and fearless optimism that the future can be better, the film also has a gorgeous look and sound, even though the 3-D process is weak. As with DreamWorks films, Rise of the Guardians creates a visual feast of beautifully drawn and fully-animated images. For example, in Santa’s hi-tech workshop, Yeti make toys, Elves toddle around like the Minions in Despicable Me, and improbable toy prototypes dance through air like sugar plums. However, if viewers are too close to the screen, off to one side, or want to look where Ramsey is not directing the eye, the 3-D looks distorted. As expected, secular, universal themes dispense with any religious significance for Christmas and Easter, and the merchandising of Jack, Tooth, Pitch, and Sandy promises a commercial bonanza. Futhermore, Pitch isn’t permanently vanquished, so a sequel is possible. Rise of the Guardians, a Paramount Pictures release of a DreamWorks Animation production, is rated PG for “thematic elements and some mildly scary action” and runs 89 minutes. Rise of the Guardians opens Wednesday November 21st.
More of Olmsted’s reviews can be found at www.cinematicskinny.com.
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