Wednesday, November 21, 2012

’Tis the Season: “Rise of the Guardians”

Rise of the Guardians by Dreamworks is a fun and frosty treat for younger kids this holiday season. It stars the titans of holiday (and everyday) whimsy—Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost—in a way that doesn’t negate the religious connotations of Christmas and Easter so much as it sidesteps them. This movie is about the symbolism, the legends, and the fairy stories that create the core of a child’s holiday excitement. And this bunch—Santa, Easter Bunny, et al—have made it their mission to bring magic and whimsy into the lives of children all around the world and to guard that innocence and child-like belief.

Every light on the globe is a child who believes.
Rise of the Guardians is about belief in fairies and magic and suggests that when that simplicity is threatened, a tiny light goes out. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense. Rise of the Guardians suggests a light literally goes out—on the globes in the lairs of all the Guardians. Each child who believes in them is represented by a point of light on a globe. The belief of small children is threatened by the Boogey Man—here known as “Pitch Black” or merely, “Pitch,” nicely voiced by Jude Law. Pitch has the power to turn the Sandman’s happy dreams into nightmares. He then goes one better (or worse) and undermines the work of the other Guardians in an evil quest to have fear rule the lives of children. The Guardians are not about to let that happen.

Chris Pine is the voice of Jack Frost, the legendary, magical bringer of snow and frost. Jack Frost is born one day, whole cloth, a young man who has to figure out his reason for existing. The Man In the Moon tells him he is Jack Frost; but tells him nothing else. He finds a magic staff and quickly discovers that he can freeze water, create snow, even fly. But when he lands in a village, people can’t see him and in fact walk right through him. He comes to terms with this and eventually enjoys his role as invisible imp, starting snowball fights, treating kids to a “snow day” off from school, and generally causing slippery but funny havoc everywhere.

Tooth can't help but check out Jack's teeth.
The other magical characters are, simply put, a hoot. Alec Baldwin gives Santa Claus—called “North” here—a Russian accent. The animators gave Santa sleeve tattoos that read “naughty” and “nice” on his forearms. At this North Pole, Yetis make the toys and North lets the largely ineffectual elves think they made the toys. Hugh Jackman is brilliant as the six-foot Easter Bunny with tribal insignia cut into his fur. He fights Pitch with a boomerang and the writers send-up iconic lines from fellow Australian actors in Bunny’s dialogue. Isla Fisher is wonderful as the Tooth Fairy (“Tooth” here) and it’s hilarious when she goes a bit weak in the knees when she meets Chris Pine/Jack Frost. Why should she be any different than any other young lady in America?

This is The Avengers for the young grammar school set. It’s rated PG for “thematic elements and some mildly scary action.” But I really have to ask: why is a Santa Claus/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy movie not rated G? Is anything rated G anymore? Does a story have to be the cinematic version of a child safety seat to get a G rating? Perhaps so. But the natural audience here is young kids; kids who believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. It’s just right for the holiday season. The animation is glorious. And the 3D effects are just the right enhancement to bring to life Jack Frost. 3D snow is very cool, no pun intended. There’s something for boys and girls here. My daughter loved the Tooth Fairy. I loved the moment when Tooth handed Pitch a quarter, then punched him square in the mouth, knocking out one of his teeth, pun intended.

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