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My Review of Rise of the Guardians
Guardians of Childhood
© 2013 B.L. Bierley
Okay, I took plenty of time in preparing my review of this film. It was the first movie in a long time to have a profound impact on me—especially for a cartoon feature film. This movie didn’t shy away from the delicate topics of make-believe/real belief and the effects on children as you might expect. No, this movie was more realistic than any other Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy film ever made.
Now, before you go attacking me saying I am fostering lies to children or making them believe in something with a film that just does not exist or supporting pagan symbols instead of religious ones, I invite you to take a closer look with me. I also tap you on your nose and remind you that movies aren’t real, people. Unless it’s a documentary, the suspension of disbelief is what draws people to the movie theater or to the store to purchase the three-disk DVD-Blu-ray set with commentary.
In this film we are introduced to familiar characters and a few we’ve heard of but never considered as significant before viewing this film. And all of these beloved characters are the Guardians of childhood who rely on the Man in the Moon, in my mind a personification of God, to dictate their work and keep them in line.
The voice characterizations in this film were not overly spectacular. It’s difficult for some of us to recognize some people by their sound without a face. I know now, after doing some research, that Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman and Jude Law round out the big names in the film (I have to give a small shout out to Dakota Goyo as well, mostly because I loved his performance in Real Steel—also with Hugh Jackman). But no matter who was saying the words, the writing was superb!
The story begins with the main protagonist, Jack Frost, telling a bit about how he came to be the purveyor of snow days. And we get the idea from the introduction that there are things that we will learn about Jack as the movie progresses. Something about his existence troubles him, but until he finds a way to discover what’s missing, he is a little belligerent and unmanageable. Yet you recognize this irreverence from the beginning as significant.
What a Character!
The film’s characterizations are hilarity personified! North is the nickname of the Russian St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus. The idea of Santa as a big tough Russian with a sweet child-like heart at his center is pure magic! The shy, quiet Sandman, who communicates wordlessly using symbols and pictures-- like parts of a dream, isn’t as mild-mannered as you might imagine once he’s riled up! The Tooth Fairy is the protector of childhood memories through the collection of their teeth. This is significant to Jack, who has no memory of his life before becoming Jack Frost. Tooth is his biggest fan with her flighty (literally), animated attachment. Her obsession with molars and incisors is the best rendition of a tooth-fairy I’ve ever witnessed, hands down. But the real kicker for me was the Aussie Easter Bunny—officially E. Aster Bunnyman, and his beef with Jack Frost throughout their 300-plus year acquaintance.
And while they aren’t essential to the plot, North’s Yetis (large hairy creatures tasked with making toys at North’s workshop and getting frustrated with misdirection), and the elves (not making toys but curiously being a pesky nuisance to North and the Yetis as they steal cookies and get in the way of real business) are comic gold! The sleigh and the intimidating reindeer as well are a little more than you might expect, too.
The Plot (here be spoilers, folks)
The story revolves around three things: Jack Frost has been named a Guardian, but of course he’s reluctant to accept the job. Pitch Black (the boogeyman) is stealing dreams from children and turning them into nightmares right under the Sandman’s nose, thus ending their childhoods much too soon and bringing a crushing reality of life upon them before they are ready. As the Guardians try to battle against Pitch to protect the children, the children’s belief in them soon dwindles and the powers the Guardians all share soon begin to fizzle and die as each light representing a believing child dims and blinks out.
Jack is the only hope they have, but in the third element of the tale, we learn that Jack has no knowledge of what he was before he became Jack Frost—and he’s still not sure of himself as a potential Guardian with so many unanswered questions of his purpose in life. As a sort of underlying trouble to his status as a Guardian, children don’t really recognize him on the same level as the others. When Pitch steals all of Tooth’s collected teeth and thus all the children’s memories of things like the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, Jack recognizes a reason to help them. He wants to recover his stolen childhood memories, which he hadn’t known he could get from Tooth all along until they were gone. He has no memories of why he became Jack Frost to begin with, and at the crux of the story, it is this hope of finding his memories that leads him to assist the Guardians.
They struggle to maintain control of the children’s happiness by helping Tooth retrieve all the teeth and maintaining the children’s belief. Just when they think things are safe again, Pitch is back to battle them for control. When Sandman is blacked out by Pitch’s nightmares, it’s a dark period in their fight. In the end of the harrowing battle Jack is able to drive Pitch away, but he doesn’t know how or why it happened. It seems that Jack has untapped powers that they need to fight Pitch.
They hold out hope that the next big holiday will work to keep the children’s support, and vicariously the strength of their powers going strong. But the plot thickens when Easter arrives and Pitch destroys the holiday completely while Jack is lured away by the promise of his memories. One by one the children’s lights begin to disappear from the globe. Jack is blamed for the loss of innocence and the Guardians’ powers disappear. Jack and a lone Baby Tooth Fairy are left to try and salvage what Pitch has done, armed with Jack’s baby teeth—his memories of childhood.
The memories reveal that Jack was a son, a big brother, and a hero in his actual lifetime. By calming his sister’s fear and making light of the dark situation when she ventures onto thin ice Jack saved her life, paying the ultimate price with his own. And that was when the Man in the Moon decided he was a Guardian, not just his recent call to duty. Jack’s newfound purpose, making life fun and taking away fear, is the key to taking down Pitch with the help of the last child who still believes. Even without their powers, all of the remaining Guardians do their best to restore the children’s faith in their childhood and Pitch is vanquished back beneath the bed where he belongs.
The children, who now recognize Jack Frost as a hero and a Guardian, are sad to see them go, but they restore the balance to the Guardians in the end. The realistic themes of death, fear, loss of innocence and the belief in things that give us hope and comfort as children were nicely done in this film. Whether you are eight or eighty you can recognize your own childhood memories of these majestic Guardians, who at their center are all children at heart.
Pagan Holidays? Or Hidden Christian Messages? You Decide.
I think that the true meaning behind the holidays is symbolically represented well throughout this film. As Jack is created and offered as a new Guardian to North (Santa Claus—Christmas) by the Man in the Moon (who clearly represents God), it symbolizes the birth of Jesus as a hero. At first he wasn’t widely known, and many didn’t believe in him either. He carries a staff that creates the frost (like Jesus’s role as a shepherd, if you will agree). Throughout the film, Jack exhibits doubts and tribulation, much the same way Jesus did when he questioned God’s purpose in his lower moments. Jack could also represent the sinners of the world with his irreverent view of things and his record-holding presence on North’s naughty list. But Jack is also discovering that he has to be the one to drive the darkness of Pitch Black away – Pitch is clearly a version of Satan troubling civilization all of those years ago as the Christians built their faith in Jesus and in God.
When Easter is ruined in the movie because Jack is gone (though not dead like the Sandman seems to be) it is a reminder of the temptation of Christ that Jack is pulled from his purpose temporarily. This is also a symbol of Jesus's death (his absence) and the Crucifixion (when the others lose their faith in him and essentially give him up as a Guardian). When Baby Tooth reminds Jack of the memories he found (like a child leading us back to faith by his or her simple view of things), Jack's purpose and vision are restored, like Christ who rose again at Easter to save our souls for eternity from the darkness.
The representation of faith is shown in Jack’s ability to drive that darkness away—which resurrects Sandman and helps to further restore belief in the children. In order to accomplish this, Jack is given back the memories he lost, sort of like the way God restores Jesus’s own faith that his persecution was the only way for Christianity to win its war against evil and those who refused to believe.
Jack being an only son, who gave his life so that others (here symbolized by his younger sister who is one of God’s children) could live on, is a true Guardian at last. The faith in the Guardians and the children’s preservation of their beliefs is what drives away Pitch in the end, back below the symbolic bed (or back to Hell, if you will). When Jack realizes he’s been a Guardian all along, he discovers that his center is there, just like a Christian who discovers Jesus and takes him into his or her heart and accepts him as a personal savior.
Much like the faith of Christians the world over—sometimes our faith wobbles and we lose and gain it by degrees throughout our life as we get older and know more about the world, but in the end it’s faith that pulls us back up by the belt loops. I didn’t see any of this symbolism until the second time I watched the film. But when I recognized how cleverly the message was wrapped up like a gift into the story, all I could think was, “How poetically done, Hollywood. Well played.”
What I loved about this film was its adherence to tradition while at the same time it created new personifications of our beloved childhood folklore. I loved that the story didn’t gloss over the idea that childhood eventually does end and that it is our memories that keep us young and keep those Guardians of Childhood fresh in our hearts for our own children. My own children have given up the illusion of such things, but they still honor their Guardians through their parents, a sort of transference of hope from the fantasy to the reality, if you will. Ziggy is still amazed when he remembers all of the years, the reindeer food being “eaten” off our sidewalk, the stories we would share of family time and memories of our favorite holidays together, and anything that he has treasured because he knows that the Guardians of his childhood are always going to be there for him, no matter what, in Cap and me.
Would I Recommend this Film? Yes, Yes I Would! This movie is now one of my favorite films of all times because they used the idea of childhood to sell something many of us have forgotten to cherish as we have grown up and aged into adults with lives and wide-eyed children of our own. I will always believe in Pitch Black, even if he can’t scare a forty-two year old woman much anymore. I will believe in North, Tooth, Sandy, E. Aster Bunnyman, Baby Tooth and the inimitable Jack Frost, who is now a Guardian in the lives of many through this film. Even though we only see him on rare occurrences here in the south (Jack Frost, not Jesus—Jesus is everywhere down here!), he’s the Guardian of the occasional white Christmas, the one who makes fancy windows once in a while for us to enjoy, and who will be a childhood joy with snowflakes that fall when they are most unexpected and appreciated—just like God’s miracles to those who truly believe,.