Maia and I took Gabriel, 9, and Jacy, 8, to see the new DreamWorks Animation adventure, “Rise of the Guardians” Sunday, and found this roller coaster ride of a story extremely enjoyable for the whole family.
I wasn’t sold on going at first. I had visions of reveling in the silence of an empty house for two hours, but since I am nicknamed “The Rabbit,” and being that one of the Guardians happens to be a 6’1″ boomerang-throwing bunny, my presence was requested.
The tale is based upon William Joyce’s, “The Guardians of Childhood” book series, and centers around a group of heroes who each have their own distinct set of extraordinary abilities, and together stand as guardians to the children of the world against the darkness that feeds upon their fears.
The Guardians are characters we all know well:
The defacto leader is Santa Claus, who is referred to as North (short for North Pole I believe). In this portrayal Santa is more a warrior with a heart of gold than jolly old Saint Nick, who focuses his capabilities upon the responsibility of delivering Christmas. This is a trimmer Santa, with a pronounced Russian accent, and has “Naughty” tattooed on one arm and “Nice” on the other. He’s fond of swords, and has yetis (think the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot), along with some mischievous elves, to assist in carrying out his obligations. He is voiced by Alec Baldwin.
The Tooth Fairy is an elegant blue and green iridescent half-human, half-hummingbird creature. She is the picture of perpetual motion, as her job of collecting teeth and rewarding children is a 24/7 operation. Luckily Tooth has her baby-fairies to help. What we didn’t know is that kept within every childs’ teeth are the most precious of childhood memories, which the Tooth Fairy safeguards.
Bunny, as in the Easter Bunny, is of the Australian persuasion, and has a thick Aussie accent that comes via Hugh Jackman, who is speaking in his native tongue for once. This lengthy rabbit is buff, agile and confidant. Bunny also is ready for battle, and sports leather wrist guards, a pair of magical boomerangs and bandolier filled with exploding eggs. This savvy critter is unflappable, aside from getting bristled by North’s never-ending insinuations that Christmas is more important than Easter.
Sandy is the keeper of dreams – The Sandman. He is this diminutive gold-colored apparition, who hovers above the ground, and spins 24-carat golden dreams of majestic dinosaurs and galloping unicorns, which keep the littles snug in their beds as they sleep through the night. He doesn’t speak, but instead uses sand to create illustrations that materialize above his head. Figuring out what he’s trying to say is part of the humor, like playing a game of charades. He may not appear daunting, but Sandy is a fierce warrior and possesses great power as the dreamweaver.
These are the original Guardians, all of whom were selected by the Man in the Moon.
But a darkness is rising.
Pitch, as in Pitch Black, the place where all fear resides, has grown in strength. He has endured generations of parents telling their children not to fear or believe in him, yet the Guardians are beloved by all. The Boogeyman wants his due and is ready to come out from behind the shadows so all will believe in his awful power. Voiced menacingly by Jude Law, this evil spirit with his sinister army of nightmares seeks to overtake the world.
The Moon feels this threat is such that the time has come to add a new Guardian, Jack Frost to the fold, and together these immortals should join forces for the first time to protect the hopes and dreams of all the children.
Jack Frost, who is voiced by Chris Pine (think Captain Kirk from the new Star Trek movies), is a more obscure and theoretical namesake, usually only summoned to mind when snow arrives. He glides across the winds, tapping his staff on windows and lakes, freezing all with a touch. He is a friend to all children, and deliverer of the coveted “snow day.”
Jack isn’t real keen on joining this crew. He’s not sold this whole Guardians things is legit. But actually he has some confidence issues. He can’t remember his human past, before he became Jack Frost, and the children don’t really believe in him as an entity, so when he appears people walk right through him as if he wasn’t there.
The movie takes a dark turn once Pitch puts his plan into motion. First he takes Sandy down, then poisons all the children’s dreams. Next he moves to hinder the ability of the Tooth Fairy to make her rounds and ruins Easter. The idea being that if the Guardians can’t fulfill their duties the children will stop believing in them, which starts working, and Tooth and Bunny begin to dissipate.
Even Santa loses his bounce.
It suddenly falls upon Jack to summon the internal strength and courage to do that which he never believed he could do in order to save the day.
The movie does a nice job of subtly addressing how kids might deal with issues of lacking self-confidence, and how being overlooked by adults or their peers can impact children’s self-esteem.
Guardians also highlights the superstition behind each of these characters, and the holidays represented.
One thing I found amusing was how we were taken on a tour through the logistical side of how North, Tooth and Bunny manufacture and deliver their wares. It brought to mind those UPS ads about supply chain logistics.
We visit the North Pole, Bunny’s rabbit warren and the Tooth Fairy’s enchanted domain, and witness the healthy competition between the three for who has the best organization, hardest job and fastest service.
Still, North has the Yetis and elves, which are hard to beat for humor. They remind me of the minions in “Despicable Me,” self-deprecating and funny in an understated fashion.
It’s really cool to see all these legends brought to life and put in motion.
Watching how each character travels can’t help but trigger your imagination: Sandy on his spun gold; Tooth with her darting flight; Jack blowing through the wind; Bunny through his magical tunnel network (a nod to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice and Wonderland”), and of course North on his sleigh.
“Everybody loves the sleigh,” Santa confirms.
Peter Ramsey, in his movie directorial debut, unfolds this story beautifully. But the darkness that permeates this film belongs to Guillermo del Toro, the executive producer, who directed the “Hellboy” movies and “Pans Labyrinth.”
If you are in need of a minute away from holiday shopping and could use some innocent entertainment, “Rise of the Guardians” delivers a Christmas spin with just the right edge to keep all ages enthralled.