Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

"Rise of the Guardians" is not "Wreck-It Ralph", the movie I really want to see and the movie that everybody seems to be begging me to see.  However, its still really good, so that's what I'm writing about now.  Oddly its a Christmas movie and its November, so I do not fully understand why it came out now, but then again, I understand that the force of modern American holiday capitalism requires that the Christmas season begin earlier and earlier every year, until eventually we can just keep those Christmas trees up all twelve months long.  Speaking of crass capitalist motives, its made by DreamWorks, a company that seems to be schizophrenically flipping back and forth between impressively moving ("How to Train Your Dragon") to embarrassingly awful ("Madagascar 3").  Luckily today I'm talking about one of the former.

If you want a solid family movie with great animation, sympathetic characters, and a great premise, here's "Rise of the Guardians".  If you don't want those things, then watch "Smurfs 2", coming in 2013.  The concept here is more or less Niel Gaiman's "American Gods" but for kids.  Instead of Pagan deities in conflict with physical avatars of the modern world, we have holiday characters and folk mythology fighting the boogeyman.  So of course there's Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman* who all are a apart of a mythological superhero league that fight evil and protect children.  However the real star is Jack Frost, who at first sight might fool you into thinking that he's nothing more than a broody pretty-boy who looks like Joffrey Lannister and only exists to bring in the preteen girls.  That's partially true, but he's also a far more well-rounded character with his own deeper issues.

"Rise of the Guardians" opens with Jack Frost's birth into our world.  He awakens in darkness with no knowledge of his past.  The only thing that the Man in the Moon (read: God) has told him is his name, "Jack Frost".  Out he swims onto a frozen lake in the middle of a forest, where he finds a talisman of power, a wooden staff, with which he can create ice and snow.  His fear and confusion falls into glee, but when he walks into the nearest town, he finds nobody can see him.  You see, the gods need prayer, or in another way, the folk heroes need belief in order to interact with humanity.  The main villain's plot is to destroy that belief and destroy the Guardians, thus opening up the children to unlimited fear.  "Rise of the Guardians" is a movie that stars creatures that some of our more cynical and dickish members of society claim exist only to justify unlimited commercialism or kick Christ out of Christmas or something, but it actually gives a great explanation for why these folk heroes are important.  That's certainly a lot more intelligent of commentary than I expected out of this thing, and for that reason I must recommend this movie fullheartedly.

Jack Frost, at first, seems to be an usual pick to be a member of the Holiday Avengers.  Nobody actually believes in him beyond being a character in a few fairy tales and the line "Jack Frost nipping at your nose".  He also opens the movie by pushing a kid insanely recklessly on his sled into oncoming traffic, almost killing the kid and turning this into DreamWorks' first R-rated cartoon.  However, the kid was still having fun, extremely dangerous and reckless fun, but fun in the face of danger, and Jack Frost wants to bring that joy to kids even if they cannot interact with him.  For this reason, the more traditional gift-giving Guardians are pretty shocked when The Man in the Moon picks Jack Frost to be the next Guardian when the Boogeyman comes back and declares war on them.  And Jack Frost, having become a moody antihero after a few centuries of loneliness, doesn't immediately want to join the crew.

The Guardians are:  Santa Claus, a huge Russian man with two swords and tattoos all along his arms who would be smoking a cigar in most of his scenes if this weren't a kid's movie, the Easter Bunny, a proud Aussie with a boomerang and a bad attitude, the Sandman, a little golden man who can communicate only through Pictionary, and the Tooth Fairy, a bubbly hyperactive woman so sweet that she gives diabetes.  Turns out that Santa Claus' workshop is actually staffed by Wookies, and the Elves just make mischief like they're the Minions from "Despicable Me".  The Tooth Fairy has an army of thousands of little fairies, all of whom are in love with Jack Frost because he's so pretty.  The Easter Bunny has walking rather terrifying eggs.  The Boogieman can make an army of "Nightmares" by corrupting the Sandman's sand dreams with pure darkness.  But Jackfrost has nobody but his stick.  "Rise of the Guardians" also makes an important point that each of these gods are actually avatars are important emotions of childhood.  Santa Claus gives a blessedly inspiring monologue about how he is not merely presents or candy canes or a beard, but actually a being that lives off Wonder, the wonderment that children receive when presents magically appear under their Christmas Trees.  The Sandman is of course Dreams, no further explanation needed.  I wasn't really sure what the Easter Bunny's purpose was, actually, and that movie had to flub it a bit to make the Tooth Fairy the Guardian of Childhood Memories, which somehow are stored in our baby teeth.

The important point and mystery of the movie is just what is Jack Frost supposed to represent.  Its actually interconnected with his own former human life, because it turns out all the holiday gods were once real people.  Jack Frost doesn't remember his human past, and for that reason, he doesn't really understand what the heck he's supposed to be doing in the world.  And even if he wanted to know his past, unfortunately the Oogie Boogieman's first attack is to kidnap all the little tooth fairies and steal all the baby teeth, so he can create the perfect nightmares to freak kids out.

Most of the film depicts the Guardians constantly trying to catch up and stop the Boogieman's next attack.  They need their respective holidays to stay secure or else the children will stop believing in them and become open to the Boogieman's fear.  So the Boogieman decides to destroy every Easter Egg so that kids will lose faith in Easter, ending the Holiday and the Easter Bunny's power is lost**.  Eventually the kids around the world lose faith in all the gods.  Because if the Tooth Fairy doesn't exist, and if the Sandman had disappeared, and no eggs appeared at Easter, then how could anything magical exist at all?  The world is open up again to cold empty reality with nothing but nightmares.

Jack Frost's Inner Meaning, fortunately, is exactly what is needed to save the day.  Beyond this point are spoilers DUNDUNDUN!!!, so I wouldn't recommend reading beyond this if you haven't seen the movie.  In Jack Frost's original life, he was a human teenager walking across a frozen lake with his little sister.  She got stuck in thin ice, and Jack needed to move her or else she would fall in.  But she was too afraid to move.  To get her to walk away, Jack pretended that it was a fun game of skip across the ice, so he could push her out of the way and save her life... only to fall into the water himself and drown horribly.  Jack Frost, as you've probably guessed, is Fun, specifically Fun that comes in the Face of Danger.  He's sledding down a hill at superspeed when you might crash into a tree and die. He's a Snow Day, along with all the car accidents, frost bite, and chaos that comes with it.  But Snow Days are fun, they're freeing, they're what we need every so often.  This is why the Boogieman has an elemental weakness to Jack, Jack Frost's existence overcomes Fear.

Honestly, I think "Rise of the Guardians" is a far stronger movie than "Brave", which still has its merits, I suppose***, and might be the best animated film of the year, next to "ParaNorman".  I liked it, little kids will like it, in fact everybody will probably like it.  Except for hardcore conservative Christians, or grumpy Hanukkah fans who are disappointed that Judas Maccabeus wasn't a Guardian.

Merry December, everybody.

* Who is not at all like his Niel Gaiman incarnation, unfortunately.

** Meanwhile billions of Christians are praying around the world without a single care for the Easter Bunny, probably most of them out of true faith in the real meaning of the Holiday.  Of course, Jesus is too threatening and controversial for a kid's movie, isn't he?  I really don't want to go down the path of boohooing that Christmas has become too secular or whatever, I'm not a Christian, I'm not terribly religious.  But it seems extremely awkward to dance around religion in a movie who main focus is on Easter and Christmas, the two most religious holidays in the Christian calendar, and ones that are focused entirely around Jesus.  I suppose DreamWorks made the right choice here since including any religion in the movie would have been needlessly controversial, and also if Jesus were a Guardian it would be borderline sacrilegious (even though I don't think there is a very much qualitative difference in a child's faith in Santa Claus and an adult's faith in God, faith is faith, a blessed thing in any form).

Then again, think back to just about Christmas movie you can think of:  is Jesus there at all?  Does he even get mentioned in passing?  Nope.  The most religious Christmas movie I can think of is "Its a Wonderful Life" and that's only because an Angel appears.  And half the movies I'm thinking of came out well before the Culture Wars, before multiculturalism, and well before anybody could dare publicly consider themselves atheist.  American pop culture for at least a century now has been secular and sanitized.  I'm not sure why that's been the case for so long.  I don't want to give Fox News any further kindling, but I'm generally respecting of the Christian message on its whole:  do good for others, help out the less fortunate, support those who are rejected by larger society, don't be a dick, etc.  Are those idea too controversial to put in Santa movie?  Unfortunately, maybe, because some asshole will then try to attack homosexuals, Muslims, and abortion in the same sentence, largely missing the point.

*** Still, if they make a "Brave 2", can it not be about people turning into bears?  Seriously, that was the lamest thing, Pixar.


  1. I really did enjoy this movie. It was just the right amount of serious and holiday whimsy that I like to see in my Christmas movies. But yeah you are right about the whole "Jesus" thing. I can understand why they didn't do it with the Christmas thing, because it originally was a pagan holiday to celebrate winter solicise and all that, but with the Easter Bunny guardian I thought it was a tad bit awkward. Oh well! Seeing as the christen church hasn't bitched about it, I won't complain.

    And yeah you posted this on my birthday!

  2. I haven't seen this movie yet, but now I want all representations of Santa Claus to be Russian.

  3. Doesn't that one Charlie Brown movie say at the end that the true meaning of Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus? If so, then there's your Christmas movie that mentions Jesus.

  4. I'm a hardcore Christian and I really enjoyed Rise of the Guardians. I also enjoyed your review of the movie. We are not all crazy extremists with no life. We can love God and Jesus with all our passion, but still can appreciate a tasteful movie. This movie was fun, light-hearted and entertaining. Very good movie for people of all ages.

  5. I liked the movie to and I am a Born-Again Christian. I thought your review was good except for the stuff you said about Christians. The reason why some Christians have a problem with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny is because those holidays ARE, originally, ALL about Jesus Christ. His birth, death, and resurrection. Christmas and Easter are Holidays celebrating the Gospel. Celebrating the FACT that we are all rebellious sinners against a perfect God who has every right to wipe us all out and send us to Hell. But he didn't. Instead he sent his only Son to earth two thousand years ago to be crussified on a cross to pay for our sins. Jesus was fully man AND fully God and never EVER sinned once. But he died for us blinded pathetic humans so that, if we repent of our sins and believe and trust in Him, can be saved and spend eternity with Him forever in Heaven. THAT is why Christmas and Easter exist.
    So here we are two thousand years later and Christmas is nothing but a fun, gift giving, family time with special feelings and lots of romance and Easter just the beginning of spring and egg collecting. Christianity is smacked down as judgemental, bigoted, hypocrites whose belief in God is the equivalent to a child's belief in Santa Clause. THAT is why some true Christians get mad when they see their Lord and Savior's day turned into a secular holiday about fictional characters and shopping. The God of the universe is not an adult version of Santa Clause. He is big, and real, and should be feared by all men. This world will be judged, and everyone who sinned and never came to Christ will pay the consequences. I pray that you will go to Him, that you will realize it is the world telling the lies and being bigoted, evil, jerks. He loves you and wants you to come to Him, so please, call out to Him and ask Him to forgive you.

    Having said all of that, I still love Rise of the Gardians because even though DreamWorks didn't venture to imply the true meanings of those Holidays, compared to other movies, it had a lot of good biblical lessons and morals and was just a very touching movie.