Secular & Somewhat Scary, but Guardians is Great Fun
- Wednesday, November 21, 2012
DVD Release Date: March 12, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: November 21, 2012
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some mildly scary action)
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Run Time: 97 minutes
Director: Peter Ramsey
Cast: Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher
Poor Jack Frost: we sing about him "nipping at your nose" but other than that he’s an enigma. Santa we know; the Easter Bunny, we get; the Tooth Fairy is a familiar character and even the Sandman is an old friend. But Jack Frost? He's something of a mystery... until now. Rise of the Guardians is Jack's story, set against a battle for all the children of the world.
The premise is the standard "good vs. evil" matchup all good stories share, with the twist being an Avengers-style coalition of childhood icons as the heroes. There's Santa, of course, known here as "North," a loud, larger than life, Russian character voiced with gusto by Alec Baldwin (To Rome with Love). He's joined by a boomerang-wielding, egg-distributing commando of an Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman, Butter). Tooth (Isla Fisher, Bachelorette) is a CEO of fairies who deploys her fluttering army hither and yon to pick up teeth and distribute gifts. The final Guardian is Sandman, the Harpo Marx of the group. Sandy is a cuddly cloud of dreams who may not talk, but who manages to communicate nonetheless.
Then there's Jack (voiced by Chris Pine, Star Trek), something of a juvenile delinquent of immortals. He's not a bad kid, just aimless. Like all bored kids, Jack tends to cause trouble, which makes his appointment as a Guardian a surprise to the others (especially the Easter Bunny, who's been harboring a grudge since Jack snowed on his parade some years earlier). Tooth and her fairies are the only ones who welcome Jack to the group; apparently Jack Frost is the Justin Bieber of the fairy world.
It's probably obvious by now that the holidays represented in Rise of the Guardians are totally secular versions; look not for a Christian worldview here. Christmas is Santa's time, not the Christ Child's. Easter is egg-driven; it has nothing to do with the Resurrection. The Moon is personified as a sort of god-like figure, though he’s a hands-off deity who sends cryptic messages without getting involved. In this universe, it’s all up to the Guardians to protect children from despair.
That brings us to the "evil" part of the conflict. Pitch Black (voiced with a perfect silky-smooth sneer by Jude Law, Anna Karenina) is the boogeyman out to destroy the Guardians and cover the earth with fear. His nightmare horses (nightmares, get it?) may well frighten the youngest audience members, though the 3D animators did well to keep the scary steeds closer to the screen rather than bringing them out into the audience. Pitch tries to draw Jack over to the dark side while the rest appeal to Jack’s better nature. While there’s no real mystery about which way Jack will eventually go, there’s a lot of character development and plot to unfold along the way.
While Guardians is meant as a movie for children, adults will find plenty to relate to, like the long-suffering Yeti who make toys in Santa’s workshop (the adorable elves, who must be kin to the minions in Despicable Me, are mostly for show). There's even a pointed message for parents when the Guardians belatedly realize they’ve been so busy doing things for children they haven’t spent any time with children. However, it’s not a film I’d recommend for small or sensitive viewers. Parts of the story are intense and potentially frightening. Jack, a teenager, became immortal after his death, which we see flashbacks of twice. The battles are violent and contain images that could be disturbing.
That said, the spectacle of familiar holiday characters out of their usual context is entertaining, and the friendly rivalry of the Guardians is fun to watch. The animation is outstanding: the exquisite, intricate lace of Jack’s frost on the trees, the glittering trails of dreams Sandman sends across the skies, and so much more are a feast for the eyes. Pony up for the 3D version; this one is definitely worth it. Don’t leave before the credits are over; you’ll want to see how the children get back to bed after their big adventure. For a taste of the action, the film’s website (http://www.riseoftheguardians.com/) offers a number of free online games.
- Drugs/Alcohol: I can’t remember any but it’s possible Santa knocked back a drink, though it was probably milk.
- Language/Profanity: Bunny, who speaks with an Australian accent, uses "bloody" as an adjective. Santa employs Russian classical music composers’ names (Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov…) as cuss words.
- Sex/Nudity: None. The tooth fairies do tend to swoon over Jack, but it’s more schoolgirl crush than love story.
- Violence: Quite a bit and some of it very intense; battles are probably too scary for sensitive viewers. At the beginning of the film Jack is shown floating up to the frozen surface of a pond as he becomes immortal, a scene I found disturbing. In a later flashback we see him fall through the ice to his death. One character appears to have been killed (though appearances can be deceiving). There are a lot of "characters in danger" moments, including children who face their fear in a final standoff.
- Spiritual Themes: It's a story about belief in what you can’t see. Jack spends a lot of time wondering "what am I here for?" before he discovers his purpose. Alert parents will find multiple conversation starters on topics from bad dreams to spiritual gifts.
Publication date: November 21, 2012
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