Review: Rise of the Guardians

Opening today nationwide, Rise of the Guardians is the DreamWorks Pictures bid for a holiday blockbuster. But is it worth your while? And how does it stack up for a family picture — in particular, as a picture for Catholic families?

Let me put it this way:

Rise of the Guardians is the movie G.K. Chesterton would have made if he were alive and working at DreamWorks.

It’s the movie CS Lewis would have written if Jeffrey Katzenberg had said to him, “Remember when Father Christmas shows up in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Forget Narnia, let’s do a movie about him.

A rollicking story in the classic adventure story tradition, Rise of the Guardians pits four — and a possible number five — fairy-tale figures against an equally fabulous villain. When the film opens, the four Guardians are hard at work: “North” is busy monitoring the world for who’s naughty and who’s nice, while his  army of yetis makes toys for Christmas. The Sandman is dispensing dreams to sleeping children. “Tooth” is directing bevies of tiny fairies to pick up lost teeth and bring them to her palace. The Easter Bunny is getting eggs ready for Easter, only three days away. And Jack Frost — who isn’t a Guardian and doesn’t know where he came from or what he’s supposed to do — is causing mayhem by making things freeze, and getting children to romp in the snow.

That all changes when an ancient enemy arises: Pitch Black, also known as “the Boogeyman.” Conquered centuries ago by the Guardians and relegated to nothing but a spooky memory no one really believes in, Black has discovered how to harness the Sandman’s power and turn dreams into nightmares. Soon, Pitch promises, it’s the Guardians who will be dim memories. Children will be left with nothing but fear. He sets his army of black horses (literally “night mares”) to undo all the work of the Guardians, so there is nothing for children to believe in.

How the Guardians fight back and how Jack Frost discovers who he is and what he’s supposed to do make up the rest of this delightful movie. That, and a short but important foray into the everyday world, and some of the children living in it. Warning: The trailers and the commercials don’t capture the tone of this film, which is beautiful without being saccharine, and full of wonder without being precious. The Guardians are strong, robust figures, with a serious mission, some serious combat skills, and formidable technology at their disposal. They’re also brimming with humor without being arch or cynical, the cheap sort of humor too common in children’s films (and those for adults too).

In other words, the Guardians are fully alive — and in a big way. Their job is to guard children, so that the memories of believing in them will last and help guide their whole lives. The mysterious Man in the Moon has chosen Jack Frost to be a new Guardian, but how can he fight Pitch Black when that master of fear is preying on his own secret fears?

The people who made this movie seem to actually like human beings, and especially children, which is more uncommon in family movies than one would imagine. They are also in love with the breathtaking visual world they’ve created — and what’s not to love? The animators have created intricate and beautiful palaces for three of the Guardians (the fourth lives on a cloud of glittering golden sand). We’ve all imagined the toy factory at the North Pole, although perhaps not one with swords over the fireplace and handle that turns on the Northern Lights  — but who ever imagined the combined castle/airport/library ruled by the Tooth Fairy? Or the underground kingdom where the Easter Bunny reigns? Half Easter Island and half Willy Wonka’s “world of pure imagination,” it’s breathtaking when it could easily have been sickening. North’s sleigh is half spaceship, half rollercoaster; and the flock of tooth fairies are based, not on young girls with wings, but on iridescent hummingbirds.

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Gail Finke


Gail D. Finke is an author and mother living in Cincinnati, where she writes for The Catholic Beat at Sacred Heart Radio.

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  • edmundburk

    While I don’t think of myself as a litteralist, I would not teach my kids about Santa Claus,

    the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy, as these characters take focus away from Jesus.

    They also muddy up a child’s understanding of christainty.

  • Julie

    Our family just saw this movie and it is amazing, beautiful, and fun. I really liked it and I would see it again.

  • Then you will not like this movie. If you think that these characters muddy up a child’s understanding of Christianity or take focus away from Jesus, then may I suggest that you look at them a different way? These things prepare one for the understanding that the world is bigger than what anyone can see and hear and touch, and that no matter how enchanting any fantasy is, the reality of Christ is infinitely more wondrous and amazing. Catholic history and literature is full of such characters and celebrations and fun. But if that is not the way you think (and not everyone thinks the same way) then again, this is not the movie for you and you will be much happier seeing something else.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    Don’t know that it would necessarily work for everyone, but I like to think I’ve found a sort of middle ground between the two sides of this argument that has definitely worked for our family.

    We celebrate St. Nicholas’ day, the kids get visits from “the tooth angel” when they lose a tooth (as they already know that sometimes people can be “angels” & leave secret gifts for others), & the presents they get on Christmas & Easter are from Jesus.

    We do share many of the stories about Santa et al, & they enjoy them, but there has never been any confusion for them that mom & dad would tell them a made up story & fool them into believing that it was true when it’s not (something that they get in trouble for as lying when they do it).

    So we are able to maintain our children’s trust, teach them to embrace what is true, AND still be entertained by some stories that tickle the imagination. We’re looking forward to seeing this movie!

  • Pam

    Thank you Gail for a great review. Ths movie sounds full of interesting characters. I am interested in seeing this movie.

  • Cassandra Ho

    what ages are appropriate for this movie? can i take my 4.5yo? not my almost 3yo, I’m guessing. To put it in perspective, my not quite 3yo saw Brave in the theatre and did just fine, so maybe he will be ok? what say you?

  • I think pretty much all ages are okay. The night mares are rather scary, but nothing compared to what you’d find in a typical Disney movie. The overall tone here is very “adventury” — it does not have the depth of emotion of, say, a Pixar film. It’s more of a romp. The scary and sad parts aren’t all that scary or sad. Unless you have an unusually sensitive child, you should be fine.

  • rick

    Thanks for the great review! I never heard of this movie, but your review so intrigued me that I took my kids to see it. You were spot-on! We loved it!