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

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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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