So, Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost all walk onto a movie set and ...
Jack Frost used to be a real, warm-blooded boy. But for some 300 years now he's kept people reaching for a sweater and another log for the fire. With his magical staff, it's as simple as point and click. Sleet and slush, iced-over lakes, frozen window panes, they're all his handiwork. And he particularly enjoys a little playful mischief—whipping up an unexpected snowstorm here or stirring up a slip-slidey snowball fight there.
Deep down in his icy core, though, the teen-turned-chill-maker is full of questions: Who is he? Where did he come from? What's his purpose? All he can remember is that first day long ago when he awoke in the depths of darkness, rose up out of a frozen lake and was greeted by the brilliant bluish light from the full moon overhead. He's sure that he was given his freezing abilities by that unspeaking Man in the Moon way up there. But to what end, he hasn't got a clue.
The Guardians, on the other hand, they seem to have it all together. North, Tooth, Bunnymund, Sandman: They all know what their roles are. They know it's their duty to protect children and keep dreams safe. North (he's Santa Claus) hands out presents and candy canes. Tooth (as in the Tooth Fairy) collects pearly whites from under pillows. Bunnymund (the Easter Bunny, of course), hides colorful eggs. And Sandman (no explanation needed) sparkles up dreams with golden sand. That's the good stuff, as far as Jack is concerned.
So he's pretty surprised when, one day, the Guardians ask him to join their group. It doesn't make sense, really. Kids don't believe in him! Cold weather's just cold weather to them. He's a nobody. But North makes it clear that it's the will of the Man in the Moon.
"There's a real danger coming," he tells Jack. The dark dream-spoiler Pitch has suddenly reared his black head again. This boogeyman is stirring up an army of galloping nightmares. And he's already captured nearly all of Tooth's little fairies. If he can keep the Guardians from their duties, the children will stop believing. And when kids blast past belief, all manner of bad things can happen.
It's time for an icy guy from nowhere to step up and help. And that's a warm (hearted) front that Jack never saw coming.
The members of the Guardians are an odd bunch, to say the least—each with his or her own powers, workloads and neuroses—but they're all willing to lay down their lives for the kids they're assigned to protect. And they take an oath to that effect. In fact, as Pitch's plan to induce kids to stop believing starts unfolding, the heroes begin to lose their strength. Still, the good guys limp up to try to protect a group of innocents. And it's at that point that the kids, filled with renewed belief, step up to protect them from Pitch's nightmares.
Indeed, the film seeks to empower children haunted by fears and nightmares by personifying and then vanquishing the evil behind them.
Jack, when cornered by a glowering Pitch, offers up his powerful staff in exchange for the life of a tiny defenseless fairy. And in a flashback we see that Jack, as a human teen, saved his frightened little sister from falling through the ice on a frozen lake.
North suggests that we're all like a set of nesting dolls. Different aspects of our personalities make up the outer layers but our core is the most important part of who we are. When the Guardians call out to kids, North wishes them a "Merry Christmas," Bunny calls out "Happy Easter" and Tooth cheerily reminds them, "Don't forget to floss!"
Grown-ups are reminded not to spend so much time preparing for the holidays that they fail to enjoy them with their kiddos.
The Guardians (akin to guardian angels) all have their own magical abilities—ranging from Jack Frost's blasts of ice to Bunny's ability to create magical rabbit holes that provide him shortcuts to the action. It's said that these gifts were given to them by the Man in the Moon, a deity-like character who never speaks while watching over them from high above in the night sky. And Jack Frost's origin story of breaking free from darkness into light carries that God-like symbolism even further. He says at one point, "When the Moon tells you something, believe it."
But don't too quickly link the Man in the Moon to God Himself. Because the analogy breaks down with this: It's a child's belief that keeps the Guardians strong, not the Man in the Moon. When they no longer believe, the mythical heroes grow weak.
Pitch, meanwhile, is something of a Satan figure eager to twist what is good and engulf the world in darkness. In his case, a child's victory involves acknowledging the presence of evil, yet refusing to fear him ("I do believe in you. I'm just not afraid of you").
Bunny is the only character who says anything that might be considered close to a biblical truth—but even that stops short of recognizing the true order of the spiritual universe. He talks about his special holiday's meaning, saying, "Easter is new beginnings, new life. Easter is about hope."
None. Though Tooth's fairies all coo over the cute Jack as if he were an icy Justin Bieber.
There is a threat communicated through Pitch's growing number of black, ghost-like nightmares. Shaped as horses, they swallow up hundreds of tiny fairies. Pitch himself shoots a magical black-tipped arrow into Sandman and it dissolves him into a swirl of black sand. After the Guardians paint thousands of eggs for Easter, we see that Pitch has smashed them all.
Defending themselves and their small human charges, Sandman wields long whips of golden sand and North swings around a couple of Russian swords, using their weapons (only) against the wispy nightmares.
Tooth tries to calm a young girl by showing her some of the collected children's teeth with "cute little bits of blood and gum" still on them. Some of Jack's mischief gets dangerous. For instance, he takes a young boy on a careening sled ride, icing a path past cars and brick walls through the streets of town. In the end, the kid crashes into a snowbank, then loses a tooth when he's walloped by a sofa that was also sent sliding on the ice. North's tiny elves occasionally push or thump one another (à la the minions in Despicable Me).
When teenage Jack falls through the iced-over lake, he drowns, floating peacefully in the frigid water. His "death" quickly dissolves into clouds of memory as he assumes his frosty new role.
Crude or Profane Language
The Australian-accented Bunny spits out "bloody" and "crikey" several times each. He also interjects the Down Under-inspired retort "rack off!" We also hear "gosh."
Drug and Alcohol Content
You've seen the likes of Rise of the Guardians before.
This is a colorful little animated confection filled with recognizable (read: derivative) mythical characters. And it bases its tale on that well-worn question, "If kids stop believing in the residents of their childhood fantasies, will those make-believe heroes cease to exist?
The twist here is that these jingle bell-wearing and tooth-rescuing good guys are all part of a magical brotherhood, pulled together by the Man in the Moon and assigned to protect the well-being and pleasant dreams of children everywhere. On the other side of the dreamy battlefield? A boogeyman baddie intent on stealing every child's belief and replacing it with nightmares and fear.
There's lots of holiday sparkle and some solid voice work here. But this pic's rather bland script fails to enchant. And, more importantly, if you're looking for even a single Easter egg devoted to the faith behind the beloved holidays celebrating the birth and resurrection of Jesus, well, Jack Frost is absolutely no help at all with that.
So here's the "I'm dreading the holidays ... they always come too soon" perspective: Rise of the Guardians is a purely secular mishmash of "keep believin'" adventures and lightly threatening swirling shadows that eventually winds up in a happy ending. The best that can happen with this rambunctious flick is that bits of its swooping, twirling, 3-D Santa's sleigh ride could end up becoming a theme park roller coaster ride someday.
And here's the "I can't wait for Christmas! It's the best time of the year!" take: Christian parents who end up watching this movie with their kids may feel a renewed sense of urgency to be intentional about teaching them the true meaning of Christmas and Easter. Indeed, as we see here, belief does matter. Just not for the same reasons that worry the Guardians. So Rise of the Guardians can turn into an "excuse" for us to renew our passion for finding creative ways to help our kids embrace truth even as Hollywood storytellers are selling them fantasy.