‘Rise of the Guardians’ tackles cliches around childhood fantasies

By Christopher K. Conner

In “Rise of the Guardians,” DreamWorks Animation’s adaptation of William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood books, Jack Frost is a boy without a past. The first thing he remembers is darkness and fear. After the dark came the light of the moon that led him back to the world, but things were strange and different, even though he had no memory to compare it to. Everything he touched frosted, the winds pushed him into the sky and, to his surprise, no one was able to see him.

After three hundred years, Jack (Chris Pine) has gotten somewhat used to his role as troublemaker and force of nature. He is still disappointed that no children seem to believe in him like they do the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy. He also questions the ultimate purpose of his existence.

Elsewhere, Santa (Alec Baldwin) is interrupted in his workshop. There he has a globe that represents every child on Earth. There is something wrong with the globe. Some dark mist starts to form above it. Santa recognizes the threat as Pitch Black, the bogeyman. A force he and the other guardians defeated in the Dark Ages. Santa sends out a signal to call the others. The sandman, tooth fairy and Easter bunny respond to the call from the north pole.

Assembled there, they learn from the man in the moon that another guardian has been chosen: Jack Frost. Initially reluctant to accept him because of the trouble he has caused in the past, the guardians agree to bring Jack in and allow him to join forces with the four of them to stop whatever Pitch has planned. Jack remains a rebel and refuses to agree to the job.

While Santa, or North, is explaining what the guardians are to Jack, word comes that there is trouble at the tooth fairy’s castle. Agreeing to accompany the other three guardians for a chance to ride in the sleigh, Jack joins the group without fully becoming a guardian. When they arrive they find nightmares have captured most of Tooth’s fairies and taken all of the teeth.

Asking why Pitch would want the teeth, Jack learns that the teeth are collected because they contain memories. The fairies revive the memories when they’re needed. Jack’s own missing memories can be rediscovered by finding the teeth he lost before becoming Jack Frost. To regain his memories, he agrees to help recover all of the children’s teeth and rescue the fairies.

On the way, Tooth starts to lose her abilities because children, disappointed that their teeth were still under their pillows the next morning, stop believing in her. The guardians rely on the belief of children to exist. With the help of Jack and the other guardians, they manage to collect all of the teeth and ensure that children keep believing, but Pitch’s power is growing, and children are starting to doubt.

“Rise of the Guardians” takes a lot of the standard cliches around childhood fantasy and twists them nearly to the breaking point. Still, it somehow manages to stay just inside the limits of what the audience will be able to handle. Even though presenting Santa Claus with tattoos, a Russian accent and dual swords causes some concern, by the end of the film, it’s easy to accept these diversions from the standard descriptions of these characters.

I asked my kids if there was any part of “Rise of the Guardians” that they liked more than any other. Neither were able to do so because they liked every part. They also agreed that it wasn’t very scary, which was one concern I had going in.

The story is a fairly insightful alternative origin for the denizens of childhood fantasy. It also makes for an easy to follow, but still interesting plot for both children and adults. Given a chance to see any of this year’s animated films a second time, “Rise of the Guardians” would be my choice

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