BY IRENE KARRAS
Rise of the Guardians is visually gorgeous, has the most attractive and crush-worthy animated cast ever, and should have been one of those movies destined to become a Christmas classic about all the big themes: hope, faith, innocence, etc. Instead it ends up being just okay, an entertaining enough way to pass an afternoon with some fun moments and even a couple of emotional ones, but a little too invested in perpetuating a Western, capitalist agenda at the expense of true wonder and joy.
I took my 11-year-old daughter, 5YO son and his friend to a matinee. The story revolves around Jack Frost’s rite of passage into the Guardians’ club, which includes Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy–all charged with defending childhood’s innocence. The antagonist is the Boogeyman, a.k.a. Pitch Black, who, after years of being ignored by children, is taking back the night. If the Guardians don’t stop him, they will cease to exist.
Although the story revolves around Jack Frost and his wintery mischief, I thought the overall themes were much more Easter-like: one day, long ago, a mother’s son sacrifices himself to save the innocent, becomes the saviour of humanity–represented by childhood purity and belief–while a small group of believers prepare to martyr themselves against the Dark One on His behalf and to help spread the word. It’s all kind of heavy for a kid’s movie about commercialized, secular figures, and just one example of the film’s overbearing approach.
I’m pretty sure my 11YO was crushing on Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine, and to be fair, he was extremely good-looking for an animated imp-like character. I, however, was inappropriately drawn to the British Goth bad-boy Pitch, voiced by Jude Law. Each time he was on screen, I could hear the faint electronica of Depeche Mode, make-out music from my youth, playing in my head. It was a little disconcerting, but a testament to how great the graphics in the film are.
Some other wins were a tatted-up Russian Santa Claus voiced by Alec Baldwin–the only thing that would have improved this character would have been for him to take the occasional swig out of a Vodka mickey because damn, Christmas is hard enough for me to organize for three kids, so I can’t imagine being responsible for all the children in the world–and an endearingly-expressive, silent Sandman. Hugh Jackman was pretty funny as a bitter, Boomerang-yielding Easter Bunny, too.
But in the end, these characters weren’t enough to keep the littler ones from getting bored at about the one-hour mark, not really invested in the identity crisis and “finding your centre” aspects of Jack’s quest. Plus, the Boogeyman wasn’t really all that scary, just kind of angsty, so when one of the beloved Guardians disappeared, there wasn’t a whole lot of concern.
I probably wasn’t supposed to identify most with the Boogeyman, but as stated above I kind of have a thing for sad/mad British boys in trench coats, and I could see why he’d be ticked that early childhood has been so whitewashed by corporate interests constantly selling us products that will keep our kids “happy” while creating increasingly unhappy and unstable generations of children. Ultimately, the kids in the film are in danger of losing faith because the Boogeyman upsets the capitalist machinations of the Guardians. What an inspiring Christmas message!
Irene Karras is a Calgary-based communications consultant and freelance writer with a fondness for 1950s Greek melodramas, 1980s coming of age movies, weird Canadian films, and, by necessity, PG movies. She blogs at misplacedmysassy.wordpress.com and tweets @irene_karras.
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