Too many films aimed at children lack a sense of wonder, which is one reason I like Rise of the Guardians. Drawing on the mythology devised by author William Joyce in his series of books The Guardians of Childhood, the movie introduces us to the characters that figure so importantly in almost every child’s existence: the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. The odd man out is newcomer Jack Frost, who’s never understood his purpose in life because he doesn’t really know who he is.
In fact, the movie starts out on a dark note as Jack emerges from the murky waters under a layer of ice and begins “frosting” the world around him. (Adults may intuit something from that opening scene that isn’t explained until the climax.) In the meantime, the other Guardians recruit him to join their ranks in order to fight Pitch, aka The Boogeyman, who seeks to undo their good work by robbing children around the world of their innocent beliefs. Pitch is a formidable villain, richly voiced by Jude Law; what is it about British actors that make them such vivid bad guys?
The other leading actors are well-chosen, although I didn’t anticipate Alec Baldwin doing a lusty Russian accent as North (the name given here to Santa). Chris Pine as Jack Frost, Hugh Jackman as a pugnacious Aussie Easter Bunny, and Isla Fisher as the Tooth Fairy are also good.
This may be the first animated feature to be scripted by a Pulitzer Prize winner. David Lindsay-Abaire is no stranger to the cartoon world: he adapted Joyce’s Robots for the screen, and worked on Shrek the Third, as well as the Shrek stage musical. He won his prestigious prize for the moving stage drama Rabbit Hole, which he also adapted for the screen. His thoughtful work here, with its dark underpinnings, give the film some weight and make it more than mere escapist fare.
My only criticism of Peter Ramsey’s direction is that it’s so kinetic. For a film about faith and belief it’s awfully restless, constantly zigging and zagging through scenes. A bit of repose wouldn’t have hurt.
But in this case it’s the content that matters more than the form. That’s why I think Rise of the Guardians will make an impression on its target audience of kids and leave parents feeling they haven’t wasted their time.