"Rise of the Guardians," the new Dreamworks animated film with all-star voice talent, was the most genuinely entertaining children's movie I've seen since the time I was still in the target audience.
Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman form the core group of "guardians" to protect children from the nightmares and the cynicism driven into them by the evil Boogeyman. The Guardians' manager, the man in the moon, sees fit to induct a new guardian when the Boogeyman has a sinister new plan to weaken the guardians: Make children stop believing in them.
Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) is a figure that children haven't believed in for his entire 300-year existence, according to the film's timeline. He gives them snow days and snowball fights and inexplicable freezes at random times, but "don't let Jack Frost nip at your nose" remains only a phrase.
Frost's whole life seems to sway between up-tempo winter hijinks all over the world (St. Petersburg, Russia, and somewhere in the Eastern Midwest U.S. seem to be his favorite spots for purposes of the film), and deep depression and disillusionment at being selected to have powers by the man in the
moon but not be recognized by anyone.
The Easter Bunny agrees. When Jack Frost finally gets promoted to Guardian, the rabbit (voiced by Hugh Jackman in his legitimate Aussie accent) sees him as nothing but an irresponsible child incapable of the responsibility a Guardian has for the children of the world.
Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin) appears to be the leader of the Guardians, and he is certainly assertive and large enough for the role. We're introduced to Santa, called "North" in the film, as he is listening to a Stravinsky suite and calling upon his dwarves for cookies. The Stravinsky isn't a random choice, either, because North is clearly Russian here.
The film lists a "Researcher" in the credits and although the basis for Santa being Russian isn't within the history of St. Nicholas of Lycia, who the figure is based on, it may well have to do with the actual North Pole being predominantly monitored by the Russians. Regardless of why he's Russian, he's a fun character and represents a very likeable new way to present a character who has been presented basically the same way for far too long. He has sleeve tattoos on either arm; one says "Naughty," the other "Nice."
My personal favorite guardian was probably "Sandy," the silent Sandman, who lulls children to sleep by creating dreams of happy things. His power over the children is the first to be attacked by "Pitch," the Boogeyman. Voiced by Jude Law, the villain finds a way to turn the golden sands of dreams with happy, prancing unicorns into pitch-black nightmares and large horse minions.
Except for Sandy and Jack Frost, all of the guardians have henchmen with likeable individual personalities. Santa gets two different sets - his elves, who are mostly inept and childishly distracted and enthusiastic, and the yetis who actually assemble the toys throughout the year (never to the full satisfaction of Santa). The Yetis also guard Santa's castle at the North Pole, which works as the headquarters for all the guardians. "Tooth," the loving and highly organized Tooth Fairy voiced by Isla Fisher, has countless miniature fairies, who are the next item on the list for Pitch's plan for domination. One of the tooth fairies plays a fairly prominent and adorable role in the film.
The story itself is a fairly basic "good vs. evil" one, but it has a unique feel to it. The idea of "guardians" all meeting at a headquarters to discuss wordly dealings, and plans to keep the world happy and equipped with both classic and modern technology, works to turn these classic children's figures into sort of modern-day superheroes. The villain, who reminded me somewhat of James Woods' Hades in the Disney animated "Hercules" film, coming up with diabolical plans straight out of classic James Bond-style spy films makes for great reinvention of the holiday family-feature format.
Stay through the credits to see a short retrospective of the minor characters.
With characters that will entertain the children, a pacing to keep the audience fully interested, beautiful imagery (that is never too scary for very young children), and references to the likes of Aesop's fables and "Alice in Wonderland," Rise of the Guardians is a winning family film. It will keep the whole family happy and entertained, and may reinvent age-old classics just enough to keep the children and family imaginative through the holidays.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews will appear periodically in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)