DreamWorks’s animated film Rise of the Guardians is out just in time for the pre-holidays, which evidentially begins just after Halloween now. From the billboards around town it might seem like a Christmas movie, but the story actually takes place around Easter. Along with Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), nicknamed “North” in the movie, the main characters include “Bunny,” (Hugh Jackman) the Easter Bunny, “Tooth,” the Tooth Fairy, just about every persona of childhood fables; and the plot centers on the lesser-known of these “Guardians,” Jack Frost (Chris Pine).
Seems everyone knows about the legendary Guardians, whose job it is to look after the children of the world, but nobody knows that Jack Frost is real. Frustrated by his invisible existence, Jack stirs up trouble everywhere his staff touches, much like the Mayhem man of the Allstate commercials, freezing up sidewalks and streets and conjures up blizzards while trying to stave off his loneliness.
When the Boogey Man, “Pitch,” (Jude Law) cages up all the Tooth Fairy’s helpers and steals the vials of lost teeth that store every child’s childhood memories, children stop believing in the Guardians. If Pitch succeeds, the world will go dark – a world without wonder, without which the Guardians cannot exist, and fear will rule.
Pitch’s dark force of scary black horses, or Night Mares, are truly frightening. When the Night Mares began stampeding and screeching across the screen, pawing and snorting furiously, my five-year-old grabbed my arm and said he wanted to leave. I explained to him that the Guardians were very powerful and they were going to protect all the children from Pitch and his Night Mares. This was DreamWorks after all, and I had to assume this was going to be a happy ending. So my son decided to give it a few minutes longer, and we stayed for the rest of the movie, though he still tugged on my arm every time the horses made an appearance.
Besides the ominous steeds, another element of the movie that was perhaps a bit too intense for young children – and for me – was Jack Frost’s path to becoming a Guardian (Spoiler alert! Skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens). A la “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jack was playing on a frozen pond with his sibling, a younger sister, when the ice began to crack. Jack saves his sister, but he plunges into the icy water, drifting to the bottom, and passing into the Guardian world. Though I suppose the story is intended to comfort those who contemplate the question of the “why” when the life of a child is lost, it only caused me to ponder the reality of such an unfathomable tragedy. It was the one scene in the film that actually moved me emotionally, to tears.
The overall plot was a little intricate for young children to follow, but the action and 3D effects will keep them engaged — my son actually reached out several times to try to catch snowflakes! The characters and accents were entertaining, and the renderings of the North Pole, Tooth Fairy land, the Easter Bunny’s lair and other other-worldly places were fantastical and imaginative. To perhaps inspire a little creativity and get the kids of the house, Rise of the Guardians will make a good diversion from the busy holidays, even if kids in Southern California have never heard of Jack Frost.