I’m really trying to shut my big, sexy brain off long enough to appreciate Rise of the Guardians, an animated movie that turns childhood fantasy figures like Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Sandman into a superhero team for pre-teens. It is not, as you can imagine, a film that holds up to close scrutiny. Jesus, for example, has nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever in this universe. I’m looking forward to conservative “War on Christmas” pundits whining about that one. It’s certainly not the point of the film – namely, venerating the imaginary figureheads of youth – but it does raise certain questions. If Santa Claus can be real, why can’t Jesus? Or Superman? Or Harry Potter? Does the power of imagination draw the line at organized religion or just at the bottom of a copyright infringement claim?
Rise of the Guardians does not want me to ask these questions. It wants me to sit down, shut up and watch as an Australian Easter Bunny (another thing that’s never explained) fights unicorns made out of evil black nightmare sand. Mom and Dad, I presume, wanted to get some chores done in the other room and needed me distracted for 97 minutes. But I don’t live with my parents – at least until the economy takes another nosedive – so I’m left with a film that doesn’t know what to do with me. If I were ten years old again, I’d be mildly amused, and maybe even intrigued at all the other magical fantasy characters who could get the superhero treatment in this milieu. A gun-toting Uncle Sam? The hook-handed spirit of “Talk Like a Pirate Day?” A solar energy-wielding groundhog? The possibilities are… well, limited, but they’re at least enough to fuel an afternoon of lazy daydreaming.
The story follows Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), who awakens as an ice-manipulating spirit of winter with no knowledge of who he is, why he exists, and how come nobody can see him. Centuries later his existential crisis is still completely unresolved, so Jack amuses himself by making suburban snow days totally awesome and occasionally ruining Easter. He doesn’t know it yet, but Jack’s been selected to join “The Guardians,” a team of imaginary characters responsible for keeping childhood wonder alive, and who have been called together to stop The Boogeyman (Jude Law) from destroying children’s faith in Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and The Sandman (who never speaks).
Surprisingly, Rise of the Guardians doesn’t linger too much on pointless action sequences of Santa beating the tar out of bad guys. The Boogeyman’s plot involves kidnapping the Tooth Fairy’s helpers and destroying all the Easter Bunny’s eggs so all the disappointed youngsters will turn their back on childish things. The heroes’ solution to these problems – and others – is good, old-fashioned teamwork, working together to keep each childhood milestone from falling apart. The Boogeyman’s plot works so well, however, that eventually the world’s children succumb to cynicism, diminishing the Guardians’ powers and potentially preventing them from even being seen, much like Jack Frost himself.
A couple things with that: if not believing in fantasy characters weakens them so much, then why is The Boogeyman so powerful? His whole motivation is that children these days are told not to believe in him, so how can he be such a viable threat? Or how’s this: if Jack Frost can’t be seen for the exact same reason, that nobody believes in him, then how the hell do we have the concept of “Jack Frost” in the first place? How did he introduce himself to the world if the whole point of the story is that he’s incapable of communicating with anyone? And what about the film’s third act, in which only one child in the whole world still believes in the Guardians, but only because he actually saw them in person? Why don’t the Guardians just hold a press conference? Do they really need to keep their existence a secret from adults? Is it really so important that adults don’t believe in the Easter Bunny if he’s actually been real this whole time? Ow! My brain! My precious, beautiful brain!
So Rise of the Guardians doesn’t make any sense. That’s fine. It’s a zippy children’s adventure, and I get the impression that going down in history as a timeless classic was at most a tertiary concern. It won’t hurt your children (unless you’re religious enough to get uppity about that whole “Jesus” thing), and its message is goodhearted enough to encourage young audiences to actually use their imaginations and not just turn them off for an hour-and-a-half. Who cares if the Guardians already arose centuries before the beginning of Rise of the Guardians?
Oh right, I do.
Follow William Bibbiani on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.