What movies come to mind when you think of DreamWorks Animation? Shrek, Puss in Boots, How to Train Your Dragon, and possibly even Antz may come to mind, but one film never gets the credit it deserves. That movie is Rise of the Guardians, directed by Peter Ramsey. Based on William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series, Rise of the Guardians is unique in the landscape of kids’ animated holiday adventures because our heroes include Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and the mischievous Jack Frost. Just think of Ramsey’s film as a holiday version of The Avengers, and you are on the right track.
The Guardians are a slightly dysfunctional troop of folklore heroes who protect the Earth and all its children, but as our story opens, Jack Frost (Chris Pine) isn’t a part of this heroic band. Instead, Jack walks the Earth alone with no special day to mark his importance. He feels ignored and unsure of what his place in the world means to him and the children he entertains when winter bites. But when the evil Pitch Black (Jude Law) threatens to plunge the world into darkness by destroying every child’s belief in the Guardians, Jack finds himself accepted into the fold alongside Santa (Alec Baldwin), E. Aster Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the mute Sandman.
Born in the era of the 3D movie, Rise of the Guardians suffered from a classic storyboarding issue of the time: you know, the one, ‘let’s show everyone how brilliant 3D is and build action sequences around that effect.’ Some reviewers quickly picked up on this, with Roger Ebert writing, “This is a hyperkinetic 3-D action comedy, with the characters forever racing on Santa’s sleigh, hurtling down chutes and zooming through tunnels that rework the same 3-D illusions over and over again.” It’s a fair criticism from Ebert but also ignores the breathtaking spectacle Rise of the Guardians offered outside of its 3D world.
Ramsey’s movie is alive with colour, energy and wonder and holds a surprising emotional depth, particularly in Jack’s journey. The world doesn’t believe in Jack; it bypasses him despite his important seasonal role. One could argue this is a discussion on mental health, belonging, and a need to be seen. But, for me, it talks to something far more complex, our relationship with nature. Jack is the only hero in our movie who represents the Earth. Maybe he is forgotten because the Earth itself is ignored in favour of magical heroes. These ‘other’ heroes give us chocolate eggs, toys, dreams or new teeth, yet it is the Earth-bound Jack who can ultimately save them all from the darkness. It may be a stretch to suggest Rise of the Guardians carries an underlying environmental message. But just maybe, Jack Frost is our hero because he represents the importance of the spinning blue ball suspended in space that holds all our dreams, celebrations and stories together.
Rise of the Guardians is a beautifully uplifting film that revels in the holiday spirit and the childhood wonder of our shared folklore and traditions. Unfortunately, we never got the sequel we so duly deserved despite the film earning $306,941,670 on a budget of $145,000,000. But maybe one day, the Guardians will rise again; until then, we have Peter Ramsey’s delightful and unmissable 2012 adventure.