Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. The Sand Man. Jack Frost. Who knew that when the children of Earth are threatened, the Man in the Moon calls upon these Guardians to fight the dark forces rising? William Joyce, the author of the series of children’s books on which Rise of the Guardians is based, has created an Avengers for kids – only it’s not just the kids who will appreciate this film. Guardians is on the level of Pixar’s The Incredibles, a creative animated take on a superhero genre, this time recruiting legendary folk and fable heroes to lead the charge.
The Guardians rise to fight off the Boogeyman, here named Pitch Black. Pitch is forgotten and ignored, and wishes to come out from underneath beds and dark closets. His plans include dark dreams and horrible nightmares, dashing the dreams and holidays of children worldwide, which will increase his powers and destroy those of the Guardians. Jack Frost is selected to join the team as he is key to defeating Pitch, but the Guardians will have to learn to work together to save the spirit of childhood.
Not since The Incredibles have I sat in a theater, slack-jawed and laughing constantly at how clever a movie can be. This is animation post-Shrek. No pop-culture pun crutches required. No flat animation with an endless depth-of-field. No simple Platonic hero’s journey, insert character’s name here. No cover band pop soundtrack to sell to the boomers. No… This is a beautifully animated, fast paced, heart touching ode to Victorian fairy tales living in a modern age. The story is fairly simple and straight-forward, but most children’s stories are. Here, the real wonder is in the attention to action scenes, art design and heart strings, carefully crafting a real bond between the film and the viewer as we learn how each character cares for their calling, creating the wonder and will of childhood too quickly abandoned. Guardians reminded me of how it felt to be a child, imagining the team-up that would happen if Santa Claus was a hardened Russian ready to kick some ass with a giant Easter Bunny if someone messed with their cookies, kids or eggs.
The reception to this film has sadly been luke-warm, but I hope it gets enough word of mouth to earn a sequel or two. There are too many fun stories and more opportunities to bring in other mythical heroes and villains, and as fully-realized as Rise of the Guardians truly is, it left me craving more, more, more. And as Santa (Mr. North) says, “We bring wonder and hope, we bring joy and dreams. We are the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy, we are the Easter Bunny, and Santa. And our powers are greater than you ever imagine…”