I love the holidays, all of them. I love the history, the evolution and the traditions. I love the commonalities to different festivals and I LOVE the very idea that we as a species choose certain days to have meaning or special significance whether it’s a calculation based on the phases of the moon or a set calendar date. The whole thing is just wonderful. I also love the personifications we choose to give festivals.
So when I saw the trailers for Rise of the Guardians (director: Peter Ramsey, exec producers: William Joyce and Guillermo del Toro), there was no question in my mind that I was going to go see it at my earliest convenience. So that happened.
I was really surprised though, that the theatre was as empty as it was. Being a child at heart, I really like kids movies but studying and being a children’s comic artist myself, ‘it’s for kids’ does not give a movie carte blanche to do whatever it likes so even if I go to see it, I still have high standards. Kids don’t deserve the lean pickings of most movies aimed at them. They don’t deserve unfunny comic relief or talking slugs or anything like that.
They deserve Rise of the Guardians.
And here’s why:-
From the very first scene, you get an indication of what you’re about to experience. And that is craftsmanship. The beauty and artistry put into Jack Frost’s frost and ice abilities is actually breath-taking. Guillermo del Toro’s influence is all over the film, living in the details. Each Guardian has a distinct style to themselves and their home. The Easter Bunny’s was my particular favourite, with a deep, natural setting that reminded me a lot of Miyazaki Hayao’s work without being derivative.
I love films that take a well-used premise – the personification of the holidays – and puts a little spin on it. I haven’t read The Guardians of Childhood (William Joyce) which the film is based off, so I can’t comment on how faithful to the book it is. I think, however, that having Santa (or North as he’s called in the film) be Russian, tattooed and dual wielding cutlasses is nothing short of genius. This ‘badass’ exterior is juxtaposed by the hearty, laughing voice acting of Alec Baldwin. Each Guardian and even the villain, Pitch, has a wonderful individual charm brought to life by the actors.
When I saw the trailers, I was a bit ‘meh’ about Jack Frost being depicted as a young man. I thought ‘oh god, they want him to be cool’ (were puns intended?). But Jack is so well done, with enough heart and personality all his own, that two seconds in, it didn’t matter anymore. This was Jack Frost and I wanted to go along for the ride.
Rise of the Guardians also avoided the trap of where to pitch their humour which gives an unfortunate amount of ‘children’s movies’ an identity crisis, putting in jokes and gags that will only mean anything to an adult. Rise of the Guardians is for children, I think there were only one or two lines that were directed obliquely at adults. The beauty and whimsy and action were for the kids, but not in the patronising way too many movies fall into. Children aren’t dumb and any children’s artist will tell you they pick more detailed depictions over simplified ones. Kids will notice and love all the little touches and flourishes, even if they perhaps won’t know that Pitch’s lair is modelled on an Escher painting, or that the Tooth Fairy’s abode is recursive in design. They don’t need to know that kind of thing to enjoy the colours and craftsmanship or the warm, approachable characters.
Another surprising move, given the release date and the general snowiness of the movie, is that it is not about Christmas. It’s actually set during Easter. Of course, Jack Frost being all over the place frosting it up may make you forget this occasionally, but I thought that was actually a really good touch. I can’t even begin to list how many movies about Christmas and saving Christmas I’ve seen, mostly because I’ve blotted some of them out of my memory in self-defence, so it was refreshing to have a holiday movie with stakes actually be about Easter.
If you need a movie to take your little geeks to, pick this one.
If you just want to go see something beautiful with genuine heart, pick this one.