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Rise of the Guardians

Director: Peter Ramsey
Cast: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo

(Paramount Studios; US theatrical: 21 Nov 2012 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 16 Nov 2012 (General release); 2012)

Would I Trick You?

There’s no Thanksgiving Turkey in Rise of the Guardians. This even though the movie’s opening weekend is ostensibly his holiday and also, even though he’s as famously used to spread holiday cheer—and sell holiday product—as his peers, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, who do play lead roles in the film. And, well, you could make the argument that the Turkey is better known than a few figures who do make their way into the new animated movie, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman.


Perhaps the Turkey is left out because no one actually wants to eat the other fantastical figures. This, and his waddle, might make it hard for the Turkey to fit in with the other Guardians, set up here as a team of protectors—of children, they tell themselves, but more accurately of childhood as a concept, a concept that, by the way, allows these figures to exist (if kids don’t believe in them, the movie’s premise has it, they’re in trouble). The Turkey doesn’t go in much for protecting anyone.


But neither does Jack Frost (Chris Pine), whose induction into the Guardians forms the film’s plot. He has his reasons. He tells you at the start that the first thing he remembers is darkness… and oh yes, cold. He was scared and alone, he goes on, and since that moment, he’s found out only a little bit more about himself, namely, that he not only feels cold but can also create ice and cold (perhaps this leads to his comfort with cold, indicated by the fact that he goes barefoot in winter). The other major thing he learns is that no one else can see or hear him. That’s a problem. While it’s fun to slip-slide on ice and deliver snow days to happy school kids, he does wish he might be seen.


That changes for Jack when he’s tapped to join the Guardians, comprised of figures from stories told to children, that is, Santa, a.k.a. North (Alec Baldwin, using a cartoony Russian accent), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Sand Man (who is silent and so played by no voice-actor, which is one way to keep down costs), and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher). At first, he resists, professing no interest in the Guardians’ charge, which is to protect children’s emotional and physical wellbeing, that is to say, to help them to believe in each of these figures, because kids have to believe, that’s what makes them kids.


Soon enough, Jack and the rest of the Guardians face something like an existential challenge, in the form of Pitch (Jude Law), who also goes by the name of Pitch Black or Bogeyman. He wants to make children afraid—which means they believe in him rather than those fantasies who bring gifts and eggs and exchange coins for teeth. When Pitch begins to shut down holidays. He begins by kidnapping Tooth’s worker fairies (it’s never clear how she’s so human-sized and they’re all fairy-sized and have no voices, or how they’re the workers and she’s management, though she does refer to her previous days “in the field,” when she exchanged teeth for coins). Pitch then goes on—with help by his (also unpaid?) laborers—to steal the Easter Bunny’s eggs, and, more vaguely, to encourage kids at Christmas not to believe in Santa. This believing business is tracked in a rather cumbersome way, as Santa keeps a big globe at the North Pole that features lights for all the believers: as these begin to go out at an alarming rate, the Guardians face … something, perhaps termination of their jobs, perhaps a more permanent end. It’s not quite clear.


Amid the crisis, Jack has a falling out with his Guardian buddies, the sort of falling out that always factors into a team-of-superheroes movie (Rise of the Guardians is rather like The Avengers with training wheels). As he ponders his place and his as yet unknown previous identity, Pitch makes a special appeal to him, arguing that, since they’ve both spent most of their existences unseen and un-believed in, Jack might abandon the Guardians altogether and take up with him instead. Being cold and dark, Pitch reasons, they’re a natural duo.


But Jack has another desire, not only to be seen and believed in, but also to be liked, not dreaded. This is something of a deal-breaker as he contemplates an alliance with Pitch, and so he makes the other choice, to side with the Guardians. This is an especially helpful decision for the Guardians, because Jack has a human boy believer in his back pocket, as it were, a kid named Jamie (Dakota Goyo) whose lone light still burns on that weird globe in the workroom at the North Pole.


And so they all fly off to Jamie’s neighborhood, where they hope to save him from Pitch, who has his own plan, to snuff out this last light by scaring the kid into believing in the Bogeyman instead of, say, a rabbit who brings colored eggs and chocolates or a turkey who dances with Pilgrims. It’s not exactly a sticking point, this idea of belief, but it’s a point the movie uses carelessly, as both plot convenience and unexplained phenomenon. It’s good that Jamie believes, of course, because the Guardians need him to do that. But you may be less convinced.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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