Santa Claus (Alex Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Sandman make up the team of mythical creatures referred to as The Guardians in the animated adaptation of William Joyce’s book, Rise of the Guardians. The myths of these characters build off our preconceptions to establish an imaginative world that contains endless possibilities and is visually stunning.
Directed by Peter Ramsey, written by David Lindsay-Abaire and co-produced by Guilemro Del Toro, the film follows the Guardians (“it is our job to protect the children of the world”) as they join forces to defeat the evil Pitch Black (Jude Law), who threatens to strike fear in the hearts of the world’s children. In order to do this, the Guardians team up with the protagonist of the film, Jack Frost (Chris Pine) who begins the film as a newly born mythical creature desperate to seek talents other than creating ice, wind and snow.
The majority of Rise of the Guardians is filled with high speed flights across rooftops or huge, but that isn’t where its appeal lies. The film comes to life when our prior knowledge of these long-standing characters is used as a foundation to create the film’s world. We are all aware that the Tooth Fairy takes teeth and leaves money, but did you know that teeth contain our memories? Santa Claus builds toys at the North Pole, but did you know about his army? The Easter Bunny is associated with eggs, but how does he paint them? In every scene, the film enhances our preconceptions of what these characters can do.
Then there’s Frost, a character with no real back story but that’s exactly the point. He’s enigmatic, uncertain of his place in the world and desperate for people to notice and accept him. Here, the film has built a character that is flawed, potentially dangerous, but very powerful with an affinity for good. His array of human characteristics is what keeps the film grounded in real emotions.
The film makers have enlisted a talented group of actors to bring some inspired vocal interpretations of these classic characters. The best of these may be Baldwin’s spirited performance as North. This is not the warm, lovable St. Nick featured in the original Miracle on 34th Street. This Father Christmas is a gregarious Russian bear of a man ready to wield his twin swords when needed. Fisher’s fairy is a charming, flirty sprite as she admires everyone’s oral hygiene. Pine’s Frost possesses some of the confidence of an extreme sports champion. His bravado masks his ambition to be appreciated by the world’s children (“Hey, I make snow days!”). As Pitch, Law is a sneering gentleman villain, an educated eloquent fellow who delights in his own wickedness.
The writing is intelligent as it attempts to twist Christian myth into cartoon dimensions without ever referring to God, Jesus or the origin of Christmas. The only thing it forgot to do is make us care. Without developing relationships between the characters through smaller human moments, it’s difficult not to feel discontented with the excitement of fantasy – and just a little hungry for something more.