Mon
Nov 26 2012 4:30pm
Jack Frost is Your New Hero: Rise of the Guardians

Jack Frost is Your New Hero: A review of Rise of the Guardians

Though the quirky conceit of fairytale characters/folk heroes suddenly being presented as badasses is fairly tired at this point, it persists nonetheless. From whatever number Shrek movie they’re on now, to Tangled, to the inevitable next “not-your-daddy’s-Rumpelstiltskin-Snow-White-Ginger-Bread-Man” movie, the amount of “straight” fairytales/folk tales in the cinemas surely outnumbers the “funny” ones in the minds of most contemporary children. (And maybe certain 20-somethings.)

But, while employing this trope, Rise of the Guardians manages to make it new. This is a charming and exciting movie that doesn’t just reimagine Jack Frost, The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, et al—it makes them seem brand new.

During what was likely the worst Bolt Bus ride I’ve ever endured, I actually watched The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause in its entirety. This, I’m fairly certain, is the last time Jack Frost has appeared in a mainstream movie; played then by Martin Short. Oddly, the plot of Santa Clause 3 is fairly similar to Rise of the Guardians, insofar as it revolves around a magical character feeling under-appreciated and thus, making a weird play to take over the world and depose the other magical characters. However, Santa Clause 3 is a terrible cynical mess, while Rise of the Guardians is the real deal. This is definitely a “for the whole family” holiday movie-type product, but its got a hard-candy soul and adheres to its simple and slightly kooky premise fiercely.

Jack Frost is Your New Hero: A review of Rise of the Guardians

Chris Pine lends his voice to Jack Frost, a reluctant hero who no one believes in. (After reloading James T. Kirk, I guess Pine only does reluctant heroes now.) Early on a group called the Guardians discovers that the Boogeyman or “Pitch” (Jude Law) is about to mess with all the children of Earth. The Guardians consist of Santa “North” Claus (complete with a Russian accent from Alec Baldwin), The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), The Tooth Fairy or “Tooth” (Isla Fisher), and The Sandman or “Sandy,” who doesn’t speak at all. This group’s charge is to protect the children of the planet. It turns out the various holidays, giving money for teeth, and good dreams are all designed to keep children happy, and the Guardians are the thing that keeps childhood going.

But if no one believes in you, children can’t see you, and the mischievous Jack Frost hasn’t been seen by anyone for nearly 300 years.

The Peter Pan-esque theme of clap-if-you-believe-in-faeries thing is mostly what makes Rise of the Guardians work so well. Both Jack Frost, and the villain Pitch want children to believe in them. For too long no one has cared about the Boogeyman, and what does anyone know about Jack Frost other than he nips at your nose? The film uses the sort of vacuum of what Jack Frost could be and makes its own version of him. If this were a pantheon of Greek or Roman gods, Jack Frost would be the god of Childhood Mischief. Or maybe the god of Having a Laugh. He’s drawn like a hipster wizard, who’s more in touch with what being a kid is all about than the other Guardians.

And while not the focus, this heroic, the Eastern European version of Santa in the movie is totally awesome. Brandishing two swords and wielding awesome snow globes which allow him to teleport anywhere... a cooler Santa in a kid’s movie I have not seen. My favorite aspect of the Guardian version of Santa was his employment of numerous yetis to run his workshop/be his good-natured henchmen. “I thought the elves made the toys?” Jack Frost asks. “We let them think that,” North declares. It’s nearly impossible to detect Alec Baldwin’s actually voice deep down in there.

Meanwhile, I thought I was going to really hate the idea of an Australian-accented Easter Bunny, but Hugh Jackman plays so well against Chris Pine that by the end you’re dying for a live-action movie where these two constantly square off. Jude Law is perfect as the evil Boogeyman, mostly because he doesn’t do it halfway. This guy actually has a really good reason to want to take over the world; he wants to exist. And Law plays that angle expertly. Finally, no normal person will get out of this movie without having a tiny crush on Isla Fisher’s Tooth Fairy. Seriously, if this isn’t her most memorable movie since Wedding Crashers, I don’t know what is.

Jack Frost is Your New Hero: A review of Rise of the Guardians

I won’t pretend to know a great deal about CG-animated movies that are specifically not made by Pixar, but I do know this movie had me from the first shot. A lone figure is drifting in any icy pool, clutching a weird looking staff looking dark and ominous. It’s not cutesy, not flashy, just emotive. Which is really where Rise of the Guardians works. The visuals are original takes on things a good portion of the culture is already aware of, and they’re beautiful. At no point did I feel like I was being ripped off by some overt attempt to cash in on Christmas/Easter/etc. This felt like a movie that needed to be made by all the people involved, and was written to enhance its themes, not to sell them.

Believing in yourself and valuing fun over fear sounds like easy, holiday schlock. But when it looks this good and the action and stakes are truly exciting, it’s hard to be cynical about it. By the end of the movie, every single kid believes in Jack Frost, the new Guardian, and if you’re not a total nightmare, you will too.


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.

14 comments
Taryn Barker
1. Taryntula
I agree with this blog completely...one of the kids in our family chose this for our Thanksgiving movie, and I was a big skeptical, but it was a really fun romp. Would definitely recommend to all the families I know.
Earl Rogers
2. Earl Rogers
*SPOILER NITPICKS. READ ON AT YOUR RISK*
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I just have this niggling question: Does belief equal power in this setting? Or not?

Because they kept changing their minds. We're told the reason why Pitch hates the Guardians is because nobody believes in the Bogeyman anymore, so he has no power. Well, except for the power to steal power from the Sandman. So he has power, just not power power?

And, oh yes, the Sandman. If the Guardians get their powers from collective belief, especially the beliefs of small children, then how does the Sandman have any power at all, let alone exist as the most powerful Guardian? Have any children believed there was a Sandman since, well, the 1800s? Early 1900s?

And, of course, Jack finds out he was a Guardian all along, but despite not being seen by mortals until the finale, he had scads of very potent magic for centuries, yet the other Guardians dwindle into non-magical wimps after a couple of days of weakened belief.

While I want to see a sequel, they really need to define the rules. Note I said rules, not explanations. I'm fine with the mysteries being unexplained, they just need to better define what the mystery is. Especially if it's a major plot point.
Mandy P.
3. BittersweetFountain
Loved loved loved this movie. It was beautiful and well done. I agree one hundred percent with this review. :)
Irene Gallo
4. Irene
I love William Joyce’s illustration so I have been hoping this would be good for a long time now....And holy crap is it amazing. It’s stunning to look at without ever forgetting that the core needs to be great characters and storytelling. Truly, I have not been so enchanted by a movie in ages.
Earl Rogers
5. Captain Starlight
I wouldn't have thought that Jack Frost was up to it. Saving the world is a big ask, after all:
Jack Frost roasting over an open fire,Chestnuts nibbling at your nose,
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Are all dressed up like Chernobyl refugees ...
If you can't take the heat ...
But isn't Jack Frost some sort of relation ot the Erlkonig? The "poor relation"? He'd still be too arrogant to allow a mere set of kinderen to dictate just how he lives - considering that he'd be responsible for freezing at least one kid.

And as far as Sandman goes, apparently the lyrics by Metallica preserve the reminiscences of the last survivor of the 1895 Sandman Expedition (he'd been sworn to secrecy, but Metallica were permitted to use his experiences in their lyrics):
I tuck you inWarm within
Keep you free from sin
'Til the sandman he comes

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight

Exit light
Enter night
Take my hand
We're off to never never-land
Never-Never Land was charted by the Sandman Expedition, as they did La-La Land: it enjoys commercial relationships with the rest of the world, and its chief export is politicians.
Earl Rogers
6. Cat Melanie
What I fail to understand is why they are boycotting even the mention of Santa Fangs. Everyone knows about Santa Claws, scion of the Claws family, so why no mention of his cousin Santa Fangs of the Fangs family? (Okay, how do you think "Santa" gets down and up the chimneys? If he hasn't got any claws? The media has never released pictures of "Santa" in an abseiling rig, let alone with pitons and other climbing gear ... )
Earl Rogers
8. J'
I loved the movie and the actors/characters, with the exception of Pitch. I agree with reviews I've read that he looked too much like Voldemort (crossed with Disney's version of Hades) and Jude Law's voice wasn't enough to make him stand apart. He was just too bland.

Other than that, though, I thought it was a heart-warming film which I intend to buy on DVD.
Earl Rogers
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Earl Rogers
27. SumerSnow
i say its a great movie and would love to read the book.
i have an idea why jack dosent lose his powers- he hasent taken the oath yet the powers only truly rely on belef is you have taken the oath. its an idea.

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