Peter Ramsey’s Rise of the Guardians is a children’s film that may be too intense for children. Rather than the more traditional Santa with a cheerful disposition, Ramsey’s “North” is a sword-wielding giant and the Easter Bunny is not a cute little rabbit bringing candy and eggs but a warrior with a chip on his shoulder. The Tooth Fairy is charming and the Sand Man powerful but the star of the tale is Jack Frost and his icing staff. Together, they are the Guardians chosen by the Man in the Moon to protect the children from the evil of the Boogeyman, Pitch. Pitch has turned the dreams of the world’s children into nightmares with red-eyed mares menacing the night and attacking the children’s beliefs that sustain the power of the Guardians.
Joining the genre of films teaching that it is our belief that gives life to these cultural icons, the film centers on fighting Pitch (Jude Law) and reinforcing the experiences of children to believe in Santa/North (voice by Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and Jack Frost (Chris Pine).
Based on the book by William Joyce, the screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (Robots) is nuanced with good character development even if the characters are nontraditional. The years of Ramsey’s animation experience join with these writers in creating imaginative kingdoms and visually engaging battles of good and evil.
It is unclear what the effect of this film will be on children viewing it. Since these cultural characters are fictional and no one expects a maturing child to continue to believe in them, the central lesson of the film - that we need to believe - has the same fallacy as all films of this genre. Christmas is not about Santa and Easter is not about a bunny, and replacing these childish understandings with the true events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is an important part of a maturing child’s development. How a film like this fits into such a process is unclear and confusing if not destructive. That evaluation is something we suggest parents consider before exposing their young children to this unconventional cinematic tale about characters children think they know and trust.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Parents often disagree about whether or not a child should be taught to believe in fictional characters like Santa. What do you think parents should tell children about fantasy characters? Would this confuse a child and cause them to distrust other things the parent tells them is true? Why do you answer as you do?
2. The clear teaching of this film is that children believe because of what they get from Santa or the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy. Do you agree with this premise? If so, what do you think this expectation does to a child’s expectation of other relationships? How do we teach a child the reciprocity of giving and receiving?
3. The decision to have other creatures in the North Pole making the toys and thereby turning the elves into comic relief is an interesting artistic decision. Did you accept the changes in the personalities of usually familiar characters? Why or why not?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.