Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, the Sandman; what do all of these have in common? They’re figures of childhood myth, characters that exist in popular culture around the world. But they’re also superheroes, or at least that’s what Rise of the Guardians tells us; and frankly, it’s a pretty cool idea.
The film is based upon the book series The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce. The books, which take place hundreds of years before the film, chronicle the origins of the characters in the movie, and act as prequels for the movie. According to Joyce, the inspiration to write the stories came when his daughter once asked him if Santa Claus had ever met the Easter Bunny. To be fair, it’s an important question, and one that deserves an answer.
The Rise of the Guardians reveals that not only have the two characters met, but so have several others, who come together to help protect the children of the world in times of great danger. An unknown, unseen superhero team for children. The film begins with the origin of one of the characters, Jack Frost (Chris Pine), who awakens from a frozen lake with no memory of who he is. When he realises that no one can see or hear him, and that he can’t touch anyone, he runs away from the nearby village. 300 years later we see that Jack has found new purpose in the world, becoming the Spirit of Winter. He travels the world, bringing snow and the cold, and takes joy in seeing children play in the winter wonderland he creates, though he’s sad that not many people believe in him.
In the North Pole the Guardians assemble, with Santa (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the Sandman gathering to listen to a warning from the Man in the Moon, who tells them that the evil Pitch Black (Jude Law) has escaped and is threatening the world’s children. However, in order to stop him they’ll need the help of a new Guardian, Jack Frost. Now the Guardians will have to find a way to convince Jack to join them if they’re going to be able to stop Pitch from using his nightmares to make the world’s children stop believing in them and erasing them forever.
In a lot of ways Rise of the Guardians is a superhero movie, just with public domain characters that most people grew up hearing about. This grants the film a lot of freedom, as there’s not really much expectation around these characters or what you’d be expected to do with them. The Tooth Fairy takes children’s teeth, sure, but why, and what does she do with them? Well, according to the movie the teeth store important childhood memories that kids have, and she and her fairies keep them safe so that those memories endure. What’s the Easter Bunny like other than a rabbit who oversees Easter? Well, he’s 6ft tall, Australian, and has a lot of attitude. And Santa, he’s a tattooed Russian guy who lets the elves think they’re making the presents to keep them happy and out of trouble, but really uses an army of Yetis to help him prepare for Christmas. And you can’t argue that that’s wrong because there are no rules to these characters.
The team behind Rise of Guardians seem to have gone into this with the desire to have fun, and to create something to entertain. They’re not worried about staying true to any strict rules or canon, and every choice they make here, that isn’t already in Joyce’s original books, is in service to that story. DreamWorks, the company behind the movie, worked closely with Joyce to ensure that the film would stay respectful to his original vision for the series, and Joyce helped work on the film until he had to drop out when his daughter, Mary Katherine, passed away from a brain tumour. The film is dedicated to her memory: ‘For Mary Katherine Joyce, a Guardian Fierce and True’.
Joyce would remain an executive producer on the movie, and was joined by Guillermo del Toro, who brought his own brand of creativity to the film. Del Toro would go on to say that he was proud of the work he did on the film, and for the team’s willingness to make parts of the film darker and poetic. The film would also be the first for DreamWorks, as it was both the first animated film released by them to have only one director, Peter Ramsey, and the first big-budget CG animated film ever to be directed by a Black director.
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Upon its release the film was received well, and had generally positive reviews, but despite grossing more than double its budget, didn’t seem to make too much of a cultural impact at the time. However, over the years, thanks to home releases and streaming services, the film has gathered a huge fanbase, and has become one of DreamWorks’ most popular animated films, in part due to its ability to appeal to audiences of all ages.
Whether you still believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the others, Rise of the Guardians shows us all that they’re still out there, protecting the world, caring for children, and inspiring. These are characters that have existed for generations, and are beloved across the globe, and because of that Rise of the Guardians will always be able to find new viewers, new fans, and new children to amaze.
Rise of the Guardians was released in the UK on 30th November 2012.