Hey everyone, sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been eye-deep working on my book (more on that soon) so blogging had to take a back seat. But I’m back as the G-men and I took their Savtah and Grandpa to the movies over Thanksgiving weekend as we were very curious to see the film version of our very favorite new book series—The Guardians of Childhood. Here are my Read It Then See It posts on the first two books, Nicholas St. North and E. Aster Bunnymund. I am in the middle of reading the third in the series, Toothiana, now and will post about that as soon as I’m done.
Rise of the Guardians, Dreamworks Animation
The bad guy, Pitch Black, could get a little scary for very young children, but given he’s the Boogeyman, he’s actually pretty tame. The main character is also resurrected from drowning in a frozen lake, but it is also handled with a very deft touch. I think this film would work for any child 4 and Up.
Good for Grown-Ups?
Generally. It’s a fairly simple fairytale, but not too cutesy and insipid. Solid voice acting and CG animation make this a fine couple of hours for the grown-ups.
Spoilers for Younger Kids
A few things here for those that are a little more sensitive. When Pitch first begins to do his dastardly deed, he perverts a dream that a little girl is having about a unicorn and turns it into a black, flaming-eyed stallion. That could be a pretty disturbing image, but you can tell your child that the unicorn will get her revenge in the end. Also, Pitch manages to overwhelm the kindly and powerful Sandman, and seems to destroy him. Again, you can assure your child that no one can truly destroy dreams, so no doubt he’ll be back to help save the day.
Finally, the aforementioned origin of Jack Frost, near the end of the film when he finally remembers his past shows him saving his little sister and falling through the ice and drowning, only to be brought back as the spirit of the cold by the Moon itself. It’s pretty mild, but young kids might be a little scared by seeing his human form sinking into the icy water.
Quickie Plot Synopsis (light spoilers ahead)
The fantasies of our youth: Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman have been chosen by the Man on the Moon to serve as the guardians of our dreams, hopes, and imagination all fueled by the power of children’s belief. Jack Frost, a new spirit on the block, can make mirth and mischief, but, unlike the Guardians, cannot be seen by children, as even the kids consider him just a fantasy.
The Man on the Moon, however, elevates Jack to full Guardian status despite the resistance of the gang, as the notorious Boogeyman, Pitch Black, has arisen again intent on turning all the dreams of children into nightmares, and stamping out all the belief in the world in magic and wonder, replacing it with a faith in the inky fear that he feeds on.
Jack resists being made part of the team, but when he finds out his true purpose with the help of the one boy who resists Pitch’s bid to stamp out joy in the world, he is able to free the Guardians and, in a final battle with the villain’s minions, drive him back into the shadows and free children to dream again.
It is impossible to fully separate my opinion of this film from that of the books, as this sort of serves as a quasi-sequel though a number of changes were made to the main characters, most notably the Easter Bunny that went from high-browed intellectual to Crocodile Bunn-ee.
To me, it’s a bit surprising that William Joyce was so involved in this movie, as it has the feel of someone who had taken some wonderful books but said “it’s too complicated” and mucked with the whole formula in order to dumb it down for a mainstream audience. I guess they felt they absolutely had to have all the Guardians in the first film, so better to have the origin story of a new character (Jack Frost) than to try and cram in the introductions of everyone else.
Okay, I generally get that, and the film itself is nice enough. At it’s center, it is about a person finding his purpose in life, and understanding the worth of bringing joy to others. The general sentiment as brought to the fore by all the Guardians is nice, and each character has an interesting edge (Santa being a sword-wielding Cossack, Bunny being a boomerang-throwing badass, Tooth Fairy’s obsession with nasty bloody teeth, etc.). The elves play the now all-too-predictable Minion role from Despicable Me.
The voices, most notably Alec Baldwin’s Santa, are all very good, and the animation is first rate. The story itself is fine, and there are a number of laugh-out-loud lines and pratfalls, but definitely plays second fiddle to the visual spectacle. At some points, it also felt like the story was struggling to decide if the journey was Jack Frost’s or the human boy who helps him. But all in all it is light, fairytale fun.
But as an avid reader of the books, especially the absolutely stunning Nicholas St. North, I cannot but decry the missed opportunity here. People LOVE good origin stories, and in the first book, you have the origin of Santa himself, as well as other beloved favorites from a nightlight to a bookworm to the Man on the Moon. I cannot for the life of me understand why there was a need to cram every character here into one film when you had THE classic childhood fantasy figure’s origin story that deftly mixed magic and science fiction with something very profound to say about how we see the world. In the holiday season, I think that would have been just as, if not more successful than what they came up with here, and would have far better set up sequels more easily adapted from the source material.
So, overall, a respectable piece of holiday fluff, but no more than that.
Overall Score: 3 out of 5 stars
See It Then Read It
My big fella who has been avidly reading the books with me absolutely detested this film. He was SO shocked and disappointed that they changed the characters, that there was no Katherine, the heroine of the books, and that the real dream-like magic of the stories was replaced with a frenetic action-hero styling. I have to say I struggled with that myself.
However, this does make me thing that for those who see and enjoy the film, it might actually be a great gateway into the books as prequels. I would guess that many kids who liked the film will really be captivated by the books and the many unexpected places it goes, and it will help round out the film’s story, rather than it feeling like a pale imitation as it does when you read the books first.
So, indeed, if your kids have not read the books yet, this is one where I highly recommend a See It Then Read It approach. Same goes for grown-ups, too.