Friday, July 11, 2014

Days of Magic and Belief - Review of "Rise of the Guardians"

I know, I know, I'm late to the party on this one. Shush.

The fun things about visiting my parents over holiday weekends is that they have satellite TV. The other fun thing is that sometimes during these weekends, my parents go out to do business things and my siblings and I get the run of the TV. And over the 4th of July weekend, we found some great stuff to watch on TV. Like ABC Family running a whole DreamWorks marathon that Saturday. I kind of popped in and out all day (the brand new Sailor Moon Crystal was too much of a draw to sit there the whole time - that review is coming, never fear), but the one movie that drew me in the most was Rise of the Guardians.

I mean, I've seen a lot of the DreamWorks movies. Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, The Croods (that one was surprisingly adorable - I didn't think I'd like it as much as I did) - but I'm not all over those like I am the Disney/Pixar movies. I don't rush out to the movie theater to see them. I guess I have so many things that I'd like to see, but there are only so many hours in the day to see them. And sometimes, things aren't worth the time I carve out for that. But after watching Rise over the weekend, I borrowed my sister's DVD of the movie so I could watch it again and pay proper attention.

The movie starts with the main protagonist, Jack Frost, being awakened by the moon and (it seems) being given powers over ice and snow. Initially, Jack is ecstatic about his new abilities, except when he wanders into a nearby town, he finds that nobody can see him. Over time, he accepts this and simply becomes a trickster with the power over winter weather. The phrase "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" becomes a reflection of the myth that Jack has become. And, overall, he seems to like it that way.

Meanwhile, we're introduced to other mythological characters from childhood - all of whom are part of the order of Guardians of Childhood. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman. I adore the design and personality of all of these characters. I mean, Santa and the Easter Bunny have their own traditional personas, but I love that this movie didn't stick to those traditions so rigidly. For starters, Santa Claus is a bit of a Russian badass with a soft spot for toys and cookies. The Easter Bunny is a boomerang-chucking, spring-loving, Australian-accent-speaking, not-kangaroo (that joke was pretty good, you have to admit) who takes just as much care with his Easter egg decorating (c'mon - you have to admit that Hugh Jackman's tough-guy hero voice coming out of a fluffy bunny rabbit is pretty cool). And the Tooth Fairy - well, we all have our own images of the Tooth Fairy, which is probably something along the lines of the fairies from Disney's Sleeping Beauty or the traditional image of Tinker Bell. But this Tooth Fairy is part-hummingbird, part human (and I wonder - why has no one ever thought of this before?) and she has her own army of tiny hummingbird fairies (nicknamed "Baby Teeth," which of course they are) to help her on her rounds every night. Then you have the Sandman, which, I didn't know what to expect from him, but I like his design and character well-enough. This Sandman is charged with making sure children have pleasant dreams at night with the help of his golden sleep dust. He doesn't speak, but he does have some great facial expressions - the scene where he's trying to get the other Guardians' attention while they're engrossed in their discussion is fantastic.

Anyway - the Guardians are warned by the Man in the Moon that Pitch Black (the Boogeyman) is at large again and is determined to destroy the dreams of children. And since this threat is so serious, the Man in the Moon has chosen a new Guardian to join their group. That Guardian (to the dismay of Bunny, since his winter antics often wreck the start of spring) is Jack Frost.

Jack is kind of so-so about his new appointment. On the one hand, he's happy that he finally has some kind of purpose, rather than just being this invisible entity that has so much fun playing tricks on people, but no one really sees him or even believes in him. On the other hand, he's not terribly thrilled about all the pomp and ceremony and responsibility that goes into being a Guardian. But he is effective against Pitch's nightmare monsters. He's even really good at helping Tooth with her nightly rounds after Pitch kidnaps all her Baby Teeth (with the exception of one that Jack manages to rescue).

This movie is about two things - the magic and belief of childhood, and the power of finding a place and purpose (and how sometimes that purpose isn't always what we think nor do we imagine we could fulfill that purpose at all).  First off - the magic and belief of childhood, which could also translate into remembering the good things over the bad. I guess I get tired of hearing how, when you become an adult, you have to throw away all the things that made you happy when you were a kid. Grow up, get married, have kids - even though you still feel like a kid yourself. I'm a bit of a rebel in that regard - I've never really grown up. Oh, sure I have a steady job and I take care of my responsibilities there and I have bills to pay and I have to start eating old people food because my body doesn't like processed junk food stuff anymore (Raisin bran? Are you kidding me?) And don't get me started on dating... *shudder* I'm still putting that nonsense off as long as I can. And then there's that whole schlock about having to keep up with the news and current events in order to be an *puts on deep, pompous tone and flies the air-quote fingers* "informed contributing member of society" when really, all they ever do on the news is either fake sympathy while they're shoving a camera in some grieving person's face or try to chew each other's heads off  over some issue or another (seriously - adulthood hasn't given much to commend itself to me. Other than having my own money to spend as I choose - but even then, I don't get to make those choices for myself).

But there are times when I can revert back to my old childhood loves even for a few hours and, you know what, life is pretty good. The stories and characters and things that fueled my imagination are still there, waiting for me to join them in the fun. And those are times that I'm glad I don't have teachers interrupting me with math problems or my mom calling for me to take the trash out or whatever. Heck, I can set up my laptop in the kitchen while I'm cleaning and watch a movie or listen to an audiobook and my chores become that much more entertaining and fun.

The other thing that Rise does so well is the idea of finding a place and a purpose that does fit in with who you are. Sort of like Wreck-It Ralph, where Ralph thought he had to be a certain way in order to be happy, even though that "certain way" was totally not in his character at all and he just ended up making a mess of things. Jack goes through this in that he doesn't leave gifts for kids like the others do. Even the Sandman helps keep children's fears away by giving them good dreams. All Jack really does is play tricks with winter - he likes doing things like making a patch of sidewalk icy so someone will slip. But he does love kids. He even orchestrates an impromptu snowball fight between a bunch of kids at the beginning. As be progresses, he learns that his contribution to the Guardians isn't necessarily to give physical gifts, but instead to create a sense of wonder and enchantment. I mean, when I was a kid, I loved all the cool frost patterns that formed on the windshield overnight before my mom had to defrost it so she could drive us to school. Wintertime always felt homey and cozy and snug (unlike summer, where you feel like you have to be loud and obnoxious because it's warm outside, thus SUMMERTIME IS PARTYTIME! HOLLA! YOLO! ugh... punch me in the face, but I hate that). The darkness of winter always felt like something magical could happen because magic doesn't proclaim itself like a great big brass band demanding attention, but more like a quiet little shadow slipping by unnoticed except by those who know what to look for. In so many ways, Jack Frost is the embodiment of What Could Happen, even when the adults in the room tell you there's no such thing and you're silly for still believing in such things.

That's what I loved about this movie. And I can now understand why there were so many parallels drawn between Jack Frost and Elsa from Frozen (even some crossover fan fiction being written - which, now that I've seen both movies, I want to find some of those fics).

So - don't cast aside childish things. Not completely, anyway. Remember and embrace them. Those were good days. Days of magic and belief. Days that this cynical world could use more of.

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