A big-hearted, wide-eyed belief in magic is one of the best parts of childhood.
That belief fuels “Rise of the Guardians,” the new Dreamworks movie starring Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and other significant childhood icons we all supposedly stopped believing in years ago. “Guardians” celebrates the faith that keeps these characters alive and tries hard to remind the adults in the audience what it felt like to believe that hard in something.
For me, at least, it succeeded. Our heroes are re-cast as the guardians of children’s hopes and dreams, fighting off the fear that could crush them and working hard to bring magic and wonder into their lives. They cherish innocent belief so much that it keeps them alive, and by the end of the movie I was sending them my own. If someone had asked me to clap my hands if I believed in fairies, I would have done so unashamedly.
Of course, the movie can’t resist the urge to play a little. There’s a villain to fight, and toys and colored eggs won’t do the trick. This Santa is a jolly Russian swashbuckler with double cutlasses, while the Easter Bunny has both a boomerang and a powerful kick. The Sandman, known as Sandy to his friends, can do a lot more with his sand than just send people off to dreamland.
Jack Frost, our audience surrogate, finds his own surprise abilities over the course of the movie. We follow the charming, sweet-natured prankster through his loneliness, doubts and fears as he figures out his place in the world and what he wants to do with the time he’s been given. It’s a good, effective stand-in for any journey towards growing up, one that the audience can remember even if it’s not in the middle of it.
Like with any journey, there are some missteps and tears along the way. I got teary once or twice during the course of the movie, and there are some bits that might scare the littlest kids in the audience. Though it’s handled subtly, death is also a definite factor.
Thankfully, there’s always something lighter coming around the corner. The world-building aspect of the story is fantastic, with each of the characters getting their own fully realized little world.
The Easter Bunny’s was probably the most unusual, an underground paradise with huge stone egg bodyguards that can swivel around to reveal their angry faces. Santa’s world has both yetis, who really help make the toys, and tiny elves who quite obviously invoke the minions from “Despicable Me.” The elves are the only derivative thing about the movie Р unsurprisingly, they’re not in the original book series Р but they’re also perfectly harmless fun.
In the end, though, the magic lingers far longer than either the laughs or tears. I know there’s no fat, red-suited guy out there who can save me from having to brave the mall to buy Christmas presents. But a cheerful, ageless man who fights to guard my dreams? I’m happy to believe in him.