I’ll admit, finding out that there was no Santa devastated me. I mean, coming across those bags of toys that could only be for me confirmed that I had been a very, very bad child. Other childhood totems didn’t have the sheer impact of St. Nick—I mean, an Easter Bunny? Everybody knew Mom and Dad put out your basket and hid the eggs and that the “Easter bunny” was that cute little critter you’d see early in your yard at dawn. The Tooth Fairy always seemed to have the exact coinage Dad would pick up at the bank the day you informed him of a loss of pearly whites, and the Sandman? Posh. He was just the subject matter of a ’50s song that would make mothers look wistful when it played on the radio.
So, the previews for the animated Rise of the Guardians, in which the aforementioned quartet serve as the protectors of children’s peace of mind seemed, well, a bit of a wanker to me. Not even the addition of a reluctant new Guardian, Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), could garner much interest on my part, but, with my youngest burned out from watching his big brothers play soccer Thanksgiving weekend, I did the “good Mom thing” and took him to see the movie. And, to be honest, I’m glad I did.
The movie, which was ably scripted by David Lindsay-Abaire, deftly combines the age-old narrative of new guy trying to fit in, with the plot of The Avengers, thus providing a new hook to old characters even as it provides a plausible back story—no, a mythology—to those old characters. The ringleader of the group is Santa, AKA North (voiced by Alec Baldwin), a burly Russkie whose Naughty and Nice lists are tattooed on his bulging biceps. Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman) uses boomerangs like nunchakus, Tooth (Isla Fisher) can’t keep from admiring Jack’s gleaming dentition, and Sandman is silent, a Harpo Marxian presence providing both comedy and intensity. Initially reluctant, Jack (who holds the record on the “naughty” list) agrees to help save the children from the control of Pitch (Jude Law), a bogey man set on destroying hope and security, only to retrieve his own long forgotten memories of who he was before the Moon plucked him from the watery depths to bring him to this situation.
OK, the plot can get a little meandering, but the characters are vibrant and worth cheering, and the visuals—even without 3D—are stupendous and rich, particularly Sandy’s streams of golden sand drifting their way through night skies into children’s rooms. Equally brilliant are the forces of Pitch, ebony black steeds seemingly made of millions of jet crystals, transforming restful sleep into a series of one’s worst nightmares. There are plenty of swoops and falls from a gazillion miles up high and straight at the audience, which can get old, but still, Rise of the Guardians reminds us of a time when childhood retained an innocence and a belief in good things, and leaves us wondering if we can still have that.