Film Review: Rise of the Guardians (2012)

*All reviews contain spoilers*

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation. All screencaps are from Animationscreencaps.com.

Cast

Stuart Allan – British Boy

Alec Baldwin – North

Jessica Belkin – Girl Voice

Jacob Bertrand – Monty

Isabella Blake-Thomas – British Girl

Ryan Crego – Burgess Dog Walker

Rich Dietl – Yeti

Daniel Hahn – Jamie Bennett (partial, uncredited)

Isla Fisher – Tooth

Dakota Goyo – Jamie Bennett

Georgie Grieve – Sophie Bennett

Khamani Griffin – Caleb

Dominique Grund – Cupcake

Hugh Jackman – Bunny

Jude Law – Pitch

April Lawrence – Burgess Pedestrian #1

Olivia Mattingly – Pippa and Jack’s Sister

Kamil McFadden – Claude

Tommy Morgenstern – Pitch (partial, uncredited)

Emily Nordwind – Jamie’s Mom and Jack’s Mother

Chris Pine – Jack Frost

Peter Ramsey – Burgess Pedestrian #2

Sources of InspirationThe Guardians of Childhood, an American book series by William Joyce, 2011-present, and The Man in the Moon, an American short film by Joyce, 2005

Release Dates

October 10th, 2012 at the Mill Valley Film Festival, California, USA (premiere)

November 3rd, 2012 at the Savannah Film Festival, Georgia, USA

November 21st, 2012 in the USA (general release)

Run-time – 97 minutes

Directors – Peter Ramsey

Composers – Alexandre Desplat

Worldwide Gross – $306 million

Accolades – 14 wins and 32 nominations


2012 in History

An Italian cruise ship, the Costa Concordia, sinks off the Italian coast and kills 32, just months before the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic‘s demise

Queen Elizabeth II of the UK celebrates her Diamond Jubilee after sixty years on the throne

Relations between the EU and Iran deteriorate; the EU places an embargo against Iran, who retaliate by cutting off oil exports to Britain and France Later in the year, Canada also cuts ties with Iran

Greece’s government debt crisis worsens, and the Eurozone provide a second bailout

In Mali, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad declares the latter region independent following the ousting of the nation’s president (they re-joined Mali the next year)

A North Korean satellite intended to observe the Earth explodes shortly after launching

The Tokyo Skytree opens to the public and is officially the tallest freestanding tower in the world

Eight years on from the first, the second transit of Venus occurs; there won’t be another for almost a century

Shenzhou 9 takes China’s first female astronaut into outer space to dock with the Tiangong 1 space station

The last known Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George, dies in Galápagos National Park, thus rendering the subspecies extinct

American shooter James Holmes kills twelve people and injures nearly sixty others at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado

London becomes the first city to host the Olympics three times, and with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei sending female competitors for the first time, all eligible countries have now sent women to at least one Olympic Games

On July 31st, India suffers the worst blackout in history, leaving hundreds of millions without power

The Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover lands successfully on Mars

Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner becomes the first person to break the sound barrier (without a vehicle) during a record-setting space dive over Roswell, New Mexico

Israel launches Operation Pillar of Defense against the Palestinian-governed Gaza Strip, killing Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari; after a week of violence in which more Palestinians and Israelis are killed, a ceasefire is declared by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Palestine is granted observer status by the UN General Assembly

Adam Lanza kills twenty-eight people in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; twenty victims are children under seven, while six others are adult staff members – the remaining two are himself and his own mother

Births of Princess Athena of Denmark and Princess Estelle, Duchess of Östergötland


Hello everyone, and welcome to another review! I know some of my readers are big fans of this one, so I’m looking forward to showing it a little love. For those of you who’ve been here since the Disney film reviews, you may remember me covering Meet the Robinsons (not one of my favourites, to say the least), a film based on a popular children’s book by William Joyce. Well, this time around, we’re taking a look at another film based on his work, the DreamWorks production Rise of the Guardians, which I’m pleased to say I’m a much bigger fan of.

This story’s journey to the big screen began back in 2005, when Joyce teamed up with Reel FX to launch the joint filmmaking venture Aimesworth Amusements, with the aim of producing CG-animated features. The first of these was set to be based on The Guardians of Childhood, a book series he was developing at the time, but this plan did not come to fruition; however, they did create a short piece called The Man in the Moon which introduced the Guardians idea, and would serve as inspiration for the feature once Joyce brought the idea over to DreamWorks.

Joyce sold the film rights to the studio in early 2008, but only after DreamWorks had assured him they would respect his vision for the characters and that he would remain involved with the production. I’m sure that was good news, given how awkwardly things went with Robinsons over at Disney (sixty percent of that film had to be scrapped and re-done at the last minute). In late 2009, a director was then announced – Peter Ramsey – who would be making his directorial debut on the film, aided by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire as screenwriter. Joyce was originally set to co-direct but had to step down the following year after the tragic death of his daughter, Mary Katherine, to whom the film was later dedicated.

Rise_of_the_Guardians_poster

While Joyce did remain on the production as an executive producer alongside Michael Siegel and Guillermo del Toro (yes, him!), Ramsey took over as the project’s sole director, thus becoming the first African American to direct a major CG animated film in the process. Guillermo del Toro had already served as executive producer on some of the previous year’s DreamWorks films, and he brought his considerable experience in fantasy films to the table, helping to shape the story, character design, themes and overall structure of it from the beginning. He explained that he was proud of the filmmakers for making parts of it “dark and moody and poetic” and hoped that this might “set a different tone for family movies, for entertainment movies”.

The three executive producers were joined by Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein as producers, with Bernstein saying of the film, “I felt that Rise of the Guardians was the perfect movie for me to do at the time as I had just adopted my baby, who is six years old now {2013}. It had a great story and was visually challenging. There were so many characters, both main and secondary, and so many worlds, that they each could be in their own movie, each with a distinct view, storyline and vision, if we weren’t careful”.

There was certainly plenty of scope for expansion within the world the filmmakers set up, but sadly the film’s drastic underperformance at the box office killed any hopes for a sequel before they could take root. This is one of the few animated properties that I would have liked to see sequels to, as each of the Guardians has the personality to carry a story of their own (and indeed they do in the book series), but what can you do – money talks, and in this case, there wasn’t enough of it to justify any further entries. If you hadn’t guessed, I think this is an enormously underrated film from DreamWorks, one of their best of the decade outside the Dragons franchise, so I’m keen to drum up some support for it – let’s not let the Guardians fade away!

Characters and Vocal Performances

Putting a unique spin on the film’s classic characters was of chief importance to Peter Ramsey during development. As he said, “When I first heard about the project, I began to imagine what we could do with these gigantic, iconic characters. How could we capitalize on the deep emotional connection the audience already had with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? My thoughts were pretty much in line with those of our writer, David Lindsay-Abaire, and our production designer, Patrick Hanenberger, who also felt strongly about grounding these characters in the real-life connection audiences feel about them. When you’re a kid, you believe in them and regard them as real figures, so we wanted to treat them as real personalities, with real weight and real-life attention to detail about their appearances. That was really our starting point”.

Guardians group shot

To bring these realistic versions of the characters to life, a whole host of major stars were considered; DreamWorks have never been shy about turning to celebrities for their voice casts as a selling point for their films, but the final assemblage for Rise of the Guardians is remarkably star-studded. We’ve got Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Jude Law, Isla Fisher… name after name, and they all brought plenty of enthusiasm to their roles.

Before they were chosen, however, the studio considered the likes of Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Albert Finney and Kevin Costner for North; Jim Sturgess, Jason Bateman and Sam Rockwell for Jack; Maya Rudolph, Mandy Moore, Geena Davis and Mia Wasikowska for Tooth; Patrick Stewart and Jeff Goldblum for Pitch; and Bill Hader, Ed O’Neill, Daniel Stern, Eddie Redmayne (really?) and Michael Keaton for Bunny. At various points during early development, Christopher Lee, Dwayne Johnson, Natalie Portman, Hugh Laurie, Ian McShane and Tom Kenny were also rumoured to be involved, and one of the best potential actors considered for Pitch was Christopher Lloyd – I do enjoy Jude Law’s final performance, unlike some critics, but I also think Lloyd would also have been a good fit, albeit a hammier one.

However, the one disappointment I had with the final cast was that Leonardo freaking DiCaprio was originally meant to be playing Jack Frost, before being replaced by Chris Pine. He was attached to the project during pre-production back in 2009 in what would have been his animated debut, but sadly he was later forced to drop out, presumably due to scheduling conflicts as he had a slate of other films coming up around that time (i.e. Inception, Shutter Island, J. Edgar). Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like Pine’s take on the role and he brings a lot of depth and fun to it, but man… imagine if DiCaprio had remained in place! As of this writing, he has still not done any animated work, but I’m holding out hope that he will eventually make his debut in the medium somewhere.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s turn our attention to animation’s resident dreamboat, Jackson Overland Frost. You may need a map… or you could get lost in his eyes:

Jack Frost thirst pic #1Jack Frost thirst pic #2Jack Frost thirst pic #3Jack Frost thirst pic #4Jack Frost thirst pic #5Jack Frost thirst pic #6Jack Frost thirst pic #7

Yes, yes, he’s very pretty – but who is he?

Well, at the start of the film, he’d quite like to know that himself. Jack is awoken one night on an icy pond by the Man in the Moon and discovers that he’s gained some exciting new powers, which he wields through his old shepherd’s crook. The only trouble is, he can’t remember how he got there, and upon heading over to a nearby village he has a horrifying realisation – nobody can see or hear him. Even worse, he is then left to spend the next three hundred years in this state, desperately seeking some way to be seen while trying to figure out why he was made Jack Frost in the first place.

Finally, after many lifetimes trapped in this lonely limbo, Jack is confronted one night by the Easter Bunny and a pair of burly yetis (just go with it), who promptly kidnap him and send him to the North Pole. There, he learns at last what it is the Man in the Moon has planned for him; he has been selected to become a “Guardian”, part of an elite group of mythical figures who watch over the children of the world and protect them from dark forces. The darkest of these forces is the Bogeyman, known to the Guardians as Pitch Black, and it is because of him that Jack is being recruited. After many centuries hiding in the shadows, Pitch has created a corrupt version of the Sandman’s dreamsand to break children’s faith in the Guardians once and for all, and they need Jack’s help to withstand his assault.

Jack talking to North about centres

At first, Jack is understandably resistant to the idea, having been kept in the dark for so long. He starts out cynical about what the Guardians do, and it’s only after North explains things a bit better that he even consents to tag along with them. When Pitch stages his first attack on the Tooth Fairy’s palace, Jack joins the other Guardians and hears Pitch’s side of the story, finding an uncomfortable sympathy in Pitch’s frustrations over not being believed in. However, he is given a much more powerful incentive to side with the Guardians when he learns that the Tooth Fairy keeps all “the most important memories of childhood” inside the teeth she collects… including his. Having not spent much time with her before, Jack had no idea that she held the keys to his past all along, and from then on, he’s committed to helping her recover them.

Jack talking to Tooth about memories

With her fairies stolen, the Guardians band together to help Tooth collect the teeth and keep children believing in her, but things soon escalate as Pitch next goes after the Sandman. In a devastating attack, Pitch overwhelms the Guardians and seemingly destroys Sandy, but Jack retaliates with a burst of strength that surprises them all, even Jack himself. Pitch now sees Jack is a legitimate force to be reckoned with, so using his innate knowledge of people’s deepest fears, he cleverly preys on Jack’s insecurities to distract him just long enough to stage his assault on the Easter Bunny’s warren. With Sandy gone, Tooth weakened and Jack missing, the attack is another crushing blow, crippling the whole team and leaving Bunny shrunken and invisible.

Jack faces off with Pitch in his lair wide shotJack faces off with Pitch in Antarctica

This is Jack’s lowest point. Feeling like he’s betrayed the Guardians, he retreats in disgrace to Antarctica, where Pitch tries one last time to tempt him over to the dark side. Yet even here, all alone and with nothing to lose, Jack knows deep down that being feared is worse than not being believed in at all, so he stands his ground, much to Pitch’s disappointment. The angry Bogeyman retaliates by breaking Jack’s staff and throwing him down a crevasse, but he makes the mistake of leaving Jack with his memory canister, apparently assuming that the boy will be of no more threat to him.

Jack curled up in crevasse

Alone with the memories he so coveted and one of Tooth’s rescued fairies, Jack opens them up and finally learns who he used to be, back in his old life as a human. The central memory is from the day he died, where he sees that he once had a younger sister and that the two of them went out skating together on the ice. As the surface began to crack, he used his innate sense of fun to keep her calm, then with a quick switch of his crook he traded places with her, sending her safely over to a thicker patch of ice. Unfortunately, this led to his own death as he fell through to the freezing water below (the film gets surprisingly dark at times), but the Man in the Moon saw fit to resurrect him for his sacrifice, with the long-term plan of making him a Guardian.

With newfound confidence in his purpose, Jack is able to summon the strength to restore his staff and immediately heads for Pitch’s lair, where he’s just in time to see the last of the children’s faith flickering away into nothingness. He’s on the brink of despair, but then notices that one last child out there is still refusing to stop believing…

Jack talking to Jamie in his room

In the end, it all comes down to one little boy named Jamie Bennett. He happened to meet the Guardians earlier on while they were helping the Tooth Fairy with her rounds, and he therefore winds up the last child in the world who still believes in them, long after Pitch has extinguished the faith from all the others. Before the Bogeyman can reach Jamie, Jack arrives to reaffirm the boy’s faith in the Guardians, even though Jamie can’t yet see Jack himself.

This act seems to solidify Jack’s status as a Guardian once and for all, because for the first time in three hundred years, somebody finally does see Jack – and with the help of Jamie and his friends, they are able to tip the balance against Pitch’s fear, returning the children’s memories and reawakening the Sandman. Together, they restore faith to the children of the world and banish the Bogeyman back into the underworld where he belongs. Jack, having learned at last who he is and what he is meant to do, accepts his new position as Guardian with satisfaction, and presumably goes on to spread joy (and cause mischief) forever after.

Jack being made a Guardian

Jack Frost as a character is believed to be a modern incarnation of Old Man Winter, first arising in this form somewhere around the nineteenth century and commonly depicted as a kind of mischievous sprite or pixie. In this story, he eventually becomes the Guardian of Fun, with each of the five Guardians representing a core aspect of childhood – as North explains to Jack, they each have a “centre” which is both what they defend in children, and what they themselves put into the world. Making Jack the Guardian of Fun feels appropriate, what with his association with snow and ice; as we see in the film, this means snowball fights, ice skating, getting out of school and all sorts of other goodies like that. In the film, he also seems to be able to subtly manipulate emotions with his “nipping” of people’s noses, allowing them to see the fun in an awkward situation and smoothing out tensions between them.

Jack throws a snowball at Cupcake

Jack’s story arc can be read in at least two different ways. On the more intimate level, his predicament parallels those of most of the Disney renaissance protagonists, which could be why this film has such a strong sense of the old “Disney magic” about it; like any real young adult, Jack is simply trying to figure out his place in the world and his purpose within it, making his journey one of self-discovery and personal identity. It’s intensely relatable, as Jack struggles to make people see the real him and yearns for recognition; it wouldn’t be a stretch to read his joy at finally being “seen” by Jamie from a queer perspective, or indeed that of any other marginalised member of society. All he needed was an “I Want” song!

Jack being resurrectedJack reaches for his memories

However, the other angle from which I read his story surprised me, because it struck me how Biblical the whole thing felt. It was an unexpected reading for me as I’m not religious, but then I don’t know how I didn’t see it coming, in a film which so prominently features both Christmas and Easter symbology.

If we take the Man in the Moon as a Godlike figure, you can easily make Jack a stand-in for Christ and Pitch a stand-in for Satan, with “Christ” sacrificing himself for the sake of another and then being resurrected by “God” with strange new powers, including the ability to walk on (frozen) water. “Christ” is later tempted by “Satan”, who offers him exactly what he’s always wanted at the expense of other people’s safety, but “Christ” resists and vanquishes the evil, leading to a mass spiritual rebirth among his people – the children – which just so happens to take place around Easter. The recurring calls for faith/belief, the motif of a shepherd’s crook and the dark/light colour contrast between Jack and Pitch all support this interpretation, so much so that I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before. If any Christian readers out there haven’t seen it yet, you might find it interesting to approach this film from that angle.

Jack sitting with Bunny and Sophie

Beyond any symbolic readings, however, Jack is the quintessential DreamWorks protagonist – a bit of a rogue with the usual smirk and raised eyebrow, but a good guy at heart. He can be sarcastic, standoffish and even a little spiteful in his interactions with Bunny, with whom he shares a strained relationship to say the least, but no matter how much the two bicker, Jack proves beyond any doubt that he does care about his friend after witnessing Bunny’s pain at being forgotten. Jack knows just what that feels like, and when he finds Jamie on the point of not believing in Bunny anymore, he goes out of his way to keep it from happening, effectively saving Bunny’s life.

Jack’s relationship with Sophie is also a small but appreciated part of his arc. After Jamie’s little sister accidentally stumbles into Bunny’s warren, the other Guardians are in a panic, having become so consumed by their jobs that they haven’t actually spent any time with real children in ages. Jack, of course, hasn’t had their responsibilities to keep him busy, so he is much better at dealing with kids and offers to take Sophie home; perhaps, subconsciously, she reminds him of his own long-forgotten sister, which would explain why he seems to protective of her in that moment.

Jack Frost perched on tree branch

Ultimately, what makes Jack such an enjoyable protagonist is that despite the magic powers and the grand destiny, he feels like a real guy. He has hopes and fears and insecurities, he tries to do good but sometimes makes mistakes, he both yields to and fights temptation and he stands up for what he believes in. Jack starts out confused, alone and directionless, which is exactly how many young people find themselves feeling when they first leave childhood behind and step out into the “real world”. Yet over the course of this story, with the guidance of older mentors and the wisdom of a few bad choices, Jack is able to carve out a place for himself in the world, using his strengths and the support of his friends to find his purpose in life at last. It’s a journey that all of us have to go through, with the palpable sense of fulfilment in the moment where he’s finally “seen” making Jack one of DreamWorks’s most human and sympathetic leads to date.

… And yes, it doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous.

North welcoming Jack to the Pole

Among the other Guardians, perhaps the most recognisable is Nicholas St. North, who is this film’s version of the man in red, Santa Claus. It’s certainly interesting to see him reimagined as a tattooed, sabre-wielding Russian, but he retains his most distinguishing characteristics like the red outfit, flowing beard and pot belly, not to mention a propensity towards jolliness. North, as the others call him, is the Guardian of Wonder and acts as the group’s leader, so it is to him Pitch first reveals his presence, leading North to kick off the events of the plot by summoning the others to his workshop at the North Pole.

North watching Pitch's sand on the globe

Once North has all the Guardians gathered together, the Man in the Moon reveals to them his choice of Jack Frost as their newest member, a decision North seems to embrace from the start. Then, after some… questionable decisions about how to transport their guest to the Pole, North welcomes him with open arms and tries to make him a Guardian right there on the spot. Jack, however, refuses, prompting North to take him to his office for a more personal chat about a Guardian’s purpose. This is the primary role North fulfils for the rest of the film, acting as a kind of mentor figure towards the younger Guardian and giving him the advice he needs to help him find himself.

North's centre

North’s speech about his “centre” is just about the only backstory we get on the guy, at least in the film, which makes it hard to say much about him. The mythology of Santa Claus is ancient and dates back to at least the fourth century, with even the more recognisably modern incarnations stemming from about the eighteenth, so one would imagine he’s been doing this gig for a while. This lack of backstory for the other four Guardians is the main reason why I would’ve liked to see a sequel or two, as there’s a whole series of books to be mined for material. Still, North as presented is very enjoyable, for despite his fearsome appearance he’s actually one of the softer, friendlier Guardians. He seems to take a shine to Jack early on, perhaps because they’re both winter spirits and complement each other nicely (this would also explain Bunny and Jack’s “frostier” relationship).

North proposes collecting the teeth

That’s not to say North’s a pushover, of course. When Pitch goes after the Tooth Fairy, North is right there with his sabres out ready to fight, and it is he who suggests the Guardians collect that night’s load of teeth for her after Pitch escapes with the rest. He always tries to keep the group’s morale high and never backs down, no matter how hopeless things get – “No such thing as too late!” The loss of Sandy clearly hits him hard, but with Bunny’s optimism, he is still able to rally round to fight another day. It’s clear to see why he’s their leader, as he remains level-headed and steadfast throughout their ordeal, even in his goofier moments.

North disappointed in Jack

Only when Pitch manages to distract Jack long enough to attack Bunny’s warren does North truly waver. At this point, with Sandy gone and Tooth severely weakened, North and Bunny desperately needed the lad’s help, so when North finds out where he’s been, he’s visibly disappointed. In fact, his body language suggests he’s almost embarrassed; Bunny is the one who actually sends Jack away due to losing Easter, whereas North likes him and doesn’t really want to freeze him out. Unfortunately, Jack’s mistake is simply too grave to overlook and North cannot defend him.

However, when the Guardians later regroup to protect the “last light” – Jamie – North bears no sign of a grudge, seeming genuinely relieved to see Jack again. Apparently, the books explain that he was the only other Guardian besides Jack to have originally been a human, and while he didn’t die before taking on the role, it’s possible that this shared humanity helps him to sympathise with Jack’s temptations to learn about his past. Whatever his reasoning, he forgives Jack quickly and stands alongside him again, ready to take Pitch down as a united front. I’d like to make special mention of his sheer delight on Jack’s behalf when he realises Jamie can see him, it’s very sweet.

North unafraid of Pitch

Once Jack and Jamie have cracked the secret of how to beat Pitch, North enthusiastically joins in the fun, even having a snowball fight with the kids as the tension slips away. In the end, he confidently re-states the Guardians’ mission to Pitch, pointing out that as long as one child believes in them, they will always be there to keep fear at bay. After the Bogeyman has been chased off by his own nightmares, North then immediately takes the opportunity to welcome Jack into the fold – and this time, happily, Jack accepts.

I must admit, when I first saw the film, I found this interpretation of Santa a little jarring – it felt like DreamWorks trying too hard to be “edgy” – but North has grown on me. He might be a little bigger and tougher than the cuddly old geezer we’re used to, but he still embodies the heart of the beloved character and offers Jack a much-needed source of support during the lad’s transition to Guardianship. He’s hammy, wise, insightful, and has a penchant for Stravinsky – what’s not to like?

Bunny can you believe this guy

The other Guardian with a role steeped in Christian iconography is Bunny, whose full name is apparently E. Aster Bunnymund. He’s the Guardian of Hope, and judging from concept art he was initially supposed to be much more of a Mr. Herriman type than the Crocodile Dundee version we finished up with (wonder how much influence Hugh Jackman’s performance had on the design).

Right off the bat, Bunny is established as being a bit of a worrywart and very proud of his work; all of the Guardians have a problem with workaholism, but since Bunny’s big day is right around the corner, North has summoned him at a particularly bad time. The pair engage in a bit of back-and-forth about the importance of their respective holidays which has clearly been an issue between them for generations; it’s a nod to the commercialisation of the real world, where Christmas has indeed become the more “important” of the two dates, despite Easter being traditionally more important to practicing Christians.

Bunny glaring at Jack

This early scene also establishes that Bunny has a bit of a problem with the Groundhog, which makes for a funny touch when you consider the whole myth surrounding real groundhogs’ hibernation habits. Supposedly, if a groundhog comes out of its hole in February and sees its own shadow, it will retreat and continue to hibernate for six more weeks, symbolically “delaying” the onset of spring. Since this is Bunny’s spiritual season, it’s only natural that he’d feel some animosity towards anything that disrupts it – and of course, nobody could be more disruptive to spring than the literal embodiment of winter, Jack Frost.

While these first scenes can make Bunny seem like a bit of a contrarian, you realise by the end of the film that to judge him off this poor first impression would be a mistake. The guy is simply a bit harried because the day he works and prepares for all year is about to arrive, and everything seems to be going wrong: the Bogeyman is re-emerging, the biggest pain in his butt has just been appointed as his new colleague, and to top it all off, the children that mean so much to him are beginning to lose their faith in him. I mean, you’d be stressed too if you were him, right?

Bunny you don't wanna race a rabbit mate

Bunny’s fractious relationship with Jack is one of the film’s comedy highlights. The pair have what could best be described as a frenemy dynamic with all their bickering and bantering, alternately mocking or defending one another depending on the circumstance. What’s interesting is that Jack is more familiar with Bunny than any of the other Guardians at the start of the film, suggesting they’ve spent quite a bit of time messing with each other over the years.

The references to events such as the “Blizzard of ‘68” make it clear that they have some kind of long-standing rivalry, probably due once again to Jack’s ice powers interfering with the start of spring. In reality, the exact date of Easter is a complicated affair determined by the computus and the Paschal full moon, but one can assume that Jack had great fun messing with Bunny anytime the winter of a particular year was a harsh one. I’ve even seen some darker fan theories suggesting that Jack may have begun the rivalry because the spring thaw came early the year he died, which was what led to him falling through the frozen pond in the first place, but the very fact that Bunny is frustrated by the weather suggests he has no more control over it than Jack does.

Bunny menacing Jack in the alley

Whatever the root of their conflict was, they do finally get a chance to bury the hatchet once Jack joins the team as an official Guardian. In the past, he lacked the responsibility of the others, so Bunny saw him as an irresponsible troublemaker (he wasn’t entirely wrong either, to be fair), but on the flip side, Bunny has lost touch with the very children he’s working to protect, just as the other Guardians have, so they each help to bring some stability to the other and balance each other out.

At first, Bunny is a bit of a Guardian gatekeeper, refusing to accept the Man in the Moon’s choice and insisting that Jack will never truly be one of them because he doesn’t take anything seriously. While it’s mostly played for jokes, Pitch’s later use of this very insecurity in Jack suggests that Bunny’s words might have had more of an effect than he realised; it’s clear that while Bunny sometimes goes too far in his criticisms, he doesn’t intend to actually hurt Jack and regrets it when he does. This would explain why he is the first to jump to Jack’s defence when Pitch taunts him about being invisible, despite having nearly brought the lad to tears with the same insult earlier that very day. It’s a kind of “Hypocritically Heart-Warming” vibe (at least in the words of TV Tropes) that shows us Bunny does care – something Jack also knows and gleefully exploits with his little trick on the sleigh (“Oh, rack off, ya bloody show pony!”).

Their competitiveness continues throughout their first mission to help Tooth, where they trade barbs and frantically scramble to out-collect one another, only to be utterly trounced by North in the end anyway. Jack gets tremendous satisfaction in seeing Bunny’s tough-guy demeanour slip when he’s faced with Jamie’s greyhound, and his delight is still greater when everyone is knocked out by the dreamsand; Bunny’s dancing carrots put on a little tap routine with North’s candy canes, and Jack can only stand by and laugh as he wishes for a camera to get some dirt on the rabbit.

Bunny playing with SophieBunny I'm bringing hope with me

Still, despite Bunny’s beef with Jack, he’s actually a bit of a sweetheart underneath the gruffness, committed as he is to doing the best possible job with his Easter eggs to make things special for the kiddies. They may have gotten off to a rocky start, but after seeing the ferocity with which Jack fights to save Sandy, Bunny seems to gain a new respect for him and is humble enough to admit that they need his help. The two of them bond in Bunny’s warren after discovering Jamie’s sister Sophie there and, with a little help from Jack’s powers, Bunny is able to loosen up and have some fun with his egg-painting, enjoying a wonderful afternoon with Sophie. As she falls asleep in his arms, Bunny turns to Jack and makes peace with him at last, united by their shared love for the children – it’s one of the film’s emotional centrepieces.

Bunny crushed by loss of Easter

This makes the next part all the more painful, as we witness Bunny’s utter devastation when Pitch distracts Jack long enough to destroy the Easter goodies they had prepared. The disappointed children, thinking that the Easter Bunny hasn’t come, begin to lose faith in him, and it’s a testament to Jack’s good heart that he doesn’t take any pleasure at all in seeing his old foe broken like this. On the contrary, he sympathises deeply, looking crushed to see Bunny having to go through the same thing he’s been dealing with for centuries. When Bunny lashes out at Jack, it’s more than just anger in his expression; after finally beginning to trust the little rascal after all these years, he’s deeply hurt at what he sees as a betrayal, and this inspires genuine guilt in Jack that none of his petty insults from before ever could.

Yet again, we see that they do care about each other deep down, even if they don’t always get along, and this makes sense when you consider that Bunny seems to be the only Guardian Jack has had much prior experience with. When he’s first introduced to the others at the Pole, Jack looks a little starstruck, implying that he’s scarcely spoken to most of them before – in his lonely life, there are few other beings he could speak to, so heckling Bunny may have just been a kind of outlet for him to connect with somebody. Quite possibly, he was only ever trying to have fun, but the nature of his powers put him at odds with the springtime-centric Bunny and turned what could have been a friendship into a conflict. (It’s a little odd that Jack doesn’t seem to know North very well given that they operate in the same season, but perhaps that’s explained better in the books).

Bunny tiny on the sleigh

Anyway, after Jack regains his memories and returns to the fray, the film ties up his and Bunny’s arc beautifully as part of its best scene. I’ve already talked about how lovely this moment is for Jack on a personal level, as it’s the moment where he’s finally seen by a child for the first time, but what takes it that extra mile in terms of emotional impact is the link it has to Bunny. When Jamie met the Guardians earlier on, Bunny seemed to be the one he was most impressed by and is implied to be his favourite; it being Easter, he is also naturally the Guardian that Jamie would be most focused on. When Jack arrives to see him, he finds Jamie at what the boy calls a “crossroads”, trying to decide once and for all whether the Easter Bunny is real or not. After asking for some sign of proof and seeing nothing, Jamie is on the brink of giving up faith in Bunny forever – but Jack selflessly uses his powers to confirm the boy’s belief before it’s too late, saving Bunny from his own lonesome fate.

Bunny he made you believe in me

This act of kindness seems to be the final step on Jack’s road to becoming a Guardian (at least in the eyes of the Man in the Moon), because as the icy rabbit sprite he has conjured dissipates into a flurry of snowflakes, Jamie turns, slow and uncertain, and sees Jack. It’s a deeply touching moment, and it’s capped off nicely in the next scene when the Guardians arrive; Bunny, now shrunken and powerless, realises that Jack has restored Jamie’s faith in him and beams at him with heart-felt gratitude.

Bunny during climax

Once Jamie’s friends get in on the act, Bunny soon regains his usual imposing form and puts up a heck of a fight, holding off the nightmares until Sandy’s return marks the turning point in the battle. As the threat of Pitch is neutralised, Bunny relaxes and enjoys a snowball fight with the others, then looks on with pride as Jack is made the newest official Guardian at the end. The pair of them go on quite the emotional rollercoaster together over the course of the story, but it’s very satisfying to see them overcome their differences and become friends at last. Opposites attract, after all, and each of these characters brings a valuable perspective to the Guardians that will ultimately make them all better at their jobs.

Sandy signing to Jack

The remaining two Guardians, described by Pitch as “little fairies that come in the night”, are more similar to Jack, connected not to any particular day but to broader traditions and mythology. Sanderson “Sandy” Mansnoozie is the Guardian of Dreams, best known to the children of the world as the Sandman, and while he is a mute and generally introverted character, he plays a big role in the story. While the idea of a “Sandman” stretches back through European folklore, the modern incarnation was introduced by Hans Christian Andersen in the 1840s, and he has been frequently featured in various media since then, usually as a jolly old man rather like Santa.

Apparently, Sandy is the oldest of the Guardians and one of the most powerful, which could be why Pitch seems to target him specifically. It is by stealing and corrupting Sandy’s dreamsand that Pitch is able to make his return in the first place, as he finds manipulating children’s dreams into nightmares to be the quickest way to infect them all with the fear that the Guardians try to keep at bay. After first capturing their memories to prevent them from remembering happier times, Pitch then takes aim at Sandy himself, knowing that taking him out will drastically undermine the rest of the Guardians.

It’s worth noting that despite his retiring demeanour, Sandy puts up the strongest fight of any of them – even Jack notes with mild surprise, “Remind me not to get on your bad side!” This feistiness can be glimpsed in earlier scenes, such as when he irritably jangles an elf to get the other Guardians’ attention, but his fury at Pitch is particularly potent.

Sandy fighting the nightmares

The loss of Sandy is a major setback in the fight against Pitch, and he even gets a “funeral” scene in which the other Guardians mourn him and struggle to regroup. Jack takes it hard, as he was the only one on the scene when Pitch launched the attack and was fighting alongside Sandy, so he feels responsible for letting him down. The two of them are shown to get along well in their interactions with one another, with Sandy seemingly regarding Jack in the manner of a kindly grandfather, amused by the lad’s mischievous antics and very supportive of his being made a Guardian. There’s also an implication that Jack is on somewhat familiar terms with him, as he recognises and enjoys Sandy’s nightly dream parade and seems to respect the elder Guardian.

Sandy and Jack fighting side by side

Sadly, Sandy’s defeat, temporary thought it may be, puts him out of action for much of the film, but he does make a significant impact while he’s there. Not until the climax does he make his triumphant return, which comes not a moment too soon; at the very instant that Pitch looks poised to overwhelm them all in darkness, the children’s faith summons the Sandman back into being, and his sweet dreams soon put an end to the reign of the nightmares. Admittedly, it’s not totally clear what happens in this scene – Sandy simply bursts back into being right as the nightmares are about to get the kids. Still, he’s a sight for sore eyes and soon has Pitch whipped back into shape, even giving him a little “you’ve been a very bad boy” wag of the finger before sending him flying.

Sandy's return

Cheeky, inventive and absolutely adorable, Sandy is a key member of the Guardians team, and Pitch’s use of his dreamsand makes this very much his fight. I do wish he’d been given a little more to do, but what we get still adds greatly to the film’s wondrous tone; he’s one of the most delightfully animated characters in the whole thing, and his dreamsand still looks fantastic after the better part of a decade.

Tooth Fairy at her palace

The final member of the Guardians team (and the only female, it has to be said) is Toothiana, or “Tooth”, the Tooth Fairy and Guardian of Memories. In folklore, she is one of the oldest characters besides Santa, with various tooth-collecting traditions dating back to at least the twelfth century – that comment about being out of the game for “four-hundred-and-forty years” is no joke! (Seriously, she hasn’t seen a child since 1572? No wonder these guys are out of touch). However, modern incarnations of her as a woman or fairy only started to crop up much more recently around the twentieth century, and William Joyce re-envisioned her here as a kind of hummingbird-like being, which really helps to visually distinguish her within the tooth fairy tradition.

As is so often the case for the token female member of a group, Tooth acts as the heart of the team, being very sweet and kindly most of the time (that just makes it all the funnier when she literally knocks Pitch’s teeth out at the end, but I digress). When we first meet her, she is busily preoccupied with her tooth-collecting enterprise, putting her squarely in line with the fastidious Bunny; as she says to North in a rare dry comment, “Not all of us get to work one night a year!” The fact that she is set up as a good-natured, hard-working, soft-spoken “traditional” woman could be taken the wrong way – especially when you add in the fact that she has a crush on Jack – but I’ll spare you any feminist diatribes.

Tooth comforting Baby Tooth

Tooth becomes Pitch’s first target, because as she explains to Jack, the baby teeth she collects hold the most important memories of childhood. Thus, her tooth collection could be said to represent a collective store of faith which he must first overcome, before he can begin dismantling the other Guardians one by one. What an undertaking her job must be, too! She manages it with a vast network of helpers, some of whom look like miniature versions of herself (which are simply dubbed baby teeth) and also include mice and other creatures for the foreign divisions, in a nod to real international variations in folklore. When the Guardians arrive at her palace, they’re just in time to witness the last stage of Pitch’s attack, watching helplessly as the nightmares snatch up all the baby teeth – all except one, who is rescued in the nick of time by Jack and becomes a companion of his from then on.

Tooth explains memories to Jack

Tooth’s main plot function comes up shortly thereafter, as Jack wonders why Pitch wanted the teeth in the first place. Tooth explains to him about the memory connection, then accidentally rocks his world by revealing that she had his memories there, too – the knowledge that she had the keys to a past he didn’t even know existed stuns Jack, and he becomes fiercely committed to retrieving them from then on. Tooth, for her part, is surprised Jack had no memory of his old life, implying that not all of the Guardians had their memories wiped (the popular theory is that Jack’s had to be, to prevent the inevitable trauma that would have ensued if he’d realised he was dead and had to watch his family mourn him).

Tooth why did I ever stop doing this

Out in the field, as the Guardians work to collect the teeth on Tooth’s behalf, Jack learns that she hasn’t personally done the job herself in many centuries, but she realises she misses it and wonders why she ever stopped. Presumably, as the world’s population increased and the scope of the job grew more massive, she was forced to delegate more and more of it to her aides, until she inadvertently left it behind altogether to step into “management”. Jack’s presence helps to reconnect her with her old love of the job and prompts some reflection in her and the other Guardians about their approach to it; perhaps being all about “hard work and deadlines” has done them more harm than good.

Tooth hugging Jack in victory

Unfortunately, like Sandy, Tooth is hobbled early on by being one of Pitch’s first targets; the resultant loss of faith in her weakens her powers, and she is left with little to do but support the others for most of the film. After the two back-to-back sequences in which the palace is seized and the Guardians help her collect her teeth, she sort of fades into the background until the end, although she does get in on the “disappointed in Jack” bit at the Easter egg hunt, when she realises he’s lost track of the baby tooth he’d been caring for.

Thankfully, her full power returns in the climax along with those of North and Sandy, so she is able to do her bit in taking down Pitch with the others. She is also standing by, still swooning over Jack (which you can’t fault the girl for, really) as he gets sworn in as the newest Guardian. I do like Tooth, but like Sandy, I just wish we could have explored her character in a little more depth.

Man in the Moon close-up

Before we get on to Pitch Black himself, we should spend a moment on the Man in the Moon (affectionally dubbed “Manny” by North), who is technically a sort of character in his own right. If we go back to that Biblical reading from earlier, Manny could be interpreted as a kind of Godlike figure, in charge of maintaining balance and harmony in the world by combating evil with good. We’re told as little as Jack is about the way he and his magic work, not to mention how and why he picks his Guardians, but apparently the books do go into more detail.

As it is, the film version neglects to tell Jack why he resurrected him, leaving him quite literally in the dark; this uncommunicative tendency is probably why the filmmakers opted not to have anyone actually voice him, to help put the audience in Jack’s shoes. The other Guardians seem to hear him speak to them, but like Jack, we never do. We can only assume that, like any other God, Manny is somewhat omniscient and predicted the course of future events, which may be why he leaves Jack so clueless about who he is – he must have wanted the lad to discover his “centre” for himself, organically, or else he might not have had the same motivation to defeat Pitch in the end.

His choice of Jack seems to have been due mainly to the boy’s selflessness, love of children and above all, his sense of fun; this unique blend of qualities, which enabled him to withstand fear and protect others from it even under the grimmest of circumstances, made him the perfect fit in a fight against someone like Pitch. One thing Manny can pride himself on is that he’s an excellent judge of character!

Jack silhouetted against the Man in the Moon

Of course, it still feels a little unfair that Jack was subjected to three centuries of loneliness and isolation thanks to this chump, especially when Manny seems to be on closer terms with the rest of the Guardians (or at least North and Sandy, anyway). Who knows – perhaps after the film’s closing scene, Manny made up for lost time by filling Jack in with some more details?

Pitch maybe I want what you have

This leaves us with the Bogeyman, Pitch Black, the last of our central characters. The use of some type of terrifying creature to scare children into good behaviour has (rather disturbingly) been a part of most cultures of the world for most of history, but the earliest references to a Bogeyman-like being seem to be those of the hobgoblins of sixteenth-century England. This would seem to fit with what Pitch tells us about his heyday in the “dark ages”, a vaguely defined term which most historians now reject, but which once applied to a period spanning roughly the fifth to the fifteenth centuries.

Anyway, enough of that. In this incarnation, Pitch has apparently been planning a big comeback for a long time, and having finally mastered the technique of creating dreamsand – or his own nightmarish version of it – he’s ready to challenge the Guardians for the belief of the children. As with many of the best villains, what makes Pitch compelling is that his character arc serves as a dark parallel of Jack’s; both essentially want the same thing, which Jack recognises the first time he meets Pitch and hears him spell out what he’s doing this for. The difference is all in perspective – Jack has not grown bitter about his invisibility the way that Pitch has and knows that being feared is worse than not being believed in at all.

Pitch with nightmare in Cupcake's room

Everything about this guy, from his silky, teasing voice to his tall, slender(man) form, is designed for maximum creep factor. I mean, come on, he’s introduced leering over a little girl in her bedroom, it doesn’t get much more uncomfortable than that! He has a tendency towards theatrics which further ties him in to the grand tradition of animated villains, preferring to operate out of the shadows and only making the occasional flashy appearance to keep his opponents on their toes.

Pitch aims arrow at Sandy

I’ve talked a lot already about the tactical way Pitch plans his attacks, first going after children’s memories via the Tooth Fairy, before extinguishing their ability to dream through his conquering of the Sandman and finally attacking hope itself with his assault on Easter. He’s clever and methodical, a credible threat to be sure, but what I found most effective about his portrayal was that Biblical dynamic he shares with Jack, acting as the Satanic figure to Jack’s Christlike one. They even get two whole “Garden of Eden” scenes together, with Pitch first tempting Jack with the memories he so covets in order to keep him busy, and then making a surprisingly sincere offer to him to join forces later on, trying to tempt him away from the good guys.

Pitch rejected by Jack

Pitch is depicted as something of a Fallen Angel figure, again like Satan – it is implied that the Man in the Moon was responsible for making him the Bogeyman in the first place (“Don’t look at me like that, old friend”) and that Pitch resents the position, putting me in mind of the dynamic between Zeus and Hades. Once again, it is in the books that further answers lie, as I believe Pitch was supposed to have originally started as a good force in those, using fear only to keep people out of harm’s way until he became corrupted by power. Tooth tells Jack that they were all “someone” before they were chosen, so this evidently applies to Pitch, too; in the books, he was apparently a good and noble man in life, but I’ve got to stop referencing them as they’re technically irrelevant when analysing a film on its own merits. Besides, I’ve never read them myself.

Pitch on his nightmare steed

The tragedy of Pitch’s arc is that it’s all self-inflicted; as we see from Jack’s example, a Guardian who works selflessly towards protecting children and the values they represent can be richly rewarded, even after a long wait, by the Man in the Moon. Pitch’s whole perspective is selfish and focuses only on having power over children; indeed, the film version of him is positively sadistic, revelling in the thought of everyone living in fear of him. Even when he invites Jack to join forces with him in Antarctica, he gets so caught up in his delusions of grandeur that he almost forgets to include Jack’s name, making it clear who’s really going to be in charge of this partnership.

Ironically, while Pitch believes that he and Jack complement each other because they represent “cold and dark”, he fails to recognise that these surface attributes are not what either of them truly stand for. Their “centres” are actually fun and fear, which oppose each other so perfectly that Jack is a natural opponent to Pitch, rather than a partner. In fact, it was by using fun to combat fear that Jack helped to protect his sister in his final moments of life, and it is by doing the same with Jamie that he is able to break Pitch’s sinister spell in the climactic battle, thus leading to his defeat. Having fun is a natural part of childhood, a part that no amount of scheming and posturing by Pitch can ever vanquish, so in a way, Jack was the missing piece the Guardians needed to be able to finally control Pitch’s uprisings for good.

Fear, of course, cannot and should not be completely eradicated: it has its purpose in life, just as every other negative force does. The Guardians’ role is simply to maintain a balance and keep that fear from ruling people’s lives, and with Jack added to their number as the embodiment of fun, their future success in doing so seems secure.

Pitch on the ground after being punched

That said, it’s not hard to feel a bit sorry for Pitch, since all he really wanted was to be believed in, the same as Jack did. It’s a pity the writers couldn’t find some way to redeem him; seeing him reduced to the same state of invisibility that Jack has been suffering from for the whole film is set up as a triumphant moment, but the sad, sympathetic looks on the Guardians’ faces make it clear that this is a bittersweet victory at best. Pitch is ultimately turned upon by his own nightmares as he gives in to fear himself, at which point he is dragged back into his lair, the entrance of which is marked by a rickety old bedframe – a reference to the monsters that are said to hide under children’s beds, in a fitting nod to real-life tales of the Bogeyman (at least in the US).

Jamie Bennett close-up

Young Jamie Bennett is a present-day resident of Burgess, Jack’s hometown, and serves as the face of the children who the Guardians are working to protect. He is shown to have a fervent interest in the paranormal from the beginning, so Jack takes it upon himself to try and convince Jamie of his existence after hearing the boy’s mother dismiss him as “just an expression”. It shows us how desperate Jack is to be seen, as even after hundreds of years he is still trying to find new ways to get kids to believe in him; just the possibility that he might be able to secure Jamie’s belief in him is enough to make him send the kid on a crazy sled ride through downtown Burgess, eventually knocking one of his teeth out. Of course, this backfires when Jamie and his pals become distracted by the thought of a visit from the Tooth Fairy, leaving Jack forgotten again, but he doesn’t forget Jamie and watches fondly as the boy describes his adventure to his family that night.

Jamie meets the Guardians

Later on, after Jack has joined forces with the Guardians to stop Pitch, he and Tooth come across Jamie again while making their rounds. They are soon joined by the other Guardians, and in their boisterousness they accidentally awaken Jamie, who stares in amazement at the assortment of childhood icons assembled in his room (all except Jack, who he still cannot see). Although the Sandman quickly sends him back to dreamland, this meeting proves fateful later in the story, as Jamie is the only child in the world to have actually met and spoken to the Guardians (well, his sister does too, but we’ll get to her), thus keeping his faith in them alive long after it has died in the hearts of the other kids of the world.

Jamie saying I know he is

Only when Pitch’s efforts ruin Easter are Jamie’s beliefs really put to the test. Faced with a group of increasingly disillusioned friends and a total lack of proof that any of the Guardians exist, Jamie begins to wonder whether they’re right; maybe it was all just a dream. Still, he’s so sure that he actually saw them that he’s reluctant to give up on them just like that, so one night, he sits down with a stuffed bunny and tries addressing it as a proxy for the Easter Bunny, hoping to catch his attention. Jack Frost arrives just in time to hear him asking it for a small shred of proof, any sign that his nocturnal chat with the Guardians wasn’t a dream, and with the other Guardians yet to arrive, Jack takes it upon himself to defend Jamie’s faith on their behalf.

Jamie sees Jack Frost

It’s a noble thing to do, and it pays off when Jamie recognises Jack’s snowflakes and suddenly says Frost’s name out loud, before slowly turning to find that he can see Jack himself at last. It’s hard to say who is more surprised, and the two of them quickly bond; Jack has had more experience with children in recent times than the older, busier Guardians, so he and Jamie establish a touching kind of brotherly rapport. Jack, of course, has good reason to feel protective of the boy, as Pitch turns up shortly thereafter to stage his final assault on this last beacon of faith, making the disturbing implication that he plans to kill Jamie if the lad won’t stop believing.

Jamie afraid of Pitch

However, Jamie and the Guardians rally their forces by gathering up his friends, with Jack’s powers giving their faith a little extra boost. The whole group face off against Pitch together, and it is Jack’s realisation of his centre that enables him to give Jamie the power to break the Bogeyman’s spell – Pitch’s power comes entirely from fear, so by encouraging Jamie to have fun and to not be afraid, they are able to weaken Pitch’s nightmares and revive the Sandman, thus turning the tables on Pitch once and for all.

Jamie talking to Jack on the lake

With the Bogeyman banished and a celebratory mood in the air, North steps in to make his second attempt at inaugurating Jack as a Guardian, an honour Jack is now ready to accept. Jamie seems reluctant for him to go, afraid that Pitch will return; it’s a small detail, but it shows us just how hard it was for him to summon the strength to stand up to the Bogeyman, as he really was afraid of him deep down. Jack, however, in characteristic fashion, appeals to the boy’s good sense, reminding him that they will still be watching out for him and the other kids even when they can’t see him. Essentially, he is explaining the basis of faith to him, and Jamie is clearly comforted to know they’ll always be looking out for him. As a parting gesture, Jack then makes Jamie an honorary Guardian too, symbolically acknowledging the power of the faith which enables the Guardians to do their work.

I know that I’ve criticised many “little boy” characters in the past for being generic (particularly those from Disney’s dark age), but this is a good example of a story where such a character serves his purpose effectively. Jamie needs to feel ordinary, because it’s only pure circumstance that makes him so important to the story; the Guardians could have run into any child in the world and made them into the “last light” by doing so, but they just so happened to run into Jamie. He represents childhood, embodying each of the aspects that the Guardians fight to protect – memories and wonder, hopes and dreams, and perhaps most importantly, fun. Jamie plays an important part in helping Jack to understand himself, completing his character arc and resolving his inner conflict, and their relationship feels nicely developed because of it.

Sophie Bennett finds North's snowglobe

It’s worth spending a moment on Jamie’s little sister, Sophie Bennett, who also has her own small role to play in the story. I have to say, I love her design; she’s one of the most realistic toddlers I’ve seen in animation, with her choppy hair suggesting an “experimental” DIY job (I’m sure many parents reading this have witnessed similar incidents).

Sophie’s part in the adventure comes on the same night the Guardians arrive in her brother’s bedroom. After Sandy’s attempt to put Jamie back to sleep goes awry, all of the Guardians sans he and Jack are left in unconscious heaps on the floor; Jack and Sandy then rush off in pursuit of one of Pitch’s nightmares, leaving North, Tooth, Bunny and Jamie all passed out in the bedroom. Cue Sophie, who toddles in and delights at seeing the likes of Santa and the Tooth Fairy in her house. Like any toddler, her curiosity gets the better of her and she uncovers North’s magical snow globe, which acts as a portal that can transport its user anywhere they wish to go. The sight of the Easter Bunny leads her to accidentally set the portal to his warren, and she quickly vanishes inside.

Sophie dumbfounded in the warren

Only much later, after losing Sandy and regrouping to prepare for Easter, do the Guardians finally get to the warren and discover Sophie, leading them into a mild panic that greatly amuses the more laid-back Jack. Confronted with Sophie running amok in the warren, they realise that in their efforts to make children happy, they ironically haven’t spent any time with real children in centuries. Thus, with a little help from Jack’s magic, they begin to get back into the game, with Bunny in particular “defrosting” a lot through his interactions with the little tyke. Unfortunately, when it comes time to take her home, Pitch seizes the opportunity to distract Jack for long enough to stage an attack on the warren, further weakening the Guardians’ forces.

Sophie asleep on the floor

Some viewers have called out a few potential plot holes regarding Sophie, which is interesting as she is only a very minor character. How, for instance, is Jack – of all people – able to transport her home, when the general lack of belief in him should make it impossible for him to physically interact with her? The most common explanations I’ve seen for this are that her extreme youth renders the question of belief moot, as kids her age will believe anything, and also that being asleep means that she doesn’t necessarily need to believe in Jack at that moment anyway. Some have suggested that he used the power of the wind to help carry her there, which makes sense.

There’s also the question of how Jamie can be the “last light” when Sophie also met the Guardians (spending a great deal more time with them, besides) – doesn’t her faith in them count? However, aside from the argument about her youth, this can also be explained by proximity; since she and Jamie are only one room apart in the same house, it’s perfectly possible that their “lights” could be mistaken for a single one, since the globes used by Pitch and North are relatively small and don’t distinguish between households.

Baby Tooth in Jack's hands

Among the other minor players, we also have Baby Tooth, one of the many thousands of fairy minions employed by the Tooth Fairy for tooth-collecting. Apparently, the books explain that these fairies are all just external manifestations of Tooth herself, but here in the film, each one seems to function as an individual. We first meet this one early on, when the Guardians arrive to witness the tail end of Pitch’s attack on the Tooth Palace; Jack manages to snatch Baby Tooth away from the jaws of a nightmare, and she takes a liking to him from then on, sticking by his side throughout much of the rest of the film.

Baby Tooth anxious as Jack is distracted

After Sophie’s adventure in the warren, Baby Tooth joins Jack to return her to her home. However, just as they are about to leave, Jack is distracted by the sound of a distant voice which he recognises and, much to Baby Tooth’s anxiety, dashes off to investigate. The two of them are lured down to Pitch’s lair in the underworld, where they discover all of Baby Tooth’s “sisters” locked in cages. Jack is preparing to try and bust them all out, but then the voice calls out to him again, and he realises it’s coming from a vast pile of memory canisters below. As he frantically searches the pile for his memories, Baby Tooth hovers fretfully above, apparently recognising the danger they’re in – and she’s proven right when Pitch shows up, taunting Jack long enough to carry out his attack on the warren and then separating him from Baby Tooth.

Baby Tooth in Pitch's fist

When the shamed Jack retreats to exile in Antarctica, Pitch appears once again, this time using Baby Tooth as a kind of bargaining chip to force Jack into handing over his staff. Unable to sacrifice her life for anything, Jack does so, but Pitch threatens to keep Baby Tooth captive anyway, just because Jack claimed he wanted to “be alone”. Luckily, Baby Tooth is pluckier than she looks and gives Pitch a sharp jab in the hand with her beak, at which point he angrily tosses her down a crevasse, followed by a weakened Jack.

Baby Tooth looking at Jack's memory canister

Alone in the cold and darkness, Baby Tooth encourages Jack to open his memory canister, with a look that says, “Well, after all that, you might as well”. It proves to be a good idea, as the revelation that he once had a family and saved his sister’s life gives Jack new energy and resolve, allowing him to restore his broken staff and fly them both out of the crevasse.

Picking up the protagonist at his lowest point is a task of no small importance, and if we read Baby Tooth as an extension of the actual Tooth Fairy, her gentle, understanding manner with Jack makes perfect sense. Each of the Guardians, in their own way, helps Jack figure out his purpose, with North explaining the concept of a centre, Sandy helping him find new depths he didn’t know he had, Tooth giving him the clues to his past, and Bunny giving him the opportunity to inspire faith in Jamie. Jamie himself, of course, is the final piece of the puzzle, helping Jack realise what his centre actually is. Everyone, no matter how small, plays their part in connecting the dots, and Baby Tooth is no exception.

L-r: Caleb, Claude, Monty and Pippa

Jamie’s group of friends, rather like Jamie himself, act as representatives for the children of the world, with their changing attitudes towards the Guardians telling the audience exactly how the fight against Pitch is going at any given moment. Returning to that religious reading again, we can read the friends as the masses, a “flock” if you will, whose wavering faith Jamie must regain like a pint-sized pastor.

The twins, Caleb and Claude, seem to be the only ones who are Jamie’s friends from the beginning, as the three of them are playing together when Jack meets them. Pippa and Monty are playing separately nearby, and the way Pippa addresses Jamie by his full name suggests they don’t know each other all that well before the big snowball fight. It has to be said that there’s not a lot to distinguish these four from each other; Monty is the shy one, and Pippa comes across as somewhat older and more reluctant in her belief than the others, taking on a sort of sisterly role towards Sophie in the climax.

Cupcake laughing on her sled

Cupcake is by far the most distinctive, and easily my favourite of the friend group. Judging by the terror of the others when she’s struck by a snowball (thrown by Jack), you get the feeling that the poor girl is ostracised for her intimidating size – she seems to be playing alone when it happens, and her angry reaction makes sense when you consider that she may be used to getting teased. However, Jack helps the others to see that she’s not as scary as she seems and is actually very sweet, thus creating an opening for her to join Jamie’s friend group.

Cupcake is unlucky enough to be Pitch’s tester child for his new nightmares, making for a deeply uncomfortable scene as he looms over her sleeping form in her bedroom. We learn that she has a penchant for all things cute, particularly unicorns, and after Pitch cruelly distorts the Sandman’s dream unicorn into a nightmare in this early scene, it’s satisfying to see Cupcake get her own back at the end by transforming one of the nightmares into another unicorn.

Jack Frost's sister on the lake

Jack’s sister is the only other human character of any importance, but her small role is a crucial one in Jack’s journey to understand himself. Although she is not officially named in the film, some sources credit her as Mary or Felicity; either way, it is Jack’s sacrifice of himself to save her life that led the Man in the Moon to make him a Guardian in the first place.

Long ago in Jack’s human life, the two of them were out skating together on a frozen lake near their home, but when a patch of thin ice endangered his sister, Jack used his innate sense of fun to keep her calm long enough to rescue her. With the aid of his staff – then just a simple shepherd’s crook – he switches places with her and sends her flying back onto a safer part of the ice, but in doing so, he falls through to the frigid waters below and drowns.

It’s awful to think about this too much, as the poor girl would have had to live the rest of her life with that on her conscience. One hopes she was eventually able to process her grief for Jack and live a relatively happy life, but it must have been a hard time for her – and for Jack too, once he realised what had happened. Imagine being trapped in a kind of limbo like he is, watching the sister you loved so much mourn for you and grow up without you, standing right beside her yet unable to ever alert her to your presence. Brrr. Actually, a popular fan theory is that Jamie Bennett may in fact be one of her descendants, due to their similar looks and birthplace, which is a nice thought; I like the idea that Jack was eventually able to reconnect with his sister on some level, even if was through a distant relative centuries later.

Angry elves with trumpetsYeti painting toys blue

Finally, let’s spend a moment on these wonderful elves and yetis. These critters work for North in his base at the Pole, and he secretly reveals to Jack that it is in fact the yetis who do most of the work, with the elves apparently being kept around for more ceremonial purposes, if anything. Apart from the Sandman (and, of course, Jack), all of the Guardians have a crew of sentient minions of some sort, but North’s have the most personality and are huge scene-stealers throughout.

Comic relief characters are often very polarising with audiences, so I’m sure some of you will hate these guys with a vengeance, but personally, I adore them. Tooth’s more work-oriented fairies and Bunny’s faceless eggs and statues just don’t get the kind of laughs that these bumbling creatures do, with the elves in particular being given a great selection of physical gags that never fail to get me giggling. They’re treated rather like children, with North “humouring” them by letting them believe they make the toys even as the yetis do all the actual work, but with that said, some of them do also have some temper problems when things don’t go their way.

Elves eating North's cookiesYetis capture Jack

The yetis are a fairly diverse group, with one named Phil seemingly sharing Bunny’s animosity towards Jack; the cheeky chappie has been trying to “bust in” to North’s workshop for years, so he and Phil have apparently had more than a few run-ins over the years. Some of the older yetis are more supportive of Jack, however, with one greying specimen warmly encouraging him when the lad shows reluctance during the Guardian ceremony. Of course, everyone’s favourite is that poor, beleaguered yeti who is assigned to paint the toys – first North wants them red, then Bunny wants them blue, and then Pitch turns up to announce that they won’t need any toys at all! As a retail worker, I can taste the yeti’s frustration in those moments.

Animation

The core animation team for Rise of the Guardians included a number of lead animators for each of the main characters: David Pate for Jack, Pierre Perifel for North, Alexis Wanneroy for Tooth, Phillipe le Brun for Bunny, Anthony Gray for Sandy, Steven “Shaggy” Hornby for Pitch and Bob Davies for Jamie.

Given the fantastical nature of the story, the film called for a high number of special effects, particularly for the volumetric particles used to depict the Sandman and Pitch Black. As had become the norm for computer animation studios by then, DreamWorks developed a new type of software to help them, which they called OpenVDB – first used for Puss in Boots (2011) and then for Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012), OpenVDB allowed the animators to more efficiently manipulate and store volume data, like smoke and other amorphous materials such as the dreamsand. In August, a few months before the film’s release, DreamWorks released OpenVDB for free as an open-source project, with the hope that it would become a new industry standard.

Sandy's dream parade

Director Peter Ramsey said of the film’s animation, “It’s always special when we get the first animation tests and feel that we really nailed it, and that the character is coming to life right in front of your eyes”. On that note, the best aspect of this film’s animation is undoubtedly its characters, particularly Sandy and Pitch and their respective powers; the swirling, roiling black “dreamsand” that makes up Pitch’s nightmares looks viscous enough to touch, while Sandy’s warm, golden version of it seems to glow and jump right off the screen. The effects have aged well for computer animation and the film still looks glorious in its best moments, even if the human characters are perhaps starting to look a little simplistic by current standards.

Jack taking down Pitch

Jack Frost and his ice magic are, of course, another major triumph of computer animation, with one of the film’s most visually arresting scenes being that in which Jack takes down Pitch in a surprise burst of icy power, after the Bogeyman has defeated Sandy. The melding of the different textures of the ice and dreamsand is beautifully done, as Jack overpowers Pitch and knocks him from the sky. Visual effects supervisor David Prescott said of Jack, “He can grow beautiful floral patterns calmly and slowly, or, when he’s fighting Pitch, shoot bolts of frost. The system we developed was really controllable. We could grow frost in a room over a table, over a couch, and down the other side. It looked organic.” He also explained the system devised to create such organic frost: “We looked at L-systems, but we needed to have the frost grow, turn left, turn right. L-systems would have fallen apart. With cellular automata, we can set a seed and draw a line for where we want the growth. And, as with a fluid simulation, we can put things in the way.”

Plot

You’ve probably already noticed from my references in the character section that this film does not stay totally in line with Joyce’s book series, despite having his input. For some fans, this has caused confusion and frustration, because a number of things – particularly relating to the individual Guardians’ backstories and the rules which govern their powers – are not fully explained in the film, leading many viewers unfamiliar with the books to accuse the film of having plot holes. The book series began in 2011 during the film’s production, and explanations of the characters’ origins and the story’s setting can all be found within them; apparently, the book series is set in the past, around the time Jack was first resurrected by the Man in the Moon, with the film’s purpose being to show how the Guardians function in the modern era. The original idea for the Guardians story came from Joyce’s daughter, Mary Katherine, who once asked him “if he thought Santa Claus had ever met the Easter Bunny”. (This was the same daughter to whom the film was dedicated).

Regarding the lack of plot details, Joyce himself explained, “Because I don’t want people to read the book and then go see the movie and go, ‘Oh, I like the book better’, and I also didn’t want them to know what happens in the movie. And I also knew that during the progress of film production, a lot of things can change. So I wanted to have a sort of distance, so we were able to invoke the books and use them to help us figure out the world of the movie, but I didn’t want them to be openly competitive to each other”. I can certainly understand that; after all, how many book fans have been disappointed in the film adaptations of their favourite works before? Still, it would have been nice to have a few points clarified, as this is a very interesting world and it doesn’t feel like the film is exploring it to its fullest potential (this could easily have been expanded into a miniseries).

Crystal selecting a new Guardian

Producer Christina Steinberg summed up the characters by saying, “The Guardians represent hope, joy, wonder and dreams. If Pitch is able to take them out, they will literally cease to exist. The attributes they represent would be gone from the world and fear would reign”. This is the key point to keep in mind for those who would argue that Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter cannot be erased by the Bogeyman; despite the occasionally awkward wording in the film, the holidays themselves are not under threat. It’s more important to remember the specific aspect of childhood that each Guardian represents and defends, for it is these abstract concepts that Pitch is threatening, rather than any religious iconography which the Guardians might embody.

Jack faces off with Pitch in his lair close-up

That said, the religious undertones should not be discarded completely – this is, after all, a film about the power of faith. While not overtly Biblical as something like The Prince of Egypt, I was still surprised that I’d never noticed the more subtle religious parallels within Rise of the Guardians before. There’s certainly some commentary to be found on the increasing commercialisation of holidays like Christmas and Easter, with the actual faith that’s supposed to underpin those days becoming less and less relevant as the decades go by. Jack, too, goes on a very Biblical journey; as I discussed above, his sacrifice, resurrection and resistance to the temptations of Pitch all echo the likes of Christ, Adam and Eve.

Colonial BurgessBurgess statue plaque

An interesting bit of backstory can be made out on the plaque of the statue that Jamie crashes into, at the end of his wild sled ride. According to that, his and Jack’s hometown is called Burgess (changed from Hawthorne in the books), which has been said by the filmmakers to be in Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1798 – just over a decade after Pennsylvania achieved statehood – so Jack presumably lived there sometime before its official founding. Conflicting sources cite his human life as having been in either the early 1600s or 1700s, but the latter seems more likely, as wide-scale settlement of the state didn’t occur until around the mid-1600s at least.

Cinematography

If you remember my last DreamWorks review, you’ll remember that the studio had brought acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins into the fold a few films prior, using his keen eye for lighting to help them achieve a greater sense of reality in their animated worlds. He performed the same role on this production (albeit more briefly, as he soon left to fulfil a commitment to Skyfall), selecting photographic reference images to create colour keys and giving notes on contrast, saturation, depth of field and light intensity which the crew found invaluable.

Production designer Patrick Hanenberger deserves most of the credit for the film’s look, and he explained that North’s residence at the Pole was an early lynchpin of their design work, saying, “We began our designs by thinking about how we could have a giant toy factory or a castle in the North Pole and make it completely hidden from sight. The answer was to create this magnificent structure, but have it tucked away in a giant ice canyon, so humans couldn’t spot it if they fly over it in a helicopter”.

One of the producers, Nancy Bernstein, also discussed the importance of unity in the design work, saying, “Everyone involved with the movie – director Peter Ramsey, producer Christina Steinberg, production designer Patrick Hanenberger, visual effects supervisor David Prescott, all the department heads, etc. – we all worked together to make sure all the different styles and visuals came together as one distinct movie. It was really important to us to have a cohesive look. I think our big challenge was to create worlds that the audience would believe exist out there, but they had just never seen them before”.

I think it’s safe to say that DreamWorks hit it out of the park yet again with this film, as it’s truly one of their most beautiful computer-animated efforts to date, with each of the Guardians’ respective hideaways standing out for their imaginative construction and attention to detail.

Director Peter Ramsey later said of the film, “There were several moments when I knew that the whole project was coming together. I remember the first time I saw Patrick’s {Hanenberger} paintings of the North Pole and the Tooth Palace. Then there was the first time I saw the first tests of the Sand Man visual effects or Hamish Grieve’s storyboard for the scene in which Jamie sees Jack for the first time… I also think of watching the film’s composer, Alexandre Desplat, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra as they performed his score at the Abbey Road Studios in London. Those moments were really amazing for me, but nothing quite topped seeing the finished product with live audiences who were totally engaged with it”. Given this level of enthusiasm and apparent support from audiences, I still don’t understand how the film underperformed so badly, but we’ll get into that more below.

There are plenty of terrific scenes throughout this film, many of which I’ve mentioned above; the Guardians helping Tooth do her rounds is a comedy highlight with some of the film’s best-timed gags, and I still get a kick out of Jack’s blunt refusal to be made a Guardian the first time North tries it (mainly because of the indignant elf whose music keeps getting cut off). The battle to save Sandy is also a fantastically paced action scene, with a genuine feeling of hopelessness creeping in before Jack’s unexpected burst of power turns the tables.

Jamie looking at Jack's frost on the window

However, by far the most affecting scene is the one where Jamie sees Jack for the first time. It’s the emotional centre of the entire film and the filmmakers crafted it to perfection, carrying us through Jack’s urgency and Jamie’s dejection as the boy’s faith in the Easter Bunny falters, followed by his wide-eyed wonder as Jack uses his powers to persuade him to keep believing. Chris Pine then delivers some truly excellent emotion as Jack realises Jamie can see him at last, with he and Dakota Goyo playing off of one another nicely and creating a warm, brotherly tone. The sheer joy of this moment is infectious, and it’s difficult not to get teary-eyed even watching it out of context.

Pitch disappearing into the shadows

On a darker note, the scene in which Pitch distracts Jack while carrying out his attack on the warren is also a strong one, featuring some of the film’s most creative lighting as the sinister Bogeyman slips in and out of the shadows, taunting Jack all the while. Pitch plays on Jack’s insecurities to make him doubt himself, just as any villain worth their salt always does, and his way of throwing his voice makes it impossible for Jack (or the audience) to tell where he is. The dawning horror Jack feels as he realises that Pitch has tricked him is tangible enough to give you goose bumps, and the scene ends on just the right note of despair, with Pitch crooning a falsely sweet “Happy Easter, Jack” before leaving him to deal with the fallout of his attack.

Soundtrack

The score for Rise of the Guardians was composed by Alexandre Desplat, who had by that time scored several fantasy films including the last two parts of the Harry Potter franchise. It marked the first time a DreamWorks Animation film had not been scored by either Hans Zimmer, or a member of his Remote Control Productions family of composers (which includes John Powell, Henry Jackman and brothers Harry and Rupert Gregson-Williams). Desplat recorded the score at London’s Abbey Road Studios and Air Studios using the London Symphony Orchestra, with a choral contribution by London Voices.

Sandy's sand dinosaurs

Desplat’s score is a delicious piece of work, which I ranked as my eighth favourite animated score in one of my early articles, saying: “Here, he creates a dramatic and cinematically appealing score, filled with bombastic brass and lots of festive percussion (it is a film about various holidays after all). The mood can change rapidly within a single track; listen out for the gradual key change and dissonance in the percussion during Dreamsand to Nightmares, as Pitch infects the dreams of the sleeping children. If you’ve seen the film, you probably remember the Fanfare of the Elves (and Jack’s blunt interruption of it) – you can hear it in full on the soundtrack, sounding very much like the over-the-top brass call of the Twentieth Century Fox opener, but the interrupted version is included too, and it’s really funny to hear all the bellowing trumpets suddenly stuttering to a halt! Then we have the fight between Pitch, Sandy and Jack, where the mood is perfectly expressed with the changing key of the strings as Sandy is overcome, followed by short, staccato bursts as Jack’s powers break free.

“The score is at its best, though, during the quieter moments, such as when North discusses his idea of having a ‘centre’ with Jack, and especially when Jamie finally sees Jack for the first time. The piano at that point is minimal but very moving, with the Still Dream motif woven into it, gradually becoming accompanied by delicate woodwind and strings. It perfectly captures Jack’s childlike joy at being seen, after a lifetime of invisibility”.

North gasping over broken train

As an additional note, I’d also like to make mention of Desplat’s use of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite during North’s introduction, a personal favourite of mine. Animation fans will no doubt remember it from Fantasia 2000, where it accompanied one of that film’s best sequences – in this one, it’s used in a slightly more comedic way, as we get our first glimpse of this well-muscled and tattooed Santa, hacking away at a glittering ice sculpture while munching cookies and humming along to the tune. Just as his new creation sails across his office to the song’s triumphant final strains, a yeti then bursts in and sends it crashing to the ground. North’s horrified reaction still has me rolling to this day.

Rise of the Guardians credits imagery

David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the lyrics for the film’s central theme, Still Dream, which is performed in full over the end credits by the supremely talented soprano, Renée Fleming. It’s just as sumptuous as the rest of the film’s music, and I chose it as my eighth favourite credits song from animation (out of fifty), saying, “It’s a little surprising to hear this playing over the credits the first time you watch the film, but I really admire Alexandre Desplat… for choosing to use a less standard style of music. The theme of Still Dream is woven throughout the rest of the film’s enchanting score, but it is this performance that really sells it – the feelings of childlike wonder and nostalgia come flooding in after the first few notes”.

With regards to the voice actors, I still feel like Chris Pine was kind of an odd choice for such a youthful character, as he was in his early thirties at the time of recording and sounds far more mature than Jack’s design would suggest. That said, you could take the older voice as a sign of the character’s true age, and Pine does deliver a genuinely sincere, funny and often moving performance throughout, so despite my disappointment at the loss of DiCaprio, I’m still a fan of Pine’s turn as Jack. Alec Baldwin was also a comedic highlight as North with his exaggerated Russian accent, but that’s not to overlook his own quieter or more serious moments, which are handled with the same skilful timing and sincerity. (Peter Ramsey described Baldwin as a “handful”, but “brilliant”). I especially liked his habit of using the names of various classical Russian composers as exclamations whenever he’s surprised! As for Hugh Jackman, he’s always a delight, and his sniping with Jack is some of the funniest stuff in the film.

Final Verdict

As with How to Train Your Dragon, there was a lot of shuffling and jostling for space when it came to securing a release date for Rise of the Guardians. Originally set to debut on November 2nd of 2012, it was then pushed back to the 21st to avoid competition with Pixar’s upcoming release, Monsters University. That film had already been pushed back itself, to avoid competition with Breaking Dawn – Part 2 from the Twilight Saga, but as it happened, Monsters was then pushed back again into early 2013, with Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph taking the November slot instead.

Guardians turned out to be the last DreamWorks film to be distributed by Paramount, which in hindsight may be just as well – although the film received largely positive reviews, it lost an appalling amount of money at the box office due to marketing and distribution costs and became another of animation’s biggest bombs. To be fair, it was facing some pretty stiff competition that Thanksgiving from Breaking Dawn, as well as Skyfall and Lincoln, but it still didn’t deserve to do as badly as it did.

It was the first time that DreamWorks had lost money on an animated film since Sinbad back in 2003 (at least according to some sources; Flushed Away had a similar budget and also didn’t do well in 2006), and as a result of this loss (combined with other factors), the studio had to announce that it was laying off 350 employees in early 2013 as part of a company-wide restructuring. Once again, DreamWorks was on its knees.

It’s such a shame, because critics from the likes of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Empire and The Washington Post all had plenty of praise for the film’s characters, visuals and message. Then again, critics from The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The Wall Street Journal found it to be too busy and lacking a strong core to its story, and Roger Ebert – normally a champion of underappreciated animation – was unimpressed by it, although he did still give it three out of four stars. He seemed to feel he was too old to appreciate the film, but still acknowledged that it would likely bring joy to its younger viewers. Sadly, Ebert passed away just a few months later, so this must have been one of the last animated films he ever reviewed.

When it came to awards season, the most notable accolade the film was nominated for was the Annie for Best Animated Feature, but it lost that to Wreck-It Ralph (I love both films, so I can’t decide whether I agree with that or not). Guardians did, however, manage to win in the categories for Animated Effects and Storyboarding in an Animated Production, so that was something.

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2013 as the last of Paramount’s DreamWorks releases, with re-releases in 2018, this time by new distributor Universal. It’s worth noting that the film had gained enough of a following by then that it did much better in home media sales, further supporting the theory that its failure was predominantly a marketing issue; by October 2014, just two years after its release, it had sold 5.8 million units.

Looking back on the film around that same time, Peter Ramsey said, “To this day, I hear from people who tell us how much they enjoyed seeing the movie with their family. It makes the whole experience really gratifying”. It’s good to hear that he remained proud of the film – as well he should – even after its failure at the box office, but sadly, its underperformance killed any chance for a sequel. “Sadly?” I hear you say. Yes, this is one of those rare animated films which I think could have used a sequel, as I would have loved to see these engaging characters fleshed out a bit more.

William Joyce, for his part, remains eager to get such a project off the ground, and pitched DreamWorks an idea in 2013 which he said “we hope they will want to do”, but as of this writing, nothing more seems to have come of it.

In a recent interview with Vulture, Ramsey hypothesised on a possible cause for the film’s failure: “We later learned of course that there was a lot of bad blood between the higher-ups at both DreamWorks and Paramount. I don’t know if it was a personal feud between Jeffrey Katzenberg and Brad Grey (RIP) or what it was. I’m sure it was some kind of business arrangement that had gone sour. All I know is that there was a lot of animosity during the period when our movie was coming up.” Not again! Another great animated film scuppered by executive shenanigans; why does business so often seem to trump art in Hollywood?

Still, in the nearly eight years since its release, Rise of the Guardians has been vindicated by its fans and is now something of a staple of the holiday season for many. It might have a few pacing issues and the excellent cast of characters do feel somewhat underutilised within the constraints of the film’s run-time, but what matters is the raw, emotional power it wields in its strongest moments; it blends the best snarky comedy of a solid DreamWorks film with the heart-felt sincerity of a Disney classic, beautifully capturing the sense of wonder which underpins all of our warmest childhood memories. It’s just so much fun spending time with the Guardians, and even if we don’t get to know them as well as we might like, their world remains a welcoming one which is worth returning to – or discovering – over and over again.

{Speaking of the film’s fandom, one place where Jack Frost in particular has become popular is at comic cons, and if all goes well in regards to the COVID restrictions in my country, I might be putting up a little surprise post this November…}

Thank you so much for reading, and I apologise for another month-long gap between articles. August has been typically hectic even in the midst of the current situation; the museum I work at reopened at the start of the month, so I’ve been re-adjusting to working two jobs again and dealing with sleep troubles. I should really have continued the First Thoughts series in the meantime, but when a film review is behind schedule I like to focus on that before moving on to anything else – we will now finally be getting to Allegro Non Troppo, probably next week. After that, it will be time for Frozen II (which is ironically becoming more seasonally appropriate thanks to the delay), and then Your Name. Until next time, take care and staaay animated!

My Rating – 4/5

{By the way, that new editor has finally kicked in for me, so that’s why my formatting looks a little different! On the whole, I like it; much less laggy!}


References

I consulted my own books to research for this review, as well as some standard web sources:

The Art of DreamWorks Animation (2014) by Ramin Zahed

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34080083 – credit for poster

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-guillermodeltoro/a-minute-with-guillermo-del-toro-on-rise-of-the-guardians-idUSBRE8AK0V120121121 – an interview with executive producer Guillermo del Toro

https://www.vulture.com/2019/11/what-happened-to-peter-ramseys-rise-of-the-guardians.html – a fascinating (and recent) review with director Peter Ramsey, reflecting on the film after his success with Spider-Verse

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rise_of_the_Guardians – Wiki page

 https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446192/ – IMDB profile

5 Replies to “Film Review: Rise of the Guardians (2012)”

  1. It’s easily my favourite of the Dreamworks movies. There is just something wholesome about it. If I had something to critic about, I find it pretty unfair that Tooth doesn’t really get a weapon of her own. All the other guardians have one, but she can only send out her fairies, and that is kind of disappointing. Also, her crushing on Jack is kind of creepy. He still has the body of a child for god’s sake.

    Otherwise though, I really love this movie. I watch it every year either for Christmas or eastern. Honestly, Dreamworks should have marketed it as an eastern movie. There aren’t many of those after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It definitely has a sincerity to it that makes it very engaging; I think it’s simply that the filmmakers were actually taking the world of the story seriously. This ain’t Shrek, that’s for sure! Yeah, I like Tooth, she wasn’t really used to her full potential. And I see your point, the age thing is probably why she limited herself to hugging him and warned the fairies not to “disgrace the uniform”.

      That’s true, perhaps it would have fared better at a less crowded time of year. It’s sort of similar to Nightmare Before Christmas in that everyone thinks it represents one holiday, but then you watch it and realise it represents another just as well.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s