A Rise of the Guardians Review: On Winter, Belief, and Other Things

So a day or two ago we finally got the movie, Rise of the Guardians. I had seen this movie back when it was first released on DVD, through Netflix - we had it on hold the moment it had a listing on their website, and waited eagerly for the movie to be available at last so we could see it. Watching it again today was a great treat, and I still loved it just as much as the first (hundred) times I saw it. This post has a few spoilers, nothing too explicitly stated, so even if you read this first it shouldn't ruin you for the film.

There are a couple of reasons this movie is so good, and I'm thinking a lot of it is because of the hard work and attention to detail from the illustrated books that came before that could be drawn from. The amount of detail in the backgrounds is quite astonishing as films go. There are a lot of scripts, and by this I mean not-English, and more often not-Latin alphabets dotted about: one girl's room, Cupcake's room, has posters with Korean writing on them; at the start of the film, we get to see this nearly Elvish (think J. R. R. Tolkein) writing all over the globe, and then Russian as Jack Frost goes blowing through Russia. Later there are billboards and bedroom posters of Chinese - it's just everywhere! The colours are rich and each space has goodies to look for that you won't notice the first time you watch, nor the second, nor the third. There's always something more to find.

I especially love the emotions portrayed on the character's faces, the split second reactions that human beings have that are often left out in animated films - an eyebrow twitch, a barely-there smirk or smile at another on the screen, not obvious but so lifelike. The interactions between Jack Frost and Pitch Black (the baddie) are very good, filled with these momentary ways of communication that human beings have. Nothing is glossed over for any reason - it's just so spot on all the time. (And I particularly like the Sherlock-y theme song they have in the credits. Gets me in the mood for a BBC Sherlock episode.)

There are also a few more things in the movie that I like for not so obvious reasons. It's a pretty pervasive theme for movies to make winter the bad guy (I'm looking at you Santa Clause), so it was refreshing to see a film go the other way and have a good portrayal of winter in Jack Frost.

Other examples would be the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Or Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen. The closest Winter gets to a nice representation is Santa Claus. In Rise of the Guardians however, winter is shown as fun and playful through the character of Jack Frost, someone out to make people's lives happier, get the load of the day off your shoulders.

The same with the moon - instead of the Sun being the director of cheer in the world, it's 'Man in the Moon,' referred to as Manny by Santa Claus (who is also in this movie, as a jolly Russian version with massive and freaking awesome tattoos on either arm).

Other things are brought up indirectly through the interactions of the characters - how Santa is full of wonder, and that is what he brings to the world, how Jack is full of playful mischief, and that is what he brings to the world, and most interestingly of all how Pitch is full of fear, and that is what he brings to the world. It's only hinted at in the battles between Pitch and the Sandman, where you can see he's genuinely frightened of Sandman. How the nightmares feed off of Pitch's fear, not the fear of others. It's another of those not-obvious things, in the world of animated film, or indeed just film. Unless it's explicitly stated, it's not in there. But in the movie, it's never stated outright that Pitch is full of fear, or that he is frightened of the Sandman - it's all in the small details and little reactions that a kid will likely miss, while the rest of the world is basking in the awesomeness of not having every fact screamed into your face for it to be 'real!'

I've found several other people, namely on DeviantART and Tumblr for starters, that are as obsessed, and generally more so, than I am about this movie - I'm not joking in the slightest. It really is a brilliant film. Go check it out, you won't be disappointed!!