Saturday, November 24, 2012


Given his abstract-impressionist’s brush on window glass, you might imagine Jack Frost would be the artsy, snooty sort. But according to Rise of the Guardians, Jack’s a friendly, mischievous boy, eager for acceptance, dismayed that the kids who have him to thank for snow days and sledding fun can’t see him.

Jack, voiced by Chris Pine, is the hero of the computer-animated flick, conflated from William Joyce’s series of children’s books. The title characters are the legendary or allegorical figures who watch over childhood wonder, hopes and dreams. The others include Santa Claus, voiced like a radio-comedy Russian by Alec Baldwin, the Tooth Fairy, a winsome half-woman/half-hummingbird voiced by Isla Fisher, and the tough, Aussie-accented Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), who comes armed with a boomerang, but also has the tendency to leave a blooming flower in his burrow’s wake.

Best of all, maybe, is the Sandman, a roly-poly sort who doesn’t speak, but communicates by shaping his thoughts in sand over his head. They’ve all received their commissions from the omniscient—and thus, of course, highly enigmatic—Man in the Moon, and now it’s Jack Frost’s turn. If he becomes a full-fledged Guardian, then the kids may actually believe in him like they do Santa or the Bunny, and thus be able to catch a glimpse of him.

The menace is Pitch Black, aka the Boogeyman, given a nicely ironic, tut-tutting voice by Jude Law. Pitch is a simply pale figure in a brown robe, attended by a stamping herd of terrifying black horses—nightmares, of course.

Nostalgic for the Dark Ages, the salad days of terror and despair, Pitch looks to make a comeback, and he’s no minor adversary. So the Guardians must put aside their egos and grudges—even the Bunny, who resents Jack for the “Blizzard of ‘68” on Easter Sunday—and unify to defend childhood wonder.

Like last year’s fine Arthur Christmas, among other kid movies, Rise of the Guardians plays with the childhood desire to literalize and reconcile the difficult logistics connected to the duties of these symbolic figures, and does it in funny and imaginative ways. It also features an exciting action finale and many good jokes and some thrilling images, like the Sandman’s good dreams—sand-cast dinosaurs and sting-rays and dolphins—trooping to the rescue down suburban streets. That it’s not the best animated movie of the year testifies not to its weakness but to the genre’s strength these days.

RIP to the excellent Larry Hagman, passed on at 81, and to lovely Deborah Raffin, passed on at 59. More about the redoubtable Hagman, and his contribution to Monster-dom, in the next edition of Monster-of-the-Week.

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