For a movie that’s about the so-called “guardians” of all the things children hold dear (Christmas, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, money from Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman who brings them nights of comfort and rest), Rise of the Guardians is decidedly old school. This is both a good and bad thing for the movie: yes, it’s a heartwarming traditionalist ode to all things old and familiar (like patriarchal heroes of our favorite holidays), but it also has a decided lack of diversity which leaves you scratching your head in 2012. Almost all of the major characters in the film are white males who speak of themselves in dark, groveling, self-serious tones that tell us only they can save the world and its holiday cheer. Um, okay, but, didn’t we just emerge from a bruising presidential election that told us – definitively – that the new name of the game of Diversity?
Some will think that it’s silly to harp on an animated film for presenting such an extinct view of heroism: but in the modern era of Brave, Ponyo, and The Princess and the Frog, kids want to see characters on screen that look like them and their friends. So do their parents.
Consider the story, and tell me if you agree: 300 years into an alliance between Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin with a Russian accent), The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman (known in the film as North, Bunny, Tooth, and Sand), their boss (the Man in the Moon) decides to add a fifth to the legendary alliance: a hip, young, white haired skateboarding groovy dude named Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) who has no idea why he was picked or what he’s supposed to do.
Jack doesn’t have much time to figure it all out because the big baddie in the scenario named Pitch (voiced by Jude Law) has decided that the world’s little girls and boys are too happy for his liking and that their joy must be crushed before the onset of the next holiday season. So Jack must learn his purpose while on the biggest and most daring adventure the alliance has ever faced. We know how it will end, so we just want to enjoy the ride. The animation and visual spectacle are admittedly stunning, but the narrative never catches up to the strength of the film’s technical finesse. In that sense, it disappoints. It might also be worth noting for the producing team (which also made Dreamworks’ winning How to Train Your Dragon) that it might be time to invent newer, more inclusive holiday traditions.
That just might be something worth being thankful for.