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“My name is Jack Frost and I’m a Guardian. How do I know that? Because the moon told me so.”
Dreamworks – what can you say about them? They’re powerful rivals to Disney and Pixar but I almost never hear anyone say they come close to what those studios produce on a regular basis. I have a theory about this.
You see, one of Dreamworks’ founders was Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former head of animation at Disney and one of the men behind the Renaissance period in the late 80’s-early 90’s. I’m not going to go into why he left or the studio politics at the time of his departure because it’s way too long and complicated, but the point is after leaving Disney, Katzenberg wanted to create an animation studio that could compete with them and produce the stories that Disney couldn’t touch, movies that could be identified as nothing else but Dreamworks. It took them quite a while to find the perfect Dreamworks formula and in that time between its foundation and when they did discover it, they weren’t afraid to experiment. The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado are gorgeously animated masterworks, and while the timing of Antz’ release is a little too coincidental with the release of A Bug’s Life, I’d say Chicken Run more than makes up for it with its cheeky humor and creativity (though I tend to consider it more of an Aardman film than a Dreamworks film).
Then along came Shrek in 2001. It was a hit with audiences and critics, became the first Best Animated Feature Oscar winner, inspired dozens of truly horrifying memes, and in the words of Katzenberg himself, was what a Dreamworks movie could and should be.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Shrek, I truly do, but now that I’m older I can see how much I was manipulated as a kid into liking it by the barrage of marketing showing how edgy it was compared to Disney fare at the time. Speaking of Disney, if you know anything about Katzenberg’s feelings towards the company (especially its then-CEO Michael Eisner), the movie takes on a more unpleasant tone, like Katzenberg is flipping a huge middle finger towards the studio that got him to where he is in the first place throughout. The sequels and spinoffs may have made the Shrek franchise inescapable for a while, but they’ve mostly aged better than the first film has. Shrek 2 handled the modern-day/Disney fairytale parody much better in my opinion, and the musical version manages to give the characters much more heart and development* (every horrible thing you’ve heard about Shrek the Third is true though; for the love of all that is good and holy avoid it like the plague).
Getting back on topic, watch this or any random Dreamworks movie that came afterward and you can bet that all of these rules that go into making it will come into play –
- Assemble a cast of celebrities (voice acting experience not required; the bigger names the better regardless of whether or not they act at all)
- Infuse your soundtrack with pop songs with one classic hit as your main theme that will be played ad nauseum (Hans Zimmer or Harry Gregson-Williams must also provide the score)
- Make as many references pertaining to what’s popular right now or within the past few years. The more the better, especially if they go completely over young kids’ heads
- Your hero must be a totally hip dude who’s always with it but nobody ever gives a chance or an average joe that everyone puts down because he’s really a special snowflake
- End every movie with a dance party
- END EVERY MOVIE WITH A DANCE PARTY
It’s catering to a formula like this that makes me worry that this is why people are more ready to consider animation a distraction for children rather than an art form. Rather than present something with a long shelf-life that everyone can enjoy regardless of age, it chooses to focus on what will make them the most money now by playing to the lowest common denominator with juvenile humor and references that nobody will understand or find funny even five years from its release. When this formula worked with Shrek, everyone tried to copy it, even Disney. By now it’s been used so many times I’m surprised it hasn’t made the studio collapse on itself (though it has come close several times).
My theory is this – for every couple of films that follows the Dreamworks formula or is a sequel to one of them, there is one that manages to capture that era of beauty that first helped get the studio off the ground and succeeds in balancing it out. More often than not it can put a spin on that formula to make it work in a non-manipulative way. Kung-Fu Panda looked like an ordinary Dreamworks film but evolved into something creative and funny and genuinely beautiful. How to Train Your Dragon was the same (something they both have in common is that their second movies manage to blow the first out of the water and I’m scared to death that the upcoming third installations in their franchises will be a repeat of Shrek the Third). Rise of the Guardians is among those rare and wonderful films.
Based on the Guardians of Childhood series of books by William Joyce (better known as the creator of Rollie Pollie Ollie and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore), this movie is as far from traditional Dreamworks as you can get…but there’s also no other way to describe it but Dreamworks. Its look is unlike any other in the usual style, the story is very inventive, the lore is fascinating, the emotional stakes are high, and having it produced by Guillermo del Toro certainly gives it a lot of credit as well (now if only he would get around to doing Hellboy 3).
Unfortunately, stunning visuals and creative story doesn’t always guarantee a box office smash. Lots of films hinge on good marketing or word of mouth to sell them and sadly this film had neither. There were a few fans, but not enough to save it. It also came out at the perfect time – holiday season 2012 – but it ended up getting swept under the rug and was considered a bomb by Dreamworks. As a result, the executives were forced to start handing out pink slips to many talented artists and had to go back to that always reliable Dreamworks formula to save them from bankruptcy.
To put it in perspective, Rise of the Guardians made $306,941,670 domestically. Turbo, made $282,500,000 worldwide, but Katzenburg also gave it a Netflix series to squeeze even more potential revenue from it (and people wonder why I’m so determined to drive snails to the endangered species list).
So is this movie really the big bomb the studio who made it wrote it off as? Let’s take a look.
Our film opens with a boy with white hair floating unconscious deep underwater with the light of the moon shining down on his face. The boy (Chris Pine) narrates that this is his first memory – darkness, cold and fear. He rises to the surface in a shaft of moonlight and we find that he was at the bottom of a frozen pond in the middle of winter. On waking up and seeing the moon for the first time, he is no longer afraid.
He picks up a nearby stick to find something amazing happens – frost spirals out from his hands on to it in beautiful crystalline spirals. The same thing happens when he touches anything else with his stick.
Excited, the boy quickly covers the pond and the surrounding forest with frost. A gust of wind blows him in the air and he discovers that he can also use his new staff to fly. He follows the wind to a nearby village. The boy walks in eager to ask some questions, but the adults ignore him. He then spots a boy running towards him and he stoops to ask him where he is –
But the boy runs right through him.
He reaches out to others but they go through him as if he wasn’t there. Nobody hears his cries for help. He is completely alone. The boy finishes his story by telling us his name, the only thing the moon ever gave to him then or ever since – Jack Frost.
The film skips ahead 300 years later to the North Pole where we meet Santa Claus, played by Alec Baldwin. Remember what I said earlier about Dreamworks casting big name actors just to have a name? This does not apply to Alec Baldwin here. You could never tell it was him. He gives this Santa a thick Russian accent and dives into the role with so much enthusiasm it’s infectious. This Santa is the fun eccentric uncle we’ve always wanted who’s always up for an adventure, has Naughty and Nice tattoos on his arms, and can kick your ass wielding swords and Christmas magic.
(Oh, and his name here is North, but I’m just gonna keep calling him Santa because that’s what he is).
Santa’s workshop is populated not only by tiny jingly-hooded elves but big hairy mustachioed yetis who speak mostly in gibberish –
One of the yetis interrupts Santa’s toymaking to inform him of something terrible happening. He leads him to a giant globe that shows the number of children in the world who believe in him, each one represented by a tiny bright light. A wave of black sand is creeping over the globe and snuffing out the lights. Realizing trouble is on its way, Santa sends out a signal.
Santa summons the other Guardians of Childhood, those tasked with protecting the children of the world and keeping their wonder, hope and dreams alive. They are the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Bunnymund the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the Sandman.
I’ll admit I was on the fence about seeing the characters being played by big names in this movie and didn’t think they would really match how they looked, but all of them do. They’re not just giving a character a voice, it’s voice acting. You may not think there’s a difference but I’ve seen my fair share of animated films and can tell when an actor is giving it their all or just doing it for the paycheck. Isla Fisher is so bubbly and sweet that she works with her fluttery Tooth Fairy (the fact that she and and her helper fairies resemble hummingbirds also helps), and here the Easter Bunny is from Australia (which is actually something from the books) so even if it is an excuse to use Hugh Jackman, the character still works with his sarcasm and honest charm.
And Sandy, well they’ve done something I give Dreamworks a lot of credit for since I can’t think of an animated film – or any film in recent years – that tried this –
They made him completely silent.
All of his emotions and actions are expressed solely through animation. That alone makes him one of my favorite characters.They also have the very clever idea of using the sand that he controls to form symbols everytime he has something he needs to say. It’s cartoony, but hey, this is an animated feature.
The Guardians arrive and Santa informs them that an old enemy has returned – the Boogeyman.
Dream on, you big-lipped alligator bag. I’ve found another embodiment of childhood fears to fawn over and his name is Pitch Black.
Jude Law in the role of Pitch is, well…pitch perfect. His voice is simply oozing with evil. He’s loving every minute of this villainy, but one can’t help but notice a dark undercurrent of frustration and anger hidden beneath his twisted fun and games (not unlike another character in the movie…) He’s great, though if I may be frank, he sounds awfully similar to another professional British movie villain…
The moon appears above them and Santa recognizes him as The Man in The Moon, the oldest and wisest of the Guardians. It shines a beam down on the Guardian symbol, which the others interpret as time to appoint a new Guardian to join them. Bunnymund and Tooth wonder if it will be the leprechaun or the groundhog, which raises some serious questions. If the two main Christian holidays are represented here, where are the other holidays, especially the ones celebrated around the world? Would the sequel have featured them going up against Samhain, the original dark spirit of Halloween? If generic magical leprechauns and groundhogs exist for their respective holidays, is there a pilgrim or turkey running around every November blessing every house with a big feast? And if Jack Frost, the spirit of winter is real, what about Mother Nature and Father Time, two spirits who are genuine characters in the Guardians of Childhood books?
Ah, that makes perfect sense.
The Man in the Moon grants them a vision in the light, an image of the newest Guardian – Jack Frost.
Jack, meanwhile, is hanging around Russia, making it so cold a kid gets his tongue stuck at a water fountain. With the coming of night, Jack flies with the wind to another town and creates a snow day for the kids. One of them, Jamie, believes in supernatural and fantastical creatures and carries a big book about them around with him he can find them –
Hang on a second…
The other kids are very much ancillary to the story and don’t have many characteristics besides boy, girl, glasses, black, white, etc. They don’t even have names (except for a few that are only mentioned in the script). The one exception is Cupcake, a brawny girl with a secret love of unicorns and the kids treat like she’s the school bully though we never see her doing anything a cartoon bully would do. Not even a “haw-haw” when someone gets hit by a snowball.
It’s here that we also see Jack use an interesting power. He sprinkles snow on their face either through a snowball or blowing some flakes on their eyes and they instantly become happy and playful. This raises some serious questions. Is he forcing them to be happy against their will? Does the magic snow bring up good memories that make them want to be better people? And if it can work on anyone, why hasn’t Jack done it to people whom the world could benefit from having their attitude changed?
Jack instigates a snowball war between the kids and later manipulates the ice in the street so Jamie can sled through the entire town. His sledding impresses the kids, but he ends up getting a tooth knocked out. He’s not upset though, as it means the Tooth Fairy will be paying him a visit. The kids get excited over this and Jack is deflated that his thunder’s been stolen. He tries to get their attention but, as before, no one knows he’s there.
That night as Jamie prepares for the Tooth Fairy with his little sister Sophie, Jack takes a moment to ask to the Man in the Moon what he’s doing wrong that nobody knows he exists. It’s a heartbreaking scene and we get the idea that Jack has had these little talks to the sky before. The Man in the Moon could represent a lot of things – fate, destiny, God, something that mankind rails against when their purpose is unclear. When he receives no answer, he watches as Sandy does his nightly task, bringing good dreams in the form of animal-shaped clouds of sand.
It’s here we get our first real glimpse of Pitch and what he can do. With a single touch he corrupts Cupcake’s dream into a nightmare, turning the sand black. Fear makes the nightmare stronger and it changes from a golden unicorn into a wild black horse, a…(sigh) night mare. Pitch sends the nightmare out to inform “the others” their wait is over and more nightmares begin to appear in the sky.
Jack notices something dart into an alley and he follows it. It turns out it’s Bunnymund, and neither are too happy to see each other. Bunnymund has something of a grudge against Jack seeing as how he’s spoiled many an Easter with his surprise snowdrifts. Jack just wants him to lighten up but before they can duke it out, two yetis appear, stuff Jack into a sack and take him via snowglobe portal to the North Pole.
Santa introduces Sandy and Tooth to Jack and we see Tooth and her fairies predate Jack’s numerous fangirls by fawning over him, or rather, his perfect teeth (She never quite got over losing Chip Skylark’s mouth to that Gilbert Gottfried dentist). Santa announces that Jack is going to be a new Guardian, prompting the elves and yetis to come out playing instruments, twirling fire and making it a big spectacle of the swearing-in ceremony.
Jack stops them as he doesn’t want the hard work that comes with being a Guardian. He just wants to have fun. He asks why they chose him and they inform him that it was the Man in the Moon who chose him, just like they were. This, however, gets Jack angry. How fair is it that he talks to these people who spend 364 days a year cooped up in some far corner of the world finding ways to bribe kids into being good while he spends three hundred years out there with only silence? He and Bunnymund start getting dangerously close to each others’ throats again (and really, only Hugh Jackman can take the line “I’m a bunny. The Easter Bunny” and make it sound badass) and Santa is forced to intervene.
He takes him on a tour of the workshop ending in his personal headquarters. Santa then asks Jack about what his center is, using a Russian nesting doll as an example. On the outside he may seem fierce, but as Jack goes deeper, he’s also jolly, mysterious, caring, and fearless. At the very center is a tiny baby swaddled in red with big bright blue eyes – eyes that see all the wonder and magic in everything. This is Santa’s center. This is what he protects and what makes him a Guardian. Jack must find his center if he is to find why he was chosen.
Bunnymund appears with news that the Tooth Fairy’s palace is under attack. Santa insists they take his sled there despite Jack and Bunnymund’s protests. And then they see it –
This is the point where I really regret not seeing this in theaters – not just so I could support it but because the flying in this scene is amazing. Dreamworks knows how to do great 3-D scenes, especially when flying is involved. Jack, Santa and Sandy have a blast but Bunnymund isn’t too keen about being up in the air which Jack takes advantage of to hilaious effect. They arrive via snowglobe to the Tooth Palace to find it overrun with Pitch’s nightmares. Jack catches them snatching up the other fairies but manages to rescue one, whom he calls Baby Tooth.
Santa chases down a nightmare and slices it up with his swords (awesome) and Bunnymund discovers they’re not only stealing the tooth fairies, but the children’s teeth they collect as well. Pitch shows up, darting around the towers in and out of his shadow form taunting the Guardians. He reveals that he’s doing this because he wants what they all have – to be believed in. No one has thought of him since the Dark Ages, where he wielded immense power bringing nightmares and misery to the world. The Man in the Moon chose the Guardians to replace his fear with their joy and hope, leaving him to be written off as a bedtime story and – like Jack – invisible to the world.
Pitch is intent on changing that with his new nightmares, starting by attacking the Guardians where it hurts most – the children. The Palace begins to crumble around them as children everywhere begin to wake up and find the Tooth Fairy never came to their house. Their loss of belief in her causes her to start losing her powers. Pitch makes sure to point out to Jack that this is the price of being a Guardian and escapes before they can catch him.
Jack asks Tooth why Pitch would take the children’s teeth. She explains that it’s not the teeth themselves, it’s the happy memories of childhood that each one holds. She and the fairies collect them because they help any person in the world remember what’s important to them when they need to.
When Tooth mentions that she even had Jack’s teeth from before he became Jack Frost, he realizes that those must be the key to finding out who he is. Now he has even more incentive to defeat Pitch. Santa comes up with the brilliant idea of helping Tooth gather teeth from the rest of the remaining children who believe and promises that they’ll help Jack get his memories if he helps them.
What follows is one of the most fun sequences in the movie where Santa, Sandy, Bunnymund and Jack hop around from house to house, continent to continent, collecting teeth from sleeping children. It escalates into a contest to see who can get the most and they all use their unique powers to try to one-up each other. Santa’s joy at doing someone else’s work that’s still similar to his own is especially a joy to watch.
Interestingly enough, Tooth and Baby Tooth come across a mouse in a little soldier’s uniform collecting teeth and Tooth lets him go because according to her he’s part of her European division. I looked it up and found out that yes, in Europe and certain Central and South American countries, children believe that their baby teeth are collected by Ratoncito Perez, a mouse that also leave gifts for children. I like that they decided to include a little detail like that. Getting back to what I said earlier about other holidays though, does that mean other versions of the Guardians exist in other countries too? Does Santa skip Italy each year because it’s La Befana’s territory? Does he still rub elbows with Krampus in Germany or did they have a fallout due to his…methods?
The tooth collecting seems to be going successfully until Tooth asks them about the gifts they’ve left behind…oops.
Well seeing as how they can’t walk into a laundromat to get change, they have to –
Well seeing as how they can’t spend all night in a laundromat gathering change (not for lack of trying), they resort to leaving their own signature treats behind (candy canes, eggs, etc.) Pitch is outraged at being foiled but has another plan up his sleeve.
Jack and Tooth’s next stop is at Jamie’s house where they pick up his tooth. The others pop in soon after and accidentally wake him. Jamie is amazed to find them all here, but unfortunately can’t see Jack. Jamie’s dog barges in and goes right for Bunnymund (the fact that she’s a greyhound makes it even funnier). In the chaos Sandy accidentally knocks out everyone with his sleeping sand except for Jack and himself.
A nightmare flies by the window and Jack and Sandy try to follow it to Pitch. Sandy is able to convert a few nightmares back into good dreams while Jack catches one on a rooftop and freezes it. Pitch appears and asks Jack why after years of being a neutral party he’s decided to join the Guardians. Jack tells him he’s the one who made it personal after stealing the teeth. Before Pitch can monologue some more, Sandy appears and whips Pitch around like a ragdoll.
Pitch fake-apologizes and says he can have his dreams back – and right on cue the nightmares pop up and surround them. Santa, Bunnymund and Tooth show up in time to distract them and allow Sandy and Jack to take to the sky. They all have a great battle against the nightmares in the air, but they get separated from each other. Sandy finds himself in the middle of a nightmare storm barely able to keep them at bay. Jack and the others race to help him. Pitch appears and aims a black sand arrow at Sandy.
Well we’ve seen how kickass the Guardians are and we know they’ll come through –
Sandy is consumed by the black sand before they can reach him and is killed. I honestly did not see this coming. It’s heartbreaking to see such a beloved character go, especially like this, but I will concede that Dreamworks has balls of steel for killing off one of its main characters, especially only halfway through the film.
Jack swoops in to get revenge on Pitch and Pitch sics his entire army on him. It seems as though Jack too is destroyed…but icy blasts shoot out from the black sand. Jack bursts out and freezes the entire mass of sand with one anguish-filled blow, scaring the hell out of Pitch and knocking him all the way back to Earth. The frozen sand explodes in shards of black and blue, like fireworks.
The others rescue Jack from falling, his sudden outburst having drained him to the point of near-unconsciousness. Back on terra firma, Pitch laughs off his injuries. Not only is one of the Guardians out of the picture, but he’s just found someone new to have fun with.
Back at the North Pole, the Guardians hold a solemn memorial for Sandy. No one says a word, the mood here speaks for itself. It’s a beautiful though sad way to let it sink in that Sandy is gone. Jack goes off to be alone and Santa comforts him.
The lights on the globe start to diminish even quicker than before now that Pitch’s fear is replacing Sandy’s dreams. Bunnymund rallies everyone saying that Easter is tomorrow and he could –
Wait a minute, Easter is TOMORROW?! Have I been watching an Easter movie the whole time?? I’m reviewing the wrong holiday movie! You guys could have told me this was an Easter flick before I recommended voting for it for Christmas like a total putz instead of waiting until April! What made me even think this was supposed to be a Christmas movie, anyway? (Oh yeah because it completely looks like a Christmas movie on the surface what with the snow and ice motif and Santa and Jack Frost and whatnot.)
With Easter right around the corner, the Guardians have one last chance to beat Pitch at his game and they all join Bunnymund down the rabbit hole to his home, the Warren. It’s a green hilly network of holes leading to different parts of the world where the eggs walk around on tiny feet that stick out from their shells –
– and the guards are giant Easter Island-version statues of eggs.
Oh….oh. Easter Island. I see what you did there, Dreamworks. Bravo.
They realize they’re not alone, however. Something is coming from one of the tunnels. The Guardians prepare to attack and rush at the intruder.
It’s only Sophie, who wandered into Jamie’s room after Jack and Sandy left and ended up in the Warren after playing with one of the teleporting snowglobes. Bunnymund, Santa and Tooth aren’t quite sure what to do with her. Sure their jobs revolve around doing things for kids, but apart from Jack, none of them has actually spent time with them (even Tooth admits it’s been years since she went out to collect teeth herself). The scene gets hilariously awkward when Tooth attempts to charm her by giving her some baby teeth and tries making the fact there’s still blood and gum on them sound magical. Sophie may be a toddler, but even she’s smart enough to know that won’t work.
Jack does his mind-magic snowflake on Bunnymund and he immediately warms up to Sophie and shows her how to make the eggs. They pop up by the thousands from buds and march to a river of different colored dye while getting patterns sprinkled on them from colorful flowers and vines. They give the act of making Easter eggs such a grand scope from wide shots of the parade of eggs to the choral music. The only problem is now I’m in the mood to dye some eggs and it’s DECEMBER.
All that’s left to do is to guide the eggs into the tunnels where they’ll be scattered around the world. It’s during that time where Bunnymund and Jack admit they had fun doing this together and start bonding (aww). When Sophie falls asleep, Jack volunteers to bring her back home despite the others’ worries about Pitch. Baby Tooth decides to accompany him.
After Jack gets Sophie safely to bed, he hears someone calling his name. He realizes it’s very familiar, though he can’t place it. The voice leads him to an old bedframe out in the middle of the woods. Jack goes to investigate, assuring a concerned Baby Tooth that they still have time to make sure the eggs reach their destination. Jack finds the bed is covering a hole in the ground that leads to Pitch’s hideout, where he has all the Baby Tooth fairies locked up in hundreds of cages.
Before Jack can free them, however, he hears the voice calling his name once more. Below him are mountains of tiny golden boxes where the children’s teeth are kept. Realizing that the voice must be coming from the box containing his memories, he can’t resist searching through them instead of trying to rescue the fairies. Unfortunately Pitch shows up.
Jack tries to go after him, but Pitch does an annoyingly fantastic job of screwing around with him – manipulating the shadows so Jack gets lost in his Escher-esque lair, taunting him with his fears that no one will believe in him, he’ll never know why he was chosen and that the Guardians will never accept him as one of their own. And then Pitch offers him the key to all his questions – his memories. Surprisingly, he hands them over to Jack, reminding him that he’s always good for messing up things. In fact he’s doing it right now.
Jack chases Pitch and finds himself back at the Warren where all the eggs have been smashed. The egg hunts around the world turn out to be fruitless searches ending with tons of disappointed kids. Bunnymund rushes out in the middle of one to offer the kids some eggs but they don’t even know he’s there. They have all stopped believing. And poor Bunny…he is absolutely crushed to find nobody sees him.
Jack reappears and Santa informs him that the nightmares attacked and destroyed everything. Tooth then notices that Jack is holding his memory box and Baby Tooth is gone. And before Jack has the chance to explain himself, everyone goes Oh Jack, what have you done, you sold us out to Pitch and you’re no Guardian blah blah blaAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!
Okay, I know I’ve been forgiving of some of the things that don’t quite make a lot of sense in this movie and could otherwise be considered clunky, but if there is one cliche I can’t stand, almost as much as the “liar revealed” cliche that most modern animated movies and romantic comedies seem obligated to employ, it’s this, “the big misunderstanding”. Everything could be cleared up if they sit down and talk things over for a minute, but no, we have to have extra conflict because reasons or padding or, or…something! I know this movie isn’t perfect (though it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of it) but this…I just hate this scene. It vilifies the Guardians, who were up to this point were likable and sympathetic to Jack’s plight even if not entirely sure how to relate to him (and that’s understandable because they’re in a middle of a freaking war and don’t have much time to think about anything other than stopping Pitch) and it victimizes Jack even further. It drags down what was otherwise so far a perfectly fine film.
If you don’t believe me, here’s an alternate way the conflict could have been resolved:
See? Problem over! Let’s get right back to the chase instead of having everyone be mopy until we reach the third act!
The one good thing I can take away from this is hearing Bunnymund’s reasons about why Easter is so important. All throughout we see him and Santa going back and forth about which of their respective holidays is better. Heck, ask anyone and you’ll find Christmas is indisputably the victor. Here, Bunnymund lets his guard down and tells Jack that Easter is about new life and beginnings, rebirth and hope, which is now gone forever.
The more I think about what Bunnymund said, he’s right (the statement before the previous one I mean). At last the gap of information between Jesus dying on the cross and a giant rabbit hiding eggs for kids has been breached! Those conspiracy nuts going on about Peter Rabbit being the first pope can suck it!
Things aren’t faring as well in Jamie’s town either. Jamie hasn’t given up hope that they’ll find something, but all the other kids have. He tries to tell them about seeing the Easter Bunny and Santa last night, though of course they don’t believe him. It’s then Jamie realizes how down and tired they all look. When he asks, they tell him they’ve had nothing but nightmares to look forward to each night.
Meanwhile Jack has gone off to the Antarctic to brood. Pitch approaches him with the whole “I was only trying to show you they wouldn’t accept you” spiel but Jack is having none of it. He attacks him while Pitch tries to point out just how similar they are – they both know how it feels to want to be believed in, to be ignored for centuries and long for a family.
Pitch makes the usual bad guy offer – join him and they can rule the
galaxy children with fear as father and son. After all, cold and dark go together like peanut butter and jelly. With their combined strength they can end this destructive conflict both be believed in and be a force worth reckoning. Jack turns him down as he knows being feared and being believed in aren’t the same thing.
I actually like the look on Pitch’s face when he says no. It’s genuine disappointment. Even though he clearly wanted to use Jack, he was truly excited about them working together. Left with no other alternative, he plays his trump card.
Pitch tells Jack that he’ll let Baby Tooth go if he hands over his staff and of course, Jack falls for it. Baby Tooth pecks his hand and escapes but Pitch breaks the staff in two (which seems to physically hurt Jack, though we don’t get any clarification on whether or not it does) and blasts him into a ravine. Pitch drops the pieces down after him and goes to deal with the rest of the Guardians.
Jack survives the fall and finds Baby Tooth unharmed. Jack is now at his lowest; everything he fought for is disappearing around him and he believes that Pitch was right about it being his fault. Baby Tooth, however, pulls the box of his teeth, which is glowing, out of his hoodie. The voice from before is calling to him even louder now. It’s time for Jack to discover who he really is.
We see in his small village that Jack is something of a clown and a prankster who brings joy and laughter to everyone, especially the children.
The memories shift around like a kaleidoscope, focusing on them for glimpses at a time. There is one memory that comes fully into focus – Jack is skating on a pond with his little sister. Her calls to him are the same fearful ones that lured him to Pitch’s lair. The ice is starting to crack beneath her.
But Jack doesn’t lose his cool. He tells her that they’re going to have fun and he turns his rescue attempt into a game. He grabs a nearby branch and carefully hops closer to her like a game of hopscotch, avoiding the thinner patches of ice. And at the last possible second, he moves her to safety with the branch – at the cost of his own life.
The last thing he sees and hears before falling into the ice is his sister calling his name.
And then the moon shines down on him, turning his hair white and his eyes an icy blue, and raises him up from the ice. Jack Frost is reborn.
Actually, here’s a fun fact – well, not so much fun as it is depressing. The whole idea for the Guardians came from William Joyce’s daughter who, when she was young, asked her father if Santa had ever met the Easter Bunny. Sadly, she died several years ago from a tumor. The books as well as the movie are dedicated to her, “A Guardian Fierce and True”. It makes me wonder if it is a coincidence that Joyce had Jack die to become an immortal Guardian, much like his daughter.
Jack returns to reality overcome with emotion. He now knows why the Man in the Moon chose him. He reforges his staff and flies back to Pitch’s lair to rescue the other Baby Tooth fairies. When he gets there he finds the lights on the globe blinking out of existence far too rapidly. As a result, none of the Baby Teeth can escape with him.
Back at the North Pole, Pitch shows up to gloat to whomever’s there to listen and watch as the very last lights of the believers go out forever. He starts tap dancing on top of the globe and squashes each light with his feet (this made me realize that if this movie was made in the 80’s or 90’s, Pitch totally would have been played by Tim Curry).
One light, however, the very last one, refuses to be stamped out. Both Pitch and Jack know who it belongs to – Jamie.
And what follows…
I know we already had one amazing and heartbreakingly beautiful scene, one that was so well done that having another similar one follow it almost immediately after might seem like overkill, but this is a perfect bookend to it. Dare I say, it’s even better than the first.
Jamie sits in his bed facing his Easter Bunny toy. Quietly he tells him he’s reached a crossroads – he’s not sure if the guardians he’s believed in for so long have ever existed. He wants to keep believing, but doesn’t know if what he saw last night was only a dream, and after today’s disappointment, he can’t have his heart broken again. He asks the bunny to prove that he’s real for him right now.
The bunny doesn’t move. Jamie begs it for just one small sign, anything at all.
Jamie murmurs, “I knew it,” and lets the bunny drop to the floor.
But Jack is there listening.
Jamie hears the sound of frost crackling outside and looks up. Something is drawing an Easter egg on his window. The frost climbs up and an image of a rabbit appears which springs to life and hops around the room over Jamie’s head before disappearing in a flutter of snowflakes.
Jamie looks at the snow and realizes that unless the Easter Bunny has bad dandruff, there’s only one person who can make it snow in his room. He says his name – “Jack Frost.”
Jack is amazed that Jamie knows who he is and voices his excitement. Then he notices Jamie has turned around and is staring at him. Not through him, at him. Daring to hope, Jack asks if he can see and hear him, to which Jamie can only nod. And Jack’s reaction to finally being seen for the first time in three-hundred years…everything from the music to Chris Pine tearfully saying “He sees me…he sees me!”…it just…
Jack assures Jamie that everyone is indeed real (and that he was the one behind all the great snow days and that awesome stunt with the sled) just in time for Santa to lose his powers and crash his sled outside Jamie’s house. They both come out to greet them and Santa is also visibly moved that Jamie can see Jack. Santa isn’t the only one who’s been weakened by the loss of belief, however. Bunny’s got it even worse.
Jamie is disappointed that the big badass bunny is now, well, just a bunny, and Bunnymund, thinking Jack put him up to this, is understandably humiliated. Jamie reassures him that Jack was the one who made him believe in him again. Bunnymund says as he turns to Jack with tears his eyes, “He made you believe…in me?”
Pitch makes himself known and Jack goes to face him while the rest get Jamie to safety. His powers don’t work this time, however, and Pitch corners them.
Jamie tells Jack that he’s scared, and Jack reflects to when his sister said the same thing before he died. It’s then that I realized how much she resembles both Jamie and Sophie.
We see later that Jamie’s hometown is near the pond where Jack drowned and in the same spot where Jack’s village was, so that theory fans have that Jack and Jamie are related to each other? Yeah, I buy it. It’s great to know that Jack does have a family in both the Guardians and through his sister’s side, even if he doesn’t know about the latter.
Jack finds himself repeating what to Jamie what he told his sister on the ice (“You’re going to be all right. We’re gonna have a little fun instead.”) It’s then that he realizes what his center is – fun. Pitch closes in and goes into a monologue, but Jack interrupts him with a couple of snowballs in the face. With the tension broken, Jack spies a few sleds and the group ride them through the streets (not unlike how Jamie did before).
Jamie and Jack go to each of his friends’ houses and get their attention. At the sight of Santa sledding by their house and snow in their rooms, the kids start believing again and can see all the Guardians, including Jack. They join them in the heart of town where Pitch arrives with waves upon waves of his nightmare army. Jack reminds them that they’re only bad dreams. When Pitch sneers that they have nobody to protect them, Jamie and all the kids vow that they will, just as the Guardians have for them.
The nightmares rush at them, sweeping away cars, streetlights, anything in their path. When Pitch yells at Jamie if he still thinks there’s no such thing as the Boogeyman, Jamie steps forward to face him, saying, “I do believe in you. I’m just not afraid of you.”
And as the nightmares touch him –
– they become dream sand again. Pitch orders more nightmares to attack, but the kids’ joy and belief changes the creatures back into what they once were when they touch them. The Guardians come back in full force and proceed to KICK SOME ASS, summoning the yetis and the elves and giant Easter golems and completely obliterating the nightmares alongside the kids who evaporate the nightmares. Eventually enough dream sand is reborn from the darkness that it all comes together and…
Yep, Sandy is back, and judging by the look on his face, I think Pitch knows that he’s screwed. Now I’m sure some of you who saw the movie beforehand looked at Sandy’s death and thought “Oh yeah, like they’d really go ahead and kill one of the main characters,” but I didn’t know that when I saw it for the first time. They treated his death so seriously and fairly early on that I believed that he was gone for good, yet his return is so welcome it doesn’t feel like a cop-out.
And thankfully this means Dreamworks would never dare to pull anything like killing off a beloved main character again. On an unrelated note, has anyone seen How to Train Your Dragon 2 yet? I’ve heard nothing but good things about it so I should check that out next!
Sandy regains control of the sands and delivers his dreams again while the fairies break free from their cages and release the memories from all the baby tooth boxes (and is it just me or does the music suddenly sound a lot like the Jurassic Park theme when the sand dinosaurs show up?)
Pitch makes one more feeble attempt to frighten the kids but they’ve all broken into a snowball fight with the Guardians and they pass right through him like when nobody believed in him. Terrified, Pitch flees the scene but the Guardians catch him on an icy pond (the same one Jack died and was reborn in, so yes, I called it!) Tooth gives him a quarter and then punches out one of his teeth for harming her fairies (nice). Pitch warns him that there will always be fear in the world and he’ll be there to spread it, but they counter that so will they as long as someone believes.
Jack notices that since the nightmares only appear where someone is afraid and none of them are, that leaves only one person who is. Pitch tries to run but the nightmares catch up and drag him screaming down the hole under the bed.
With Pitch gone, Jack is officially sworn in as a Guardian and they say their farewells to the children. Jamie is worried about Pitch returning someday or what will happen if they stop believing, but Jack tells them that they’ll always be there, even if they can’t see them, and if he keeps on believing, that makes him a Guardian too. The kids wave goodbye as they take to the sky on Santa’s sleigh.
Also, make sure you stay for the end credits. The song that plays over them, “Still Dream” is lovely, though my one complaint is that it’s not suited for an operatic voice like Renee Fleming’s. I know they wanted to match the magical tone and were probably gunning for a Best Song nod, but I’ve heard covers on Youtube that I think do the song more justice (and I mean that in a good way). Also they show a fun little mid-credits scene where the elves and yetis get all the kids back into bed (my favorite is what one of the yetis, Phil, does with Jamie’s monster book when he sees a picture of himself in it.)
And I might as well come out and say it – not only is this my second favorite Dreamworks movie ever made (if it wasn’t for Prince of Egypt it would be number one) but it is one of my all-time favorite non-Disney animated films. It has its flaws but it’s an overall wonderful film that shows you don’t always have to follow the studio formula to make a good movie. Sometimes you can trust your audience to be taken seriously. The artistry is gorgeous (one of my professors cited this film as a great example of using simple shapes and silhouettes to define your characters), and even if it is a bit convoluted at times, it makes up for it with beautiful touching scenes and character-defining moments. It’s garnered something of a cult following, especially with the Rise of the-Big-Brave-Frozen-Tangled-Hero-Dragons-Whatever crossover fanbase, and William Joyce has been in talks with Dreamworks for the past few years about making a sequel, so I hope something good comes from that. Check it out this holiday season, or at least sometime next Easter.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a convenience store that still sells egg-dying kits.
Thank you for reading. If you like what you see and want more reviews, vote for what movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at email@example.com. Remember, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.
Fun Fact: Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time Santa’s gone up against Pitch, though he looked a lot different back then: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWQ6X6CfPCQ
* – The musical is also the reason why I met my boyfriend, so regardless of all its flaws and the terrible knockoffs it’s spawned, I can never hate Shrek because of that. I’m just glad that they’re finally getting around to making a Prince of Egypt musical though; if there’s any Dreamworks film that’s perfect for the stage, it’s that one!