Written by David Lindsay-Abaire.
I certainly didn’t expect to give Rise of the Guardians as high a rating as I did. My early prediction was that it would be about no more than a 6/10. Boy, was I wrong?
Speaking of the word “boy”, it has to be said: Chris Pine’s performance is what made this for me. I was already familiar with him from the Star Trek reboot, but something about his voicing convinced me that he was perfect casting for Jack Frost, a character I’ve come to just adore. It starts with him, and it ends it with. It’s his story, ultimately. The other Guardians (North, Tooth, Bunny and Sandman) are present, and make the premise an intriguing gimmick, but this is Jack Frost’s story more than anyone else’s.
Seeing the story from his perspective improved what could have been an empty idea. And it was certainly marketed as an empty idea at first: the teaser didn’t feature him at all. But then a second trailer was released in which he was first and foremost the key player. Which was a good way of drawing us in, then giving us something to care about.
What makes Rise of the Guardians succeed is its tone. It’s both a fun children’s animation, while also respecting the fact that it’s for anyone, and that’s where Frost’s background comes into it. Instantly, I felt a connection with him. DreamWorks have remembered that animation is a way of expressing emotion in a way live action can’t. From our introduction to him, as he’s surrounded by darkness, to him climbing out of the ice and thoughtfully staring up at the moon, here, I knew, we have someone completely alone, who’s trying to make sense of the world around him, and hasn’t quite come to terms with his presence.
He’s invisible, and almost non-existent. People literally walk through him, and all he wants to do is have friends. A character born in the darkness just wants to bring light to the world. And – forgive me for saying this – but there’s something strangely appealing about him. I read somewhere that he’s supposed to be about fourteen, but he honestly looks a few years older. Being voiced by Chris Pine doesn’t help, but that connection is there from me nevertheless. He’s almost the perfect character – a boy who can only be perceived if believed. Essentially, I have to believe in him for him to be real for me. No problem there, then. I’ve been practicing that for a long time. If there were a person in this world who just needs my belief in him to exist, then he’s hit the jackpot right there.
But for an animated character based on folklore, he really spoke to me. Not only is there the background of him feeling truly alone, but there’s his quest to discover the truth about himself, and to define his existence by finding a reason to exist. When the story really begins, he’s three-hundred years old, and it’s there that his origin story is revealed. His birth in the ice was only a rebirth. Initially, he’d fallen through the ice trying to save his sister, and had been chosen to the Moon to be a Guardian of Childhood based on that. Though it condemned him to solitude and exile, it happened because fundamentally he’s a good person.
The moment he discovers that isn’t just an advancement of plot – it’s a deeply spiritual moment for him. You can tell that this matters. Pine’s performance, the animation, the music; it all comes together in a way that makes you legitimately care, which is surprising to say this is only DreamWorks. And the revelation itself is really quite dark for the kind of film that it is. Essentially, Jack Frost is an undead hero, who walks through the world protecting children and childhood. As someone who remembers many great-a snow day, the combination of that along with everything else genuinely got to me emotionally. I like to think that it’s because it speaks to the child within me, who’s now become old enough to appreciate it.
In much the same way that Frost quests to discover his past, I do the same with Rise of the Guardians. Because it’s not just a film, it’s a journey. North’s metaphor was perfect: we’re all like Russian dolls. By stripping back the layers, we find who we really are, what we’re really here for and who we want to be. Because, once we’re as old as we are, childhood can seem centuries ago. And all of it done as a fun children’s animation about fairytale characters protecting the world from darkness. And I believe in them.