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Rise of the Guardians (2009)—The Power of Self Belief

Rise of the Guardians movie poster

What does it mean to be a guardian? Jack Frost would tell you. DreamWorks has often produced hit or miss films that are either satirical masterpieces such as Shrek, they have also made films that are universally despised such as the Bee Movie. However, once in a blue moon, DreamWorks has produced some films that really speak to your soul, such as the Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon series and today’s entry: Rise of the Guardians.

Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) emerges from the bottom of a lake after being called by the Man in the Moon. After making his way to a nearby village, he realizes that no one can see or interact with him. Fast forward many centuries later to present day, the Guardians: North (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), Bunnymund (voiced by Hugh Jackman) and Sandman, are brought together after realizing that the Boogeyman, Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law), has come back to bring back fear to the hearts of children. Jack is made a new Guardian by Man in the Moon, but doesn’t feel deserved of the title. After several skirmishes with Pitch, Jack seeks to discover his past. This leads him to confronting Pitch himself.

Jack Frost in Rise of the Guardians

I remember this movie being advertised all over the place, on TV, cereal boxes, snacks, etc. when I was a kid. Despite being interested in the film, I somehow never saw it until almost thirteen years later. When I finally saw it at my local cinema for free, I was amazed that Rise of the Guardians was made by DreamWorks given their track record. Not only is the art style and animation breathtaking even by modern day standards, but what Rise of the Guardians has perhaps the most original reimagining of popular legends such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

In this film, both are renamed North and Bunnymund, respectively. Additionally, Santa is reimagined as a burly, tattooed, saber wielding man akin to a Viking and the Easter Bunny is depicted as a 6’1 lean yet muscular, boomerang-wielding badass. Meanwhile, both Tooth Fairy and Sandman both are given redesigns that give them more character, with the former possessing feathers and scales and hummingbird wings and the latter being literally made of golden sand and having the power to manipulate said sand to create dreams.

Sandman from Rise of the Guardians
Probably the most powerful member of the Guardians

But besides the art, animation and this movie wouldn’t be so beloved if it weren’t for its powerful and heartwarming message of self-belief. While this message was prevalent in Kung Fu Panda, I feel like it’s much stronger here. Unlike Po from the aforementioned film who has people to advise and support him, Jack Frost is mostly alone. He literally can’t directly interact or communicate with anyone in the real world due to no one believing in his existence. As such, he not only feels like he doesn’t belong, but also doesn’t believe that he’s capable of being a Guardian, which is on full display during his verbal sparring with Bunny. Jack Frost reminds me of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous saying “there are those who were born great, those who achieve greatness, and those with greatness thrust upon them.”

Rise of the Guardians was produced on a budget of $97 million and made $307 million at the box office. While this is a lot of money, the film only made $32.3 million over an extended weekend release, finishing after The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 2, Skyfall and Lincoln. This marked the lowest of DreamWorks’ animated features and was considered a failure. Additionally, DreamWorks laid off over 350 employees in an effort to “restructure” the company. Despite this, there were talks for a potential sequel. However, as of March 2013, nothing has come out of these talks. To me, this is rather sad, as I really enjoyed this film and wished more DreamWorks films and retellings went in a more original direction.

Pitch Black's evil lair from Rise of the Guardians
Just take a look at this set design!

Compared to DreamWorks’ other animated features, Rise of the Guardians is often forgotten about. This shouldn’t be the case, as it perfectly showcases how ambitious and creative DreamWorks can be as a studio. Full of reimagined vigor, while still retaining childlike appeal Rise of the Guardians is not only a solid children’s film, but a film people of all ages can enjoy. With such a creative premise, DreamWorks can be a powerhouse animation studio along with lines of Pixar. But for every Shrek or Kung Fu Panda, there seem to be a dozen more Bee Movie and Shark Tale type films. And this is frustrating to see.

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