Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

This may offend people, and some people this may offend very grieviously, but I can't hide how I feel. I didn't like The Rise of the Guardians.

To clarify, there are things I liked about it. The Soviet Santa was pretty fun, and the hummingbird tooth fairy. "Have you ever seen a more adorable lateral incisor? Look how she flossed!" And of course the Australian Easter Bunny. (I was really glad I was familiar with all the Australian slang so I could get the jokes. I knew all that Australian TV I watched as a teenager would come in handy someday!)

And the animation was really good. Those animators must have spent thousands of hours studying sand and frost patterns! I greatly admire the attention to detail.

But on the whole, the overall message of the film didn't sit well with me. It was an essay on the nature of faith, written by people who had only a vague idea of what it was. Much like a geographer describing a country he's never visited. In one scene, a little kid utters what can only be described as a prayer to the Easter Bunny, and he says, "I have believed in you my whole life, so you owe me a sign." Yeah, that's not really how it works. And the faith children have in these characters seems to be solely dependent on whether they "deliver:" no quarter under your pillow? The Tooth Fairy must not be real. No eggs to find during the Easter egg hunt? Ditto. These ideas don't really jive with my Mormon worldview. Having difficulties isn't indicative of the non-existence of God. Similarly, God's divine power isn't dependent on whether humans continue to worship him.

Which brings me to another issue I had: The characters claim that their purpose is to protect the children, but they seem to be much more interested in protecting themselves. Fairly early in the film, it is established that the power available to Santa et al is dependent on the belief children have in them. So when "lights start to go out," i.e. children wake up and discover that the tooth fairy did NOT leave them a quarter, there is a mad rush to take over the Tooth Fairy's job so that kids will believe in her again. And when (spoiler!) Easter is thwarted, the Easter Bunny shrinks from a monstrously colossal rabbit to a cuddly pet, much to his chagrin.

I also didn't appreciate how the filmmakers went out of their way to be irreligious. The Easter Bunny gives this little speech about how Easter is all about celebrating rebirth and new life and blah blah blah. I only thought, "Oh? I thought Easter was the celebrating Jesus Christ's resurrection. No?" I didn't expect them to give Christianity any kind of passing reference, but it seemed to me like they were creating an arbitrary mythology because it is "less offensive" than established religious practices.

Because of all this other fake-faith stuff going on, it made the one real moment of the movie seem slightly out of place. I am referring to the Big Reveal of Jack Frost's origin story. It was raw and powerful, but made the rest of it all look like meaningless fluff.

Maybe I'm not being articulate enough about my impressions on the movie. Don't get me wrong - it's cute. It's good, clean fun (except when the Easter Bunny swears in Australian). But mostly I found it to be the product of a faithless world. The Husband and I are probably in a pretty small club of people who didn't like this film. I am reminded of Gary Larson's depiction of the annual meeting of the "Didn't Like Dances With Wolves Society." (I tried to find a picture of that strip on the internet but had no luck.)

It's ok. I didn't like Titanic either. Or Hugo. Or Wreck-It Ralph. But I loved Samsara.

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