Monday, 10 December 2012

Rise of the Guardians (Dreamworks) - movie review


I was surprised and very impressed by the new Dreamworks movie Rise of the Guardians. I'd rate it at Four-and-a-half Stars (from a possible Five 5 - see the postscript for why I deducted half a star).


I had expected a humorous action adventure, like the Ice Age movies, for instance; but I got a lot more.

Indeed, RotG resembles Pixar's Toy Story 3 in being a very ambitious philosophical statement of the best kind of modern, post-Christian metaphysics - but takes things a step or two further.


In other words, RotG presents a complete and complex new myth (derived and developed from various bits and pieces of old and recent myths and folklore); yet although perhaps not quite so accomplished a movie as TS3, the result is much more hopeful - probably because of the underpinning presence of a benign deity (The Man in the Moon).

(I found TS3 so very sad and nihilistic that, despite regarding it as one of the best movies I have ever seen, I have never been able to re-watch it.)


The existential basis of RotG is that modernity is utterly lost in jaded, materialistic, empty alienation; and that the only residue of The Good is in the imagination of young children, and their fantasy beliefs.

These fantasy beliefs are represented by the Guardians.

The premier and most powerful Guardian is the Sandman who brings to children their wholesome dreams. He is depicted as a mute Harpo Marx character that communicates by mime and symbols.

The other Guardians are associated with particular emotions: Santa Claus/ Father Christmas with (wide-eyed) wonder; the Easter Bunny with the renewal of Hope; the Tooth Fairy with happy childhood memories (made accessible in later life because stored in the milk teeth) - and eventually Jack Frost who embodies innocent, shared fun.


All of these characters depend on the idea (maybe from Peter Pan, or Terry Pratchett's Small Gods) that the Guardians power, size and existence is linked to the belief of children; thus the happiness and innocence and redemptive power of children are guarded by the consequences of their own beliefs.

Against them is the evil bogeyman, Pitch, who is a classic Satan/ Sauron/ Voldemort villain that intends to engulf the earth in darkness and fear; since the only way he can get people to believe in him (and therefore the only way he can really be alive) is when they fear him.


The set up is therefore superficially a witty and suspenseful action movie; but underneath it there is a well-structured and emotionally-satisfying symbolic depiction of spiritual warfare between God and his angels (the Guardians) and Satan and his demons (the Night-Mares).

The moral drawn is rather like that of Tolkien's in On Fairy Stories - the importance of fantasy in our era; as being the last means of contact with reality for many or most people.


Naturally, RotG is not explicit about all this; and indeed I doubt whether any kind of Christian symbolism was deliberately intended.

But, by implication, such an interpretation is a natural outcome of the underlying honesty and seriousness of this movie.


POSTSCRIPT: I deduct half a star from my rating of this movie because of the disgusting and gratuitous 'sleeve' tattoos on Santa's forearms; which are very frequently on display, including the movie poster. I regard this as a deliberate and strategic act of wicked subversion on the part of (at least) the animator responsible for Santa, and also the producer and publicity people - intended to 'normalize' this gross form of self-mutilation ( ). It is a measure of the rapidity of our cultural corruption this this kind of thing now passes either unnoticed, or with a cynical grin of approval at making Santa 'edgy', 'relevant' (or something of the kind).  



JP said...

Santa got the sleeve tattoo as an expression of his individuality and to distinguish himself from all the other Santas.

tgj said...


In the proper context, these kinds of stories might be harmless ways of conveying good moral principles. But what is the context?

The true sources of moral authority have been so undermined that this generation does not believe there are any such sources beyond their own opinions. They can think of no reason why they would have the right to tell anyone else that any of their beliefs are wrong, and they bristle at anyone who claims to have any right to tell them that their own opinions are wrong, no matter what those opinions are. Especially if they seem to be nice and tolerant and happy ones. And where do opinions come from? The elves will be happy to give them to you. They will even give you good ones. The best! But only if they are the ones you happen to want, because that is how you KNOW which ones are best. In fact, that is what the elves are there for: to give you what you want, which is the same as what is best. And no one else can ever tell you otherwise. After all, you have a direct connection to the elves, and all they have is fear of new things.

You go from the Pope deciding that he alone speaks for Christ to Luther democratizing infallibility to the Inklings realizing that the Golden Dawn is not on their side to Gryffindor looking for better defenses against Slytherin to blood in the streets, because the fathers stopped following the Fathers and the children started listening to the wrong kind of angels. Because the right kind very rarely speak directly to anyone, you only get a guardian angel if you've been properly baptized, and it's the fallen ones who live for deception and presenting themselves to men in every way they can, but who tells those boring and depressing old stories any more? It's much more interesting and exciting to look for the elves and tell their stories, especially when they are tell you how to fix the mess they are making.

It's also interesting to note that, in occult circles, "evil" magicians are often referred to as belonging to the Black Brotherhood. These are the kinds of evil people who hate and fear progress, the spiritual blooming of mankind, and man's ascent to godhood. Sometimes they even walk around in black robes, hurting the elves and taking them away from people....

There is a description of a convent educated Roman Catholic's experience with Hinduism near the beginning of Fr. Seraphim Rose's "Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future," where she describes how Hinduism was able to completely invert her values and bring her, as she put it, to the very doors of the love of evil in the space of twenty years. The sheer range of possibilities is part of it. Hinduism has something for everyone, including the thinkers who want a philosophy to tied it all together (summary: God = you = everything = illusion). Pragmatism is a big part of it. Hinduism works, in the sense that the magical practices produce very real results, and it doesn't seem too bad at first. In fact, it can be incredibly virtuous: just look at Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi)! Who could possibly be against that? Aside from the cranky Black Brotherhood types who remember how much salvific value good works not done in the name of Christ have, and how corrupting the worship of idols is, of course. And so the doors are thrown open for the Antichrist, who will appear to possess every virtue that Christ himself possessed. At first. But woe to those who take the mark instead of waiting to see the wrapping start to come off the package.

On the grand scale of things, it may take a few thousand years to go all the way from one end to the other. But for any given person, it can happen a lot more quickly. And when you are born to the generation that is already stroking it's chin and contemplating the approaching cliff, and all your friends are eagerly following the elves....

I think this is why, when the demons would acknowledge Christ, He would tell them to be quiet and cast them out.

bgc said...

@tgj - excellent comment - thanks.

SMS said...

I heard many positive reviews about this movie. I like the animation movies a lot. So, am very eager to watch this weekend.