What’s most surprising about a film where a bunch of personifications of childhood events join together to form a kiddie Justice League is that this is much better than a movie with such a great premise normally is. It knows how to pull you in and keep your attention all the way through, sometimes taking more time than it needs to for individual scenes, but this movie knows it’s audience well enough that it doesn’t matter. Action is well paced and choreographed. Character development, though it likes to take its sweet time, never really evolves beyond what this movie seems to want to subvert, in that all the main characters are less one dimensional bringers of joy than they are two dimensional bringers of the whoop-ass.
Jack Frost is a 300 year old boy, who wants someone to believe in him. As such, he tends to lash out at the other magical beings who inhabit this world, where no one else will notice or believe in him. When Pitch Black (The Boogeyman) appears in Santa’s workshop as a premonition of the darkness he intends to spread across the world, the guardians are called together by the omnipotent “man in the moon” in order to stop him. And for this group of defenders, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and the Easter Bunny, a new member is chosen: Jack. It’s an opportunity for Jack to find out what his purpose is in the world, where he came from, and if anyone will ever believe in him.
The guardians are all given a twist on their origin, but in the end they are all still the same characters they are in every other portrayal they have, with the addition of a noticeable quirk. Santa is Russian, the Easter Bunny is Australian, the Tooth Fairy is hyperactive and matronly, the Sandman is a monk, and Jack is a boy trying to figure out where he’s going. That may be a good thing considering they can’t stray too far from their original morals because it would dilute the message of their stories. But it gets to be a little jarring when these magical beings who purport love and happiness for children also wind up being immeasurably skilled soldiers who bring in the magic only when they need to hit someone harder. That’s one of the more frustrating things about this movie. The magic the guardians use outside of their homes only ever seems to be used for attacking and traversing the globe. Pitch Black seems to be the only one who ever really employs the use of magic in a fight, but then he only uses it to create fear horses which can conveniently be attacked with the guardian’s excellent employment of violence.
I shouldn’t suggest that this isn’t a fun movie. The guardian’s homes are very well designed, particularly the Easter Bunny’s domain which is quite extraordinary, a place where eggs on tiny legs walk around getting painted by the plants before they jump into holes that bring them to hidden places in fields where children can go hunt for them. All the voice actors in this lend the right amount of emotion to their characters, the set pieces are all well executed and expansive, and there’s a certain charm to the way everyone interacts, especially the way Sandman talks. It might just be an affinity for the characters but this movie could have easily been a soulless cash-in on children’s dreams.
Fortunately, this movie definitely has a heart, and it’s in the right place. This is a movie for a specific audience– kids and those with an ironic or sincere sense of childhood wonder. So if you choose to watch it, I suggest it be with the comfort of a warm blanket and a significant other, or with your kids and a bowl of microwave popcorn. It premieres on HBO tonight (8/3/13) at 8. It’s also available on Amazon if you want to own the experience forever.