DreamWorks's beautifully animated new movie Rise of the Guardians follows the mythic pattern of the "Hero's Journey".1 It is a timeless story brought to the screen in a fresh new fairy tale filled with faith, hope, and love. This is a perfect film for the Christmas season and one that is sure to become a holiday classic.
Prologue: The Memory
The movie opens with memory; a first memory. A young boy remembers being lost, alone, cold, in the dark and very frightened. A great light appears driving the darkness and fear away and telling the boy his name is Jack Frost. Jack begins to follow light but he realizes he is still alone for no one seems to be able to see him. And because no one can see him, no one "believes" in him; it is as if he were nothing.
This prologue sets the stage and reveals the theme of the movie. A great light in the heavens drives away darkness and fear in a lost child and initiates the journey that will ultimately bring him home; along the way he will discover who he is and what he is meant to do.
Act One: The Special World
Act one begins in a very special world; a heavenly world filled with light, beauty, joy and wonder. There is however a problem in the special world (which happens to surround and contain the earth), a serpentine darkness is beginning to cover the globe and extinguish all its little lights. A gathering of Guardians is called to inquire of the Great Light, what is to be done. The timing of this gathering is significant, three days before Easter; on earth this would be called Good Friday.
Who are these Guardians? Their names are given as Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, and Easter Bunny but as the movie makes perfectly clear its what's at their center that matters. They are reflectors of the Great Light, each one having a unique gift: wonder, memory, dreams, and hope. Now Pitch, darkness personified, threatens to extinguish all the light the Guardians reflect by destroying wonder, memory, dreams, and hope in the little lights . . . the children. His weapon is fear. He boldly appears in the center of the gathering like an Accuser in a courtroom scene and challenges the Great Light to a day of reckoning. His Nightmares will do battle with the Light's Guardians, are they up for it?
The Light has already revealed to the Guardians that there is one more he has chosen, one that is needed in this hour to battle darkness and fear. To the Guardians' astonishment the chosen one looks like a Sheppard boy, hardly what they expected. Why it is none other than Jack Frost! Invited to become a Guardian, Jack at first refuses, but Santa a mentor if ever there was one, takes him aside and asks the questions which have puzzled the unseen Jack for ages: "Who are you? What is your center?"
Act Two: In Pursuit of Memory
Jack agrees to help the Guardians after he discovers the teeth stolen from the Tooth Fairy Palace contain his own teeth and his memories. He is convinced that if he finds his memories he will find his meaning and purpose, his center.
The second act brings increasing warfare with Pitch's Nightmares; one of the Guardians, Sandy, appears lost and consumed by the darkness. Easter which is "more important" than Christmas is the very next day, so the three remaining Guardians along with Jack work frantically to bring the eggs which symbolize new life and hope to the children. At this critical moment Jack gets separated from the Guardians by following a voice calling his name, a voice he recognizes from memory. Following the voice leads to his greatest fears; ensnared by Pitch he is not there to help and Easter appears to be ruined. The lie of his life, "you make a mess of everything", seems to be true. Alone again Jack is confronted by Pitch and forced to exchange his staff for Baby Tooth and then he is tossed into the cave of despair. He is cast out, broken, powerless but this time he is not alone for Baby Tooth is with him. His sacrifice of self and staff is rewarded when Baby Tooth opens his memories and he finds his home.
He sees he had a family and he did belong to someone; he was loved. He remembers his sister who believed in him and how he saved her life by using his gift of fun playing a game with her on the ice that fateful day. In a flash of insight he realizes he was and is a Guardian. He was chosen by the Great Light that saved him after he fell into darkness; therefore his life has meaning and purpose.
Act Three: The Road Back
Now that Jack knows his center is fun, merriment, and delight he is ready to fight the last battle with Pitch in a new selfless way. In answer to a child's prayer Jack offers from his center, from his true self and suddenly he is seen and believed in.
The children's faith destroys the power of Pitch and his Nightmares of fear. Dreams are resurrected (as is Sandy), hope and new life return (it is Easter), memory is safe (the teeth are restored) and wonder and merriment (Santa and Jack) are forever connected. Jack's parting words to the children are words all adults need to hear . . ."When the Moon (Great Light) tells you something believe it."
To confront the modern materialist worldview of fairy tales being unreal escapes into mere fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a very famous essay entitled "On Fairy Stories". In commenting on this essay Professor Joseph Pearce writes:
"According to Tolkien, fairy tales assist in the 'recovery' of the human spirit: 'Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining.of clear view', and entails 'seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them'. Fairy tales access a reality beyond the mundane world of facts, enabling meaning to permeate the factual. Such stories go beyond seeing things only as they are, or as they seem to be; they see them as they are meant to be. They do not accept the status quo, merely because it is the 'real world', but explore the possibilities of different and better worlds. They transcend the barren limitations of 'how things are' to explore the fruitful possibilities of 'how things should be'. This intrinsic idealism clearly has implications as regards the way that fairy stories interact with reality. They challenge our blindness to the beauty and inherent meaning of the world around us." 2
This brand new fairy tale Rise of the Guardians challenges the blindness of the sacred/ secular split post-modern world. To the secular audience it's a bit of fanciful entertainment created for children. To the pious religious crowd it is considered 'pagan' because it uses names like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Both these worldviews of 'mundane facts' miss the beautiful parable it is: the story of how a soul lost in darkness returns home to the Light and is raised from death to become a reflector of the Light.3 There couldn't be a more appropriate message for both young and old alike this Christmas Holiday.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it." John 1:4-5
- The Hero's Journey sometimes called the Hero Myth or Monomyth is a universal pattern recurring in all cultures at all times. The twelve stages adapted here are from The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler:
· The Ordinary World
· The Call to Adventure
· Refusal of the Call
· Meeting the Mentor
· Crossing the Threshold
· Test, Allies, and Enemies
· Approach to the Inmost Cave
· The Ordeal
· The Road Back
· Return with Elixir
- From Bilbo's Journey by Joseph Pearce; Appendix A: Tolkien and the Truth of Fairy Tales pg.122
- Rise is a term used for Resurrection in the New Testament.