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This film image released by DreamWorks Animation shows the character Jamie, voiced by Dakota Goyo, left, as he awakens to find The Guardians, from second left, Tooth, voiced by Isla Fisher, Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine, North, voiced by Alec Baldwin, Sandman, and Bunnymund, voiced by Hugh Jackman in a scene from “Rise of the Guardians.”
I’m always amazed and grateful of secularist attempts at retelling Christian truths to make them more “palatable” to members of that community.
This may sound like I’m being facetious but I’m actually being serious. Guillermo del Toro and Dreamworks Productions have produced an outstanding, visually-rich and entertaining film in “Rise of the Guardians.”
The movie posits a secret legion of super legends, known as “The Guardians,” including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost who have been called together by the Man-on-the-Moon for the sole purpose of protecting the world’s children.
There are more than a sufficient number of comical moments and unexpected revelations throughout the movie.
Apparently, Santa is actually a bodybuilder with a thick Russian accent, has major tattoos on both arms, wields two sabers simultaneously better than the average Cossack and he employs yeti instead of elves in his workshop (it seems elves aren’t very skilled with tools.) The Tooth Fairy, though very pleasant, is obsessed with everyone’s oral health. Sandman, responsible for children’s pleasant dreams, was the first of the Guardians to fall in the film’s epic battle of good and evil. He willingly laid down his life so that others might live—no greater love does a (Sand)man have. But like many subordinate male characters who disappear during the first act, he returned triumphantly in the second act, three days later, to save the day—and the bacon of the other Guardians.
But art, without conflict, is impossible—or at least very boring. Thus, our valiant band is called to defeat a horror that hasn’t reared its ugly head in 800 years—Pitch Black, AKA the Boogeyman. Pitch is tired of being ignored and wants to destroy the totality of the world’s hope, joy, dreams and fun replacing it with fear by using his army of shadowy, horse-like Nightmares (I suspect most children didn’t get the pun.)
Jack Frost, a rebellious teen who has been “finding himself” for the previous 300 years since becoming the personification of winter’s cold, is recruited by the Guardians and the Man-on-the-Moon. For most of the movie, Jack is a selfish loner and ambiguously amoral. In fact, the Boogeyman tries to recruit him as he embarks on his own personal Reign of Terror.
Photo credit: Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine, left, and Tooth, voiced by Isla Fisher in a scene from “Rise of the Guardians.”
The all-knowing, all-seeing, omnipresent, Man-on-the-Moon Guardian, who watches and protects all children from far above is an obvious reference to God while the Boogeyman is a perfect secular interpretation of Satan—an individual who is selfish, malevolent, violent, despotic and cruel. Not coincidently, Pitch Black the Fearmonger, is ultimately destroyed and chained in his subterranean pit by fear itself—even the Boogeyman isn’t immune to fear. Children who have hope and light in their lives, however, are immune to it.
But, here again, secularism, bereft of its own, native moral principles and original concepts must condescend to borrow its relevant ideas, once again, from Christianity. With the help of the Man-on-the-Moon, Jack comes to a personal revelation that selfishness is worthless and ineffective while compassion for others is life-giving.
Even with this cursory synopsis, most Christians would immediately recognize the parallels, if not outright lifting of dozens of Christian motifs, themes, tropes and topoi in “Rise of the Guardians.” Again, I don’t mean this as a criticism as I was thoroughly impressed with this film. I enjoyed it for several reasons. The animation was rich and vivid though the 3D effect added little, if anything, to the film. The story was original and casting superb. Alec Baldwin added much mirth to Santa Claus’ girth and Jude Law was the perfect baddie.
What I found most extraordinary about “Rise of the Guardians” was how though the film’s writers, directors and producers wanted to make a completely secular film, they had to rely completely upon two most important Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter, and their respective legends to create this film. There are no awe-inspiring, existentially-important and engaging secular holidays or life-giving atheist principals. To push back the fear and hopelessness of life, you need a religion. To tell an engaging story, the writers, directors and producers of “Rise of the Guardians” had to insert every conceivable Christian principle, concept and virtue in order to do so. If secularism could offer something meaningful, del Toro would have portrayed this story sans the Christian references and allusions. To be clear, I have no doubt that some atheist/secularist claptrap could be cobbled together but it wouldn’t be meaningful because atheism/secularism can’t offer anything existentially uplifting to the world—their philosophies (e.g., objectivism, nihilism, Malthusianism, eugenics, scientism, fascism, communism, Nietzscheism, hedonism, materialism, consumerism, jingoism, anarchism, sociobiology), are anechoic, flaccid, monotonous and flatulent.
All-in-all, “Rise of the Guardians” is an excellent movie because it addresses the important human issues of hope and fear, life and death, good and evil, altruism and narcissism. Both secularists and theists can find common ground in this delightful and emotionally-moving film. Hopefully this film will motivate secularists to rethink their stands on certain important issues relevant to their humanity. After all, the Easter Bunny doesn’t really exist but Easter and the Reason for that Season really does. If not, what was this movie about?
Interestingly, the difference between this secularist film and its Christian equivalent is that the former was written by people who don’t actually believe these principals have any place in the world of adults but are made instead for gullible children. But, regardless of their motives, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny mean nothing without the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter and Christmas and Easter mean nothing without Christ and Christianity.
Joy is distinct from happiness in that the latter is ephemeral and transitory, dependent upon whether or not the current situation is to one’s liking. Joy, on the other hand, is a permanent outlook on life allowing an individual to navigate the vicissitudes and vagaries of our respective existences. Though secularists make many grand claims, they’ve yet to produce a truly joyous secularist. To be joyous, you need to give yourself over to others completely in unselfish universal brotherhood.
Ultimately, “Rise of the Guardians” is only magical realism, because, as we all know, Jack Frost and the Sandman don’t actually exist and, if they did exist, they’ve failed to inspire adults to lead good, altruistic and joyful lives—such is the emptiness of secularism. I’m glad I saw “Rise of the Guardians” and I’m even gladder secularists are dependent upon our eternal message in order to cobble together theirs.
Angelo Stagnaro is an author, journalist and a stage magician who has served as editor in chief of the online magicians’ monthly electronic magazine Smoke & Mirrors.