I had a lot of nightmares growing up. I’d wake up, startled and holler for my father. He’d come to my bedside, over and over, and he’d explain why I didn’t need to be afraid.
He often used the example of light, summarized in the song lyrics, “There is a light that can overcome the darkness, there is no darkness that can overcome the light.” (See also John 1:5.) My pop went to the closet, flicked the switch. “See,” he said. “The light always wins.”
We believe in Jesus Christ, the light of the world, and because we believe in Him, we have no need to fear.
These thoughts and so many others streamed through my mind as I watched “Rise of the Guardians,” an animated story that pits Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost against the Boogeyman.
No, really, I’m not joking. That’s what the film, which is based on William Joyce’s books, is about. And it’s terrific. The movie reminded me of being a kid, of how real these characters seemed, and how much joy believing in Santa Claus, for example, brought to me and my sister.
Santa, Tooth, Bunny and Sandman are known as “guardians.” They’re responsible for caring for children, particularly children’s happiness. The Boogeyman is back (not sure where he was, maybe laying low with Voldemort). He’s taking away children’s belief in the guardians, so Man in the Moon commissions Jack Frost for some cool help. (Symbol note: the moon reflects the light of the sun.)
The plot moves from there. The guardians use belief to battle the Boogeyman’s weapon — fear. The story works. I mean, this is a kid’s movie, so you have to forgive the fact that the characters do physical battle over these things — fear and belief — that aren’t physical at all. We always see angels are represented with wings, even though St. Thomas Aquinas would explain they don’t have material bodies. You get the idea.
The Boogeyman, who lurks in the darkness, tries to get Jack Frost to join him. The Boogeyman takes Frost’s guilt and uses it against him. He tries to use his pride and his ego to tempt Frost away from his guardianship. Frost doesn’t fall for it. (Symbol note: frost diffracts light beautifully.)
There are a few things that bothered me, though. The movie clocks in at 97 minutes, but it would have been stronger if it were say 20-25 minutes shorter. I’d make that criticism of a lot of movies that seem to drag things out to 90 minutes plus.
“Guardians,” for example, dwells on memories. Kids don’t care about memories. Kids like to play and have fun and be silly and eat candy. Kids dream, and they dream of Santa and the Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy leaves money under their pillow. Yet the twist in “Guardians” is that the Tooth Fairy stores children’s precious memories in their baby teeth or something. It’s an unnecessarily, dwelled upon story thread that just doesn’t work.
There’s also a moment when Frost really blows it, and the guardians — who are supposed to be super awesome, well-adjusted heroes — totally take it out on him. The Easter Bunny — and Easter represents forgiveness and the triumph of Christ over death for me, you know — well the Easter Bunny really isn’t very charitable toward Frost.
Anyway, these little quirks are easy to look past.
It isn’t “Empire Strikes Back,” so in the end, it all works out. And it’s pretty funny. Alec Baldwin’s Russian-accented Santa is a crackup, even if they do work in an obvious Russian doll metaphor. Hugh Jackman’s Australian-accented Easter Bunny is good fun, too. Jude Law’s Boogeyman is super creepy and sinister. And, in the end, the guardians overcome the Boogeyman and fear with teamwork and belief.
And that belief is handed down from the guardians to the children. At one particularly moving part of the film, one of the children says to the Boogeyman, “It isn’t that I don’t believe in you, it’s that I don’t fear you.” And that turns the whole battle around.
Viewers eventually find out that Jack Frost used to be a human being. He died laying down his life for his friend, his sister. So, he’s saintly in that sense. Santa Claus, though this isn’t spelled out, we Catholics know as St. Nicholas. So, the guardians are just a few hops away from the Communion of Saints.
Which brings me to this last thing: I don’t have nightmares anymore.
I stopped having nightmares when I began to believe in the Communion of Saints in college. I would wake up from a nightmare and I couldn’t ask my mom to tell me it was OK. So I started calling on my favorite saints to be with me. I’d call St. Dominic, Blessed Henry Suso, St. John the Evangelist. I’d call on the Blessed Mother. And just like that, I could feel their presence, even though I couldn’t see them. I felt their company and I wasn’t afraid anymore.
“Guardians” can serve as a good reminder that we have nothing to fear when Christ is at the center of our lives. And the saints are here, too, to remind us that Jesus Christ is Lord.
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Note to my friend David Bennett: “The Rise of the Guardians” has nothing to do with Plato’s “Republic.” Another note, in the movie, Santa Claus goes by “North”; the Boogeyman goes by “Pitch”; the Tooth Fairy goes by “Tooth”; and the Easter Bunny goes by “Bunny.” The Boogeyman is “Pitch.” The film contains perilous situations. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.