Then I saw the trailer. And...uh...the movie looked better than what I thought? I found it hilarious the Easter Bunny was Australian. I can be very easy to please.
When people voted, on the MMI Facebook page, for me to investigate Rise of the Guardians, bet your britches I was excited. But I never expected one of my favorite movies of the year. But also one of the most disturbing.
Director: Peter Ramsey
Script: David Lindsay-Abaire
Story: William Joyce
Frost/Cloud Strife: Chris Pine
Black/Sephiroth: Jude Law
North/Barrett: Alec Baldwin
Bunny/Cid: Hugh Jackman
Tooth/Tifa: Isla Fisher
Sandy/Aerith: no voice
Tonberry: Dakota Goyo
What It's Good For:
-stealing the humor of The Minions and doing it better (I liked it better)
-teaching kids there's more to being yourself than just...being yourself
-has a dinosaur
-basically re-imagining Final Fantasy VII
-some cool fight scenes
-I think they could have had a better resolution with Pitch
-the elves really are the same as The Minions
-kids could try elaborate sled riding stunts (I'm joking?)
-people may not like that Santa has tattoos
-some people could think the moon being a type of God is annoying or insulting
We can talk about the superficial stuff I liked about Guardians. Santa has tats and duel-wields swords. That alone. But I enjoyed all the jokes. I enjoyed the action sequences, especially the spectacle of the action sequences (when Sandy loses to Pitch! Jack's response! The final fight!). The little sister is doing dumb adorable little kid things.
We could talk about the range of emotion. We could talk about how Pitch isn't just "evil" but is characterized.
I don't want to talk about these things though. I want to talk about the moral.
But first, let's look at the moral of other movies.
Aladdin: you may think being someone you aren't will get you far, but it won't. You have to be yourself. Lying doesn't bring success.
Lion King: remember who you are! and don't run away from your problems! The past can hurt, but that doesn't mean it has to affect us in the present.
Finding Nemo: moderation of independence and supervision
Toy Story: jealousy and rushing to judgement can create problems; new doesn't always mean better; we all need love/attention
Beauty and the Beast: beauty comes from within
Shrek: don't judge someone by how they look
How to Train Your Dragon: physical appearance isn't everything; injuries can happen but that doesn't mean we're useless; hard work and patience pay off; together we are stronger than as individuals; you don't know what's causing your enemy to be a villain and that could be worth exploring
Kung-Fu Panda: physical appearance yadda yadda
Mulan: follow your heart
Then there are a 43248230 movies about the importance of family.
What's so different about Rise of the Guardians?
The key scene is when Santa Claus takes Jack Frost around the North Pole. They reach Santa's workshop and this dialogue takes place:
Who are you, Jack Frost? What Is your center?
If Man-in-Moon choose you to be a guardian, you must have something very special inside. Hmmmmm. [Grabs Matryoshka/nestle doll version of himself]. Here, this is how you see me, no? Very big and intimidating. But if you get to know me a little, [hands Jack the doll], well, go on.
[Jack opens the doll to reveal a smaller, happy-faced Santa]
You are downright jolly?
But not just jolly. [Jack opens the jolly-doll]. I am also mysterious. [Jack opens the mysterious doll]. Fearless. And caring. [Jack holds a doll that's Santa holding a cat]. And at my center...
[we see a tiny, wide-eyed baby]
There's a tiny wooden baby...
Look closer. What do you see?
Uh. You have big eyes.
YES! Big eyes! Eyes very big! Because they are full of wonder. That is my center. It is what I was born with. Eyes that only see the wonder in everything. Eyes that see lights in the trees. And magic in the air. This wonder is what I put into the world! And what I protect in children. It is what makes me a guardian. It is my center. What is yours?
I don't know.
The idea of everyone having a defining characteristic, a center, is, I think, a subject I have yet to see a kids movie discuss. Not only that, is a necessary subject someone should be discussing.
Every athlete has to know his or her key asset. Is it your 98 MPH fastball? Or the fact you can locate a curveball anywhere in the strike zone? Or if you're Wes Welker: you're not Randy Moss, you're not running downfield looking to leap higher than the DB or Safety and bring the pass down; you're small and quick, so you're running curls and slants and using your swiftness to your advantage. RGIII does things Drew Brees doesn't. The same way Drew Brees does things Payton Manning can't. Every player builds his or her game around their key asset. This asset is WHY they are a professional athlete.
Every successful business has why feature for their success. Dyson offers something Hoover doesn't. But Hoover offers something Dyson doesn't. This can be technology. Or features. Or customization. Or price. Or an attitude. There's a reason why people buy a Ford Focus (combination of price and gas-mileage). People buy Mustangs because they want to feel cool and Mustangs are considered cool, or because driving a Focus feels like driving while driving a Mustang feels like Driving. Apple is a trendy example of a company that differentiates well. This brings us to Simon Sinek's TED talk.
For the rough transcript, click here.
What Simon talks about is "Why".
Let me give you an example. I use Apple because they're easy to understand and everybody gets it. If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: "We make great computers. They're beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?" "Meh." And that's how most of us communicate. That's how most marketing is done, that's how most sales is done and that's how most of us communicate interpersonally. We say what we do, we say how we're different or how we're better and we expect some sort of a behavior, a purchase, a vote, something like that. Here's our new law firm: We have the best lawyers with the biggest clients, we always perform for our clients who do business with us. Here's our new car: It gets great gas mileage, it has leather seats, buy our car. But it's uninspiring.
Here's how Apple actually communicates. "Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?" Totally different right? You're ready to buy a computer from me. All I did was reverse the order of the information. What it proves to us is that people don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it. People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.
Tivo’s marketing strategy was “we let you pause live TV, rewind live TV, and we watch your viewing habits and adjust without you having to do anything”. It was all about what. And market skeptics said we’re not interested.
What if they would have said “if you’re the type of person that likes to have total control over your life, we have a product for you.”
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and what you do is simply the proof of what you believe.
I think "why" is an important question for athletes, for businesses, for couples even. "Why" are you in this relationship? If the answer isn't "Because I love this person," there's probably a problem. But say you are in love and that is your why. How do you show it? And when you look at your relationship, what do you see? Do you see two people who are happy and care for each other? Or do you see a lot of fighting and confusion and mistrust? This kind of introspection can be hard to be honest about.
Individuals are no different than business, couples, or athletes. What makes The Breakfast Club resonate so much? Because it takes six stereotypical definitions of WHAT high school kids are and shows us WHY they are. We're seeing into the core of these characters. WHY and HOW.
Rise of the Guardians is remarkable to me because it's the first kids movie I've seen to focus on "Why".
Aladdin tells you to just be you. The Aladdin advice makes sense in the context that when Aladdin was trying to be "princely" he was just being a pompous jackass and when he went back to being himself that's the charming guy Jasmin really liked. Being charming and funny is associated with being a "street rat" and being a pompous jackass is associated with being a "prince". Aladdin goes back to "his" clothes and "himself" and beats Jafar and wins Jasmin's heart. But the movie never really gets into Why. It shows us What and How. How Aladdin is. And What he is. When the What changes, the How changes. The movie ends up being about how you should continue to keep the same How of who you are even if the What changes.
The Lion King says "Remember who you are" and don't run away from your problems. Simba is lost until he is able to remember WHAT he is. Mufasa's son. The rightful king. The How stems from that. When Simba forgets What he is, he is living a life of leisure and seeming purposelessness, and he is carefree, relaxed, uninhibited, unburdened by the pain of the past. All while the people who know and love him suffer. Again: What is affecting How. There is some discussion of Why. Why Simba change his What (if that makes sense) is because he hurt. Rafiki teaches Simba the past can hurt, but "you can either run from it, or learn from it." With this Why addressed, Simba can change his What. I think this is a key lesson, but it seems to me the movie puts more emphasis on What rather than Why.
With Rise of the Guardians we're seeing the Why affect the How. Nobody believes in Jack Frost. He has spent 300 years doing things..with no one ever acknowledging him. And the thing haunting Jack this entire time is WHY he is. Why did the Man in the Moon make him? Then: why make him a guardian? It's in the wake of this second question that Santa gives the aforementioned speech about "center".
The movie is literally about Why, How, and What.
Jack finally finds his center! Fun! With this he is able to defeat the bad guy. And people come to believe in Jack Frost. Keep in mind: Jack had had fun in the past. He even says to the guardians, when he first gets to the North Pole, that he likes to have fun and they don't. But he never acknowledged fun as a Why, only ever as a What. An because of this, he was wayward, never finding success.
This is why I think the movie is important: it's telling kids it's not just about "being yourself" but identifying what defines you. Ironically, "what" defines you is your "why". Are you a pitcher with a 98 MPH fastball? That's awesome. That's what you build your game around. Are you a pitcher with great command? That's awesome. If you only have an 88 MPH fastball, you don't build your game around "blowing batters away".
Jack Frost's Why is fun. How he has fun: snow and cold. What he offers are snow days and sled rides and snowball fights and an entire winter wonderland. Why Santa does what he does is because of wonder. It's because of wonder he is able to see what he sees, and what he sees affects what he does: he brings wonder into the world via Christmas. So the movie, in the end, is trying to get kids to identify their Why so they too can be successful.
"I'm smart. I can bring intellectual stuff to the table."
"I'm someone who is funny, I can make jokes and make people laugh."
"I have courage. I'm willing to go out and try new things."
"I am good at understanding emotions. I can help people make sense of what they're feeling or what others are feeling."
One isn't better in the other. They're just...different.
And even if two people have the same Why they can have unique Hows. Two people can be funny and be funny in totally different ways. On Seinfeld, Kramer was funny with oddity and physical humor. Jerry was funny with sarcasm and observational humor. But even if the Why and How are the same, the What can be different. Someone could channel their humor into advertising, someone else into outfits for cocker spaniels.
Pitch Black presents a problem. After the movie identifies everyone has a center, we identify, at least we think we do, that Pitch's center is fear. Instead of trying to help Pitch channel that fear into something beneficial, showing someone can change the How and What, the movie simplifies Pitch. He's just a bad guy and will always be a bad guy. There's no discussing how Pitch can be better. Instead, our heroes chase him into a fucking hole (well, the nightmares do).
How to Train a Dragon at least shows us that there are deeper things going on, that we may not understand the motivation of those we deem "bad". Same with Breakfast Club. This guy who seems like a jerk has a reason Why he's a jerk. For each of the characters, we start with the What and How, but we discover the Why.
Here's the secret Rise of the Guardians failed to discuss: when we find out the Why, we can change the How and What. Did the movie have to spend a lot of time with this? No. But could it have spent 10 min at the end trying to redeem Pitch? Yeah.
Think about bullies. You have this kid in school who is a bully. Is this kid just going to say "I'm just a bully...there's no hope for me, just like Pitch!"? That's a very negative outoook. You could change it to "I'm tough and physical, how can I use that for good?" Pitch is someone who deals with fear. And fear isn't necesarrily a bad thing. Recognizing your fear isn't a bad thing. Accepting your fear is a great thing. Because then you can address your fear and thus overcome your fear. I accept the fact that I'm afraid when I have a conversation with someone I will look like an idiot. Knowing that's my fear, instead of avoiding it, I take steps to improve myself. Could the film have done that with Pitch? The kid at the end of the movie says "I believe in you, but I'm not afraid of you". People could believe in Pitch but he could work with the other guardians to not let fear bring kids down, to help them recognize their fear and overcome it. If we've learned anything from psychogolgy, we've learned that learning why we're afraid and why we shut down and why we fail is equally as important as understanding why we succeed. To be successful, we can't just improve what we're already good at, we also have to improve our weaknesses.
The movie was great in trying to get kids to identify why they succeed, but that's not enough. I think it takes two steps forward, but two steps back.
Did I Like it:
Yes. Especially with how much it's like Final Fantasy VII. Or maybe i just like thinking things are like Final Fantasy VII. I also think American Beauty is like Final Fantasy VII (that's a bad joke). Except the end. It bothered me as I was watching it. And it's continued to bother me. I was originally going to put the movie in my top 10 of the year. But I can't get over the conclusion with Pitch. There was such a perfect opportunity for redemption. When everyone, at the end, is having a snowball fight and Pitch is standing there watching them. I wanted them to include him. Especially when the kid runs through pitch. All of the heroes were HURT when they felt they weren't being believed in. Here is Pitch suffering the same pain...Instead of empathy, they give him nothing. And you can say: he was evil, what do they owe him! But is that really the type of thinking that will help the world? At least Simba gave Scar the option of running away and Scar chose to try to kill Simba.
It is still one of my favorite kids movies. I've told people over the last few days it's become my FAVORITE kids movie. No other kids movie has duel-wielding Santa Claus and hilarious Australian Easter Bunny. But. I really have a huge problem with the Pitch thing.