For all its flash, visual wit and nuance, there’s something ill-conceived about Rise of the Guardians, a bombastically titled movie that frames childhood icons like Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman as anxious badasses ready to throw down against the forces of evil. Instead of traditional portrayals, Guardians features a boomerang-throwing Easter Bunny, and a sword-wielding Santa Claus with a thick Russian accent and massive, tattooed forearms. That their personalities are equally outsized should be expected. Also to be expected: This DreamWorks release isn’t your typical Christmas-season film.
If you can get past that conceit, Rise of the Guardians is slick and surprisingly touching entertainment.
The film opens with the birth of Jack Frost — a rebirth, actually. It’s a darkly majestic scene, brimming with promise and setting a tone the film doesn’t build upon. It’s a pity, because a little more ambitious impressionism might have made this a holiday classic. Jack (Chris Pine) is at the center of the narrative, chosen by the Man in the Moon to join the Guardians because of a new threat to children everywhere.
After being kidnapped by the tough-guy Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman in his native Aussie) and a pair of Santa’s Yeti, Jack is sent through a portal that zips him to Santa’s technofied North Pole headquarters. The design is part James Bond command center/part insanely busy toy factory, staffed by ankle-high elves (kids will love them) and toy-making Yeti that look like Wilford Brimley on steroids and Rogaine. While there, he’s introduced to the rest of the Guardians, including the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the silent, expressive Sandman.
North (aka Santa, voiced by Alec Baldwin) explains the circumstances bringing them together: Pitch (aka, the Boogeyman) has emerged with a power that threatens the sway of the Guardians. Children believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy, while accepting that “Jack Frost” and “the Boogeyman” are just figures of speech that anthropomorphize nature and their fears. Pitch — a seductive character voiced by Jude Law — has discovered a way to make kids stop believing in the Guardians, and believe in him instead. Jack also wants his presence validated, setting up the moral difference between his and Pitch’s approaches. As Pitch’s plan takes hold, the Guardians race to keep the last child from losing his belief.
There’s plenty of whiz-bang sequences along the way, particularly those involving North’s sleigh (which thankfully isn’t too tricked out with gadgets) and Sandman’s battles against Pitch. Along with the eye candy is just enough enchantment and sincerity to make Rise of the Guardians a worthy addition to the seasonal viewing calendar.