“Rise of the Guardians,” the new 3D, CGI animated fantasy movie loosely adapted from William Joyce’s “Guardians of Childhood” books, takes familiar children’s legends, Santa Claus, Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman, and presents them as a superhero team, á la “Marvel’s The Avengers.” The result is a charming and amusing family movie that actually should appeal to the entire family.
The movie opens with a prologue where the young, Peter Pan-like Jack Frost (voice performance by Chris Pine) finds himself floating above a frozen pond on a moonlit night 300 years ago. Very young children may not immediately get what’s probably happened here, but everyone else should, and in short order. The godlike Man in the Moon seems to be responsible, but doesn’t tell the newly created Jack Frost who he is or why he’s here. But for the next 3 centuries he goes merrily about his business, mischievously freezing things, invisible to mortals.
In the present, the Voldemort-esque Pitch Black (voice performance by Jude Law) has learned how to make his nightmares overpower the Sandman’s sweet dreams. This sort of threat is, wait for it, a job for the Guardians, an Avengers-like team-up of Santa Claus (voice performance by Alec Baldwin, the Easter Bunny (voice performance by Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (voice performance by Isla Fisher) and the extremely expressive, but unspeaking Sandman.
“Rise of the Guardians” uses new takes on familiar childhood figures to good effect. Santa Claus isn’t chubby here—he’s mammoth but it’s all muscle. A former Cossack (I know, I thought he was Dutch, too) with “naughty” and “nice” tattooed on forearms the size of Howitzers,he’s a total bad ass. Santa, called “North” in the movie, is the group’s de facto leader, and calls a summit at his headquarters at the North Pole, where apparently Chewbacca-like Yetis do most of the toy-making work taken credit for by the elves. The filmmakers know better than to try to reinvent their heroes too much though, and all of them stay recognizable.
Pitch’s evil machinations, which involve sabotaging the jobs of the Guardians thereby sowing the seeds of unbelief in children, evidently call for reinforcements, and the Man in the Moon selects Jack Frost as the newest Guardian. Jack’s adolescent antics and attitudes make this an awkward fit, particularly for the inexplicably Australian Easter Bunny, who still nurses a grudge over a past Easter ruined by a late snow storm. The Tooth Fairy, who appears to be part hummingbird, is particularly attracted to Jack’s luminous white smile.
The ensuing battles with Pitch are action-intensive with loads of swirling gold and black dust, lightning, charging nightmarish horses (night mare, get it?) and sound and fury. Some of this mayhem could be frightening for younger children, and [spoiler alert] parents should feel completely comfortable telling them there will be a happy ending. The action is lightened by frequent, and genuinely amusing, comic relief sequences.
Some big names contributed behind the scenes, including executive producer Guillermo del Toro (“Hellboy”) and visual consultant Roger Deakins, Oscar®-nominated cinematographer who most recently photographed “Skyfall.” The artwork is excellent, and the 3D, now de rigeur in CGI animated movies, is well-used, both to create an immersive environmental experience and to throw stuff at the camera. The score, by Alexandre Desplat (“Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” “The King’s Speech,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”), is evocative without being overly syrupy or intrusive.
The kids, in particular, will get and embrace the superhero motif, which may go over the heads of their parents. But “Rise of the Guardians” successfully puts a novel spin on familiar childhood figures, and makes them feel refreshingly new.
“Rise of the Guardians” is now showing in both 3D and 2D at the Bow Tie Movieland 6 in Schenectady, the Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Regal Crossgates Latham Circle Mall 10, the Regal Cinemas Clifton Park Stadium 10 & RPX, the Rotterdam Square Cinema, the Regal Cinemas Colonie Center Stadium 13 and the Regal Cinemas East Greenbush 8. The movie is available in both 3D and 2D at most locations.