Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine) arrives from the depths into a cold, moonlit evening not knowing where he came from but he once he realizes the villagers he finds cannot see him, he discovers his purpose - creating beautiful, lacy designs, and, better yet, instigating children into snow fights and daredevil sledding adventures. Meanwhile, up at the North Pole, Tooth (voice of Isla Fisher), Sandman and Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman) have been called by North (voice of Alec Baldwin ) who has seen evidence of Pitch (voice of Jude Law), a Bogeyman who wishes to undo their work with nightmares which will give him power as children begin to believe in him. Realizing they need help, the Man in the Moon calls forth Jack, who isn't convinced he belongs in the "Rise of the Guardians."
When he was making up tales for his daughter, author William Joyce spun out what would become The Guardians of Childhood series and, as adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire ("Robots," "Rabbit Hole"), one can see pieces of everything from "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Monsters, Inc.," "Peter Pan" and even "Arthur Christmas" (which itself borrowed from prior films) in the mix. And yet, despite heavy lifting from children's tales which have come before, "Rise of the Guardians" is nonetheless its own delight, largely due to clever jokes, clueless minions, upended traditions and stunning animation.
The story's personal throughline is Jack's search for his 'core,' which is both his essence as a Guardian as well as his need to know where he came from. He's this story's Tinkerbell, a Guardian unseen because kids don't believe in him the way they always have Santa Clause (North), the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, and his mission ends with a one-two punch, a wonderfully sad and heroic origin story evolved into mischievous derring-do.
"Rise of the Guardians" surprises with the unexpected, beginning with a Russian Claus wielding a sword in each hand, tatted forearms homaging "Night of the Hunter's" Robert Mitchum's 'Love' and 'Hate' with 'Nice' and 'Naughty.' Bunny is a boomerang brandishing hare with an Aussie accent who doesn't fit his stereotype at all and Tooth is a flirty fairy by way of hummingbird with hundreds of 'Baby Teeth' to accomplish her mission. Sandman, a stunning creation of glittering gold, expresses himself in thought balloons and they all take every opportunity to point out that Santa must really work only one day a year, Bunny noting his lack of pre-prep ability because he works with perishables. Pitch is Frost's opposite, all seductive black (his arrival recalls "Harry Potter's" Death Eaters) to Frost's glittering silver, which makes for some gorgeous visual effects when these two collide (add Sandy to the mix and the screen becomes an elegant glitter bomb). As Pitch interferes, first with Tooth, then Easter, lights around the globe begin to go out, one child after another losing their belief in the magical when they awaken to their teeth still under pillow and no Easter eggs.
When the Guardians aren't attending to earth's children, represented by Jamie Bennett (voice of Dakota Goyo, "Real Steel") and his friends, most of the action is centered at the North Pole, a kind of mission control, and North has the best helpers. Elves consisting of conical red hats with eyes peering out and skinny legs protruding beneath are this movie's "Despicable Me" minions, lots of little funny, somewhat inept guys that make cute little squeaky noises. They're joined by North's Yetis, big furry giant likable lugs who really make the toys. A good running gag catches one out with a changed order every time he finishes a huge task.
Animation is really beautiful with the type of attention to detail we're used to getting from Pixar - the coarse weave of Santa's tunic accented with Russian motifs, the silvery embroidery on Frost's hoodie. Nesting dolls, bird cages and realistically scary sleigh rides all add to the character's back stories. 3D technology is used to enhance the experience and it does. Vocal performances are true performances, not an exercise in recognizing celebrities, with Baldwin and Law dynamic opposites, each quite good.
I walked into "Rise of the Guardians" expecting a pale imitation of "Nightmare Before Christmas" and got a lot more. While the narrative is far from original, the character details are and they've all been brought to life with amazing animation artistry.
Robin did not see this film.
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