Santa Claus is a brawny Russian nicknamed North, with matching “Naughty” and “Nice” tats on his forearms and voiced by Alec Baldwin, who is clearly having a grand old time. The Easter Bunny is a six foot-something, boomerang-toting Aussie and at last a role where Hugh Jackman can finally use his own accent, even if that means making a couple of unfortunate Crocodile Dundee references. We’ve also got Isla Fisher fluttering around as a Tooth Fairy who seems to also be a hummingbird, and Chris Pine’s Jack Frost forlorn and purposeless, wondering why he doesn’t get his own holiday or at least some sort of mythical tradition.
Yeah, so Rise of the Guardians is basically just The Avengers with Santa Claus instead of Captain America, but it’s also a surprising, restlessly imaginative children’s film with some lovely CGI animation and a couple of unexpected thematic curveballs. Also, Baldwin’s “kill moose and squirrel” inflections are never not hilarious.
Ye old boogeyman Pitch is back (voiced by a marvelously sinister Jude Law), and he’s creeping into kids’ nightmares and undermining their faith in traditions. Based on William Joyce’s books, the movie is a war of abstractions, returning time and again to the rather highfalutin notion that belief creates power, and so if the plot gets a mite convoluted, it’s because we are really watching a battle of ideas. Way less farty poo-poo than other Dreamworks animated features, Rise of the Guardians has a square-jawed elegance that occasionally hits a note of grandeur whenever it’s not just being silly.
Translating Joyce’s expansive universe was obviously not an easy task, and the movie spends a bit too much time just explaining all the ground rules. But it’s weird, specific vision feels like a welcome reprieve from cookie-cutter merchandise-driven kiddie flicks. Director Peter Ramsey really gets the most from these vocal performances, with Pine in particular etching out a fully rounded character. Overall it’s a bit of a mess, but Rise of the Guardians has poetry in its soul.