Perfectly positioned before the Christmas period and after the staggering success of The Avengers, Rise of the Guardians, based on a series of books called The Guardians of Childhood, unites a series of mythical creatures into an an Avengers-like team of children's defenders. Created by Dreamworks Animation it follows on from box office successes like Kung Fu Panda 2 and How to Train Your Dragon and is directed by Peter Ramsey.
North AKA Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) is in his workshop when he sees a vision of Pitch Black AKA The Boogeyman (Jude Law). Concerned he calls together The Guardians are a secret group of mythical creatures that protect children all over the world. Once Bunny AKA The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth AKA The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and Sandy AKA The Sandman arrive, they consult The Man in the Moon about what to do. He shows them a new Guardian whom they must convince to join them a teenager called Jack Frost (Chris Pine). Once assembled the Guardian are tricked into an evil plan by Pitch that sees all the children of the world lose faith in them, which in turn saps their powers and it's left up to Jack to find his inner worth and try to save the day.
While comparisons to The Avengers and a host of other Christmas-related adventures are obvious, where Rise of the Guardians really finds its kindred spirit is, bizarrely, The Bourne Identity. The opening scenes that see the birth of Jack Frost are so reminiscent of the beginning of the Bourne saga that it can't be coincidence. The central thrust of the emotional story follows Jack and his inability to remember who he is and why he has the powers he has. It is this classic children's film trope that grounds the action of Rise of the Guardians and through flashbacks provide the film with its most unique and interesting elements.
As is standard with most modern animation there are a selection of cutesy non-speaking creations to entertain the kids and provide slapstick humour, in this case Santa's inept elves, whom it is revealed don't actually make the toys (a job left to the extremely talented abominable snowmen) but that North keeps them happy by just pretending "they're doing a good job." It is a testament to the Ramsey that the world of Rise of the Guardians feels like an organic real place, rather than just a simple setting to tell one story. The influence of executive producer Guillermo del Toro is apparent with the host of weird and wonderful creatures like Bunny's walking Easter eggs and Tooth's army of tooth fairies. The detail even extends to other nationalities takes on these myths, like the French Tooth Mouse.
Despite these positives and a plot that zips along, barely taking breath to explore anything too long, Rise of the Guardians still lacks some of the magic that it espouses. The interplay between the guardians themselves can be limp and because of the number of them, there's little time outside of a tooth collecting mini-adventure to really see them at their best. But as the first in what will no doubt become a franchise, Rise of the Guardians has enough originality and interest to keep even the most cynical viewer entertained. It's full of Christmas cheer, even though it's technically set at Easter.
Rating: * * * 1/2