No one can accuse the makers of "Rise of the Guardians" of being stingy with the story.
The 3-D animated adventure is packed with characters, each of whom seems worthy of his or her own movie. In fact, each is the focus of fat, individual books by William Joyce but here function as a team.
As guardians, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman protect the safety and innocence of children. The Man in the Moon, who calls the shots, decides to add Jack Frost to their crew 300 years after the teenager drowned and returned to life with the ability to create frost, snow and wind.
Everyone is confused by this choice, including Jack. "You're all hard work and deadlines. I'm all snowballs and fun times," the prankster, who is invisible to children, boasts.
2.5 stars = Average
- Starring: Voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law.
- Rating: PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action.
Jack and the others have to join forces when the bogeyman Pitch, as in Pitch Black, turns children's dreams into nightmares. Faith in the guardians and their cherished rituals are put in jeopardy -- soon, a boy named Jamie is the only believer in the world -- even as Jack is given the chance to find out who he was and who he can be.
In other words, there is a lot going on here, with famous voices behind the computer-generated guardians. Alec Baldwin is Nicholas St. North, a burly Cossack warrior chosen to be Santa Claus but who keeps his wild streak alive with forearm "Naughty" and "Nice" tattoos.
Hugh Jackman voices the Easter Bunny, Isla Fisher is the Tooth Fairy, Chris Pine speaks for Jack Frost, Jude Law is the evil Pitch and Dakota Goyo, the boy from "Real Steel," is Jamie. The Sandman, dispenser of pure golden sand that produces happy dreams, is silent.
The animation is splendid here, with great care and imagination taken in creating such backdrops as a manly wooden fortress for Santa, a Southeastern Asian palace for the Tooth Fairy, a half-human, half-hummingbird creature with gold-flecked feathers of blue and green, and the bunny's wondrous warren.
Longtime storyboard artist Peter Ramsey makes his feature directing debut while playwright David Lindsay-Abaire ("Oz: The Great and Powerful," "Rabbit Hole") turns Mr. Joyce's stories into a screenplay. Alexandre Desplat, a four-time Oscar nominee for projects such as "The King's Speech," composed the music.
Unlike the other guardians, Jack comes by his talents through tragedy but he is given the chance to go from loner to heroic team player. Jack should pull us, emotionally, through the story but there are so many characters that our attention is divided and then divided again.
If you're not going to raise a lump in the throat, what about lightening the mood? The elves, who toddle underfoot and leave the toy making to others, are underutilized. Too often, "Rise of the Guardians" seems like a sophisticated family film made for appreciative adults rather than children, as intended.