Kind of a gateway drug for kids too young for The Avengers, Rise Of The Guardians is what happens when you pump Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman full of cinematic steroids.
Taken from kid-lit author William Joyce's series that re-imagines these secular holiday/folkloric characters as heroes protecting Earth's children, the manic CG animated Rise is a superhero movie in every way that counts.
There's no "jolly old elf" to be found here. Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin), or "North" as his pals call him, is a Russian wrestler-type, with tattoos and yetis making toys in his workshop instead of elves. The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is a 'roo-sized Aussie-accented jackrabbit with ninja skills.
The mute Sandman commands those particles of silicate with lethal force when necessary. And Tooth (Isla Fisher)? Well, she's got an army of tiny fairies.
The protagonist, however, is Jack Frost (Chris Pine), a mischievous prankster whose moral ambiguity has left him invisible to children (unlike our Guardian pals). And he is pointedly on the fence when the greatest enemy of children everywhere, the king of nightmares Pitch (Jude Law), a.k.a. the Boogeyman, makes his move.
However, the Man in the Moon (insert your deity of choice here) has wordlessly communicated that Jack is "the chosen one" who can defeat Pitch -- much to the consternation of the more official heroes.
Thus does Rise Of The Guardians acquire the typical superhero arc. Evil force arrives, sends heroes reeling. After much soul-searching and a bout of defeatism, they pick themselves up off the canvas and, in a blinding and noisy last act (backed by a feisty band of pure-hearted children), all is righted in the world.
Adults who overthink such things may find themselves wondering what the point of it all is. The tipping point in the war with Pitch is Jamie (Toronto kid Dakota Goyo), the last child in the world who "believes" in our heroes' existence.
But stripped of context, what are Christmas and Easter anyway? At one point, Pitch taunts the Guardians, telling them that "children only love you because you bribe them." Well? Reply? There isn't one. Come to think of it, the Easter Bunny's chocolate eggs and the Tooth Fairy's money-for-molars could be a scam they've worked out together.
None of this will matter to a very young audience, who will see only a scary villain who's the source of all their nightmares, getting his grey butt kicked by beloved figures who are usually depicted as about as tough as Strawberry Shortcake or My Little Pony.
Director Peter Ramsey amps the whole thing an excited pace that might exhaust even a hyperactive five-year-old. And the stylistic animation gives the movie and the characters a pleasing esthetic and even a little soul.