Everybody wants to be a superhero these days, and that apparently includes Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, who become weapons-wielding warriors in "Rise of the Guardians." Their common foe: a bogeyman named Pitch, who plans to rule the world by crushing the hopes of children.
This animated, 3-D film is essentially a Marvel-ized version of old fairy tales, but "Rise of the Guardians" has several things going for it. For one, it's quite beautiful, filled with shimmering light and deep shadows. (Its visual consultant is Roger Deakins, the cinematographer known for his Coen brothers films.) It also tells a thematically rich story, thanks to screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who builds nicely upon William Joyce's novels.
Our hero is Jack Frost (an appealing Chris Pine), cleverly envisioned as a tousle-haired teen in a hoodie. He's a B-lister in the mythical pantheon, but when Pitch (Jude Law, one of the U.K.'s great sneerers) launches his campaign of nightmares, Jack is drafted into the league of Guardians. He also undergoes a personal journey, which means -- you guessed it -- an origin story.
Jack feels like a real character, but his cohorts feel overly contrived. Santa Claus, nicknamed North (Alec Baldwin), is a kind of Russian biker with "nice" and "naughty" tattoos; the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) is pretty but that's all; Sandy the Sandman goofs around like Harpo Marx (he never speaks). E. Aster Bunnymund, a macho rodent with the Aussie yawp of Hugh Jackman, leads an army of tiny, walking eggs -- not the most rousing image.
Jack's back story isn't all sweetness and light (director Peter Ramsey handles the material deftly), but it gives "Rise of the Guardians" some welcome heft. Still, as with so many superhero movies, I fear the sequel.
PLOT Jack Frost joins Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy to battle a common foe.
BOTTOM LINE Beautiful visuals and rich storytelling elevate this animated movie above the usual kids' fare.