USA TODAY - What would happen if Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy joined forces like a storybook troop of Avengers action heroes?
According to Rise of the Guardians (* * ½ out of four; rated PG), their coming together would be visually arresting but frenetic. Mashing up all these mythical heroes into one overstuffed tale offers some moments of enchantment. But the overall 3-D computer-animated spectacle, with its roller-coaster pace and large cast of characters, seems as overloaded as a bulging Christmas stocking.
The good vs. evil story is centered on Jack Frost (charmingly voiced by Chris Pine), who feels left out of the pantheon of beloved legendary figures. Even the mutely endearing Sandman is part of the in crowd, but silver-haired Jack is inexplicably the odd man out.
But when a sinister bogeyman known as Pitch (Jude Law) threatens to turn all dreams into nightmares and obscure the good being done by North (Alec Baldwin), a Santa variant, the lanky E. Aster Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and the flitting fairy named Tooth (Isla Fisher), Jack is called in to help fight the good fight. The evil Pitch's goal is to stomp out belief in these storied icons. The happiness of imaginative children is at stake, so all must join forces to preserve their illusions.
Viewers of all ages are encouraged to embrace their inner child, and specifically their innocent sense of wonder, in this tale based on William Joyce's book series The Guardians of Childhood.
Some scenes, as directed by Peter Ramsey, are particularly inventive, such as the Easter Bunny's land, which artfully incorporates the famous Easter Island statues.
The Santa Claus character is humorously voiced by Baldwin, but it's not entirely clear why he has a thick Russian accent and arms lined with tattoos. (Though having the words "Naughty" and "Nice" inked among the tats is a cute touch.)
Jack Frost whooshes and flies with an appealing abandon. But he's a troubled loner. In a flashback, audiences learn the reasons for his icy, solitary existence and why he wants so badly to be seen by human kids as they frolic in the snow. His pale boyish character - vaguely reminiscent of Japanese animé drawings - is the most intriguing of the heroes, particularly as he uncovers his mysterious origins.
Though it could have left more magic to the imagination and left out a few treacly clichés, the concept is elegantly simple: Storybook figures look out for children who, for their part, keep their holiday-centered legends alive. With its fanciful razzle-dazzle, Rise of the Guardians is appealing, if slightly hectic, family fare.