"Rise of the Guardians" ***
RATED PG (thematic elements and some mildly scary action)
DIRECTOR: Peter Ramsey
VOICE CAST: Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law and Chris Pine
"Rise of the Guardians" is like an "Avengers" for the grade-school set, an all-star gang of iconic characters from childhood.
Santa Claus, aka North (voiced by Alec Baldwin), leads this dream team, but he doesn't act like the jolly man at the mall. The burly Russian with tattooed arms wields two swords and runs a command center where he can monitor kids around the world. North's fellow Guardians are the flittering Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the silent Sandman and a not-so-cuddly Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman, who is more Indiana Jones than Peter Rabbit).
The Guardians' mission is to watch over all children. The four have been summoned by the Man in the Moon to fight Pitch (a wicked Jude Law), a spirit who wants to fill the world with darkness. He plots to make kids stop believing in the Guardians, which would render the legends powerless.
But the Man in the Moon wants to add one more player to the team: Jack Frost (Chris Pine). With his hoodie, spiky hair and nagging amnesia, Jack is like a teen Jason Bourne. When Tooth promises to investigate Jack's early life, he signs on to help the group.
Like other superhero teams, some of the Guardians have more appeal than others. Not surprisingly, North and Bunny (and their respective workshop and warren) fare better than Tooth or Sandman. Jack is just right as the young member struggling to find his place.
The film, from first-time director Peter Ramsey, has moments of real sadness, especially when it comes to Jack's back story and the fate of one of the Guardians. The movie is based on a series by author William Joyce, whose Oscar-winning short, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," also had more substance than most animated films.
But kids will focus on the adventure, the wondrous settings and the fun in seeing their idols on screen together. The Guardians make a winning team that is a prime candidate for a sequel, just like "The Avengers."