Santa delivers a tale for believers

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (PG)

Three stars

Stars the voices of Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Chris Pine, Isla Fisher, Alec Baldwin; directed by Peter Ramsey; 97minutes.

When I first heard the title of this animated film it sounded like a sequel to Legend of the Guardians. But, in fact, it's more like a fairytale version of The Avengers and is quite enjoyable, if a little muddled and uncentred.

Adapted from books by William Joyce, its scenario is that Santa Claus aka North (Alec Baldwin with a Russian accent), the Easter Bunny aka Bunny (Hugh Jackman, very Australian), the Tooth Fairy aka Tooth (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman (aka Sandy), who doesn't speak, are charged with the duty of watching over the children of the world and nurturing their hopes and dreams as well as - or perhaps as part of - their traditional roles.

Jack Frost (Chris Pine), a Peter Pan-like figure who enjoys making mischief with snowballs and the like, is appointed to this august band by the Man in the Moon, who is never heard or seen. Jack has his own issues. He doesn't know who he is or where be comes from and none of the children can see him. He's apparently been forgotten and that's the Guardians' weakness: it seems that if kids don't believe in you, you don't exist (if only such a simple system worked in the real world). And he's not so sure he wants to be a Guardian.

Pitch Black (Jude Law) is the baddie of the piece. He's the boogie man, who, angry and resentful at being shunned (that name surely doesn't help) is determined to make children afraid and destroy the Guardians by making children not believe in them any more. The battle lines are clearer than the story's theological/cosmological stance, which raises all sorts of questions and the Christmas/Easter debate between Santa and the Bunny neglects any mention of the reason for both holidays, as might be expected: anyone with a bee in the bonnet about creeping secular humanism might find ammunition here if so inclined, though I think the real problem in such a case would lie elsewhere.

This DreamWorks film looks very impressive and lacks the tongue-in-cheek, pop-culture laden quality of, say, the Shrek movies. And it's not afraid to have some moments of darkness (which might upset some younger viewers). But with so many characters it feels a bit unfocused at times - none of the Guardians has much depth, with running gags such as Santa using Russian composers' names as expletives standing in for much in the way of personality or development. And Jack's back story, when we finally hear it, lacks the emotional resonance it might have had.

Despite its flaws, Rise of the Guardians is still pretty good: impressive to look at, with some spectacular scenes, as well as some nicely handled moments of humour and dread. It's solid entertainment rather than a classic.

The story Santa delivers a tale for believers first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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