At first I found the idea of recasting Santa Claus as a sword-wielding Cossack ridiculous, like some screenwriter was scraping the bottom of the ideas barrel.
But when you see the entire mythology behind ”Rise of the Guardians”, the characterisations work. Santa (Baldwin) is joined by a ninja-like, boomerang-wielding rabbit who speaks like Steve Irwin as the Easter Bunny (Jackman), a portly mute made of golden sand for the Sandman and a mermaid/bird inspired thing for the Tooth Fairy (Fisher).
The reason they’re so distinctive is because it’s based on a series of books, and because of the structure and the beats of the story, it has all the hallmarks of a movie to come from the sausage machine that is Dreamworks Animation.
The four heroes are Guardians, tasked with protecting the children of the world and existing only as long as kids believe in them. A fourth mythical figure, Jack Frost (Pine), has no such responsibility, spending his time causing mischief as he ices over ponds, roads and power lines with gleeful abandon and otherwise wondering what his purpose in life is.
But there’s a shadow coming – the Boogeyman – also knows as Pitch Black (Law), who wants to be believed by giving children nightmares. When the Guardians are called together to wage war on him, Jack is recruited into their midst and made a reluctant hero to help fight.
It allows for lots of scenes in the otherworldly hideouts of the various creatures, and although you won’t notice it as you watch the story, the amount of detail and design that goes into each is staggering. Kinetic, roller coaster-like chase and action sequences abound, and there’s plenty for modern American kids to relate to (the unconscious aim of all mainstream American cinema) along with a sudsy dose of finding your place and being true to yourself.
Guillermo Del Toro exec produced the film, but his presence isn’t very strongly felt. Despite an inventive premise (which didn’t come from the studio or screenwriter anyway) this is cookie cutter Hollywood filmmaking all the way.