Movie Review: 'Guardians' rises to the occasion

Dana Barbuto

“It is our job to watch over the children of the world and keep them safe,” says Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin) in the perfunctory “Rise of the Guardians.” And by “our,” Santa means Jack Frost, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, Easter Bunny and himself. It’s an all-star lineup of immortal icons joining forces (think “Avengers”) to battle a boogeyman called Pitch (Jude Law).

It’s a good-versus-evil set up that might be as old as time, but Southie screenwriter/playwright David Lindsay-Abaire — working from the William Joyce children’s book — crafts a story that’s just scary enough to keep little eyes trained on the screen and little backsides planted firmly in seats.

Christmas is just a few weeks away, but Santa — called North here — isn’t the top dog in “Rise of the Guardians.” The movie is stolen by another short, rotund dude — the magical Sandman, whose dreams he whimsically delivers to sleeping children are stolen by Pitch and replaced with nightmares. Sandman is a mute to boot, and communicates through facial expressions, body language and crafting imagery out of swirling and glittery gold-lines of sand.

While the movie is a visual delight of color and texture, it runs into some second-act problems when Lindsay-Abaire relies too much on expository dialogue to advance the story of a conflicted Jack Frost (Chris Pine) trying to discover the secrets of his past. Couple that with preaching about the power of believing and not believing in mythical beings (Pitch also thwarts Easter and ruins the Tooth Fairy’s well-oiled operation, causing the world’s tykes not to believe), and the film stops dead in the tracks left by Santa’s sleigh. The action slows, but the upside is that by the end, there won’t be a doubter in the room.

In his feature debut, director Peter Ramsey delivers a light and fun — if by-the-numbers — kids flick. Stop me if you’ve seen these standard-issue staples before: silly elves, a character that leaves and reappears at a pivotal moment, funny voices, a lesson and a plot in which good trumps evil. At least when the going starts to fall flat in “Rise of the Guardians,” there’s a good snowball fight or high-speed sleigh ride to draw you back in. The unevenness does get tedious, but the characters are refreshingly drawn out-of-the box. The formidable forearms of Santa (voiced in a Russian accent by Baldwin, ripping off Steve Carell’s Gru from “Despicable Me”) are inked with “Naughty” and “Nice” tattoos. The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is Australian and has a big chip on his shoulder. Isla Fisher’s Tooth Fairy is sweetly high strung and excessively enthusiastic.

It’s predictable, but when it has to, “Guardians” rises to the occasion.

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (B)

(PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action). Cast includes Jude Law, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Chris Pine and Hugh Jackman. Directed by Peter Ramsey.

Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com.