When the dastardly Pitch Black returns to the world and threatens to stop children believing in them, the mystical Guardians have to unite to thwart him. But Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny et al are about to find a new member, impish Jack Frost (Pine).
The beginning of Rise Of The Guardians is disconcertingly like the beginning of The Bourne Identity. A limp young man floats up through the water and, on gaining consciousness, has no idea who he is, nor how he got there. The difference here is that Jack Frost (Chris Pine) has the power to fly and turn everything icy, rather than the ability to kill people with a rolled-up Angler’s Mail.
Jack’s journey is to learn how he became who he is and why he has been chosen to be a member of the Guardians, a group of ‘mythical’ beings — Father Christmas (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the (silent) Sandman — who delight kids and protect them from fear in the form of Pitch Black (Jude Law). But these Guardians all have defined reasons for being. How does Jack, with no holiday to call his own, offer a reason to believe in him?
Based on a series of books by William Joyce, a children’s author with the air of a crackpot uncle, who’s had a hand in films from Toy Story to Robots, Rise Of The Guardians inhabits a hugely detailed, beautifully designed world. It’s sparing with the cutesy stuff and more redolent of the sinister edge you might find in an old edition of the Grimm fairy tales.
The mark of a well-considered fantasy universe is that you can imagine it continuing even outside of the story and this feels like a world, not just a setting. Screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire and first time feature director Peter Ramsey seem to have considered everything, even down to international variations of the heroes (did you know France has a tooth mouse rather than a fairy?).
For a family film it’s surprisingly dense with plot. That’s not to say it’s slow moving — quite the opposite. It squeezes in a quest for a purpose, a death, a child invading a fantasy world, an almost apocalypse and at least three big chase scenes. The only thing it doesn’t do — a near crime when Santa is right there — is make time for Christmas. For packing so much else in, that is forgiven.
Its gorgeously designed, deftly written and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. For child or adult, this is a fantasy to get lost in.