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updated: 11/20/2012 6:15 AM

'Guardians' a frosty, fleet-footed fantasy

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  • The silent Sandman fights for good in the animated fantasy "Rise of the Guardians."

    The silent Sandman fights for good in the animated fantasy "Rise of the Guardians."

  • Video: Rise of the Guardians trailer


To clear up any confusion, "Rise of the Guardians" has nothing to do with the 2010 animated feature "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole."

The latter was a subpar effort from director Zack Snyder, who used so many lame slow-motion shots and bullet-time devices that my eyes hurt by the ending.

The former, "Rise of the Guardians," comes from first-timer Peter Ramsey, who directs a fleet-footed fantasy with Frost, fighting, friends and feelings.

In fact, the young hero of "Rise of the Guardians," Jack Frost, becomes a perfect metaphor for the insecurities of young children, who often think of themselves as powerless, invisible to the world.

Jack (voiced by Chris Pine, James T. Kirk in the new "Star Trek" reboot) doesn't remember his past. Only that the Man in the Moon has given him a name and a job: to bring the frost every fall. He grows to hate his job because no one can see him. No one can hear him. He feels unappreciated and worthless.

Not like North (aka Santa Claus, voiced by Alec Baldwin in a thick Slavic accent) or the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher, sounding feisty) or the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman, laying on his Aussie accent) or Sandy, the silent sandman who puts children to sleep every night. They make up the Guardians, supernatural entities who've sworn to watch over and protect the world's children.

From what? From the Boogeyman, also known as Pitch Black (another British baddie voiced by Jude Law). He pops up with a diabolical plan to destroy the Guardians by persuading the world's children to cease believing in them. (Like Tinkerbell, they apparently need spiritual support to maintain their existences.)

North recognizes that Jack Frost would be a valuable asset to the Guardians.

But Bunny (imagine a 6-foot, 2-inch pushy version of Harvey with an Aussie accent) doesn't like the icy kid and tries to block his nomination, so to speak.

Meanwhile, Pitch Black initiates his plot to screw up Easter egg deliveries so that the world's kids will turn against Bunny and his fellow Guardians. Pitch is particularly skilled at changing the happy unicorns in children's dreams into frightening "night mares," scary black horses snorting soot and ash.

Things become dire for the good guys when Pitch's plan seems to work. Every child on the globe stops believing in the magical entities. Except for one: a lad named Jamie who has already played with Jack Frost without ever knowing it.

"Rise of the Guardians" comes crammed with a smorgasbord of fantastic images, marvelously mounted in eye-popping 3-D (in select theaters). Kazillions of Easter eggs scramble around on adorable little legs. Tooth uses an army of tiny cute fairies to collect children's baby teeth all over the planet. North's sleigh is a USS Enterprise version of Santa's classic chassis, although it uses only six reindeer.

This action-packed tale never bores, but by the same measure never achieves the same level of emotional involvement or sense of magic of a Pixar experience that this DreamWorks release so clearly attempts to emulate.

"Guardians" heavily depends on action set pieces at the expense of important dramatic moments.

Plus, this story -- based on William Joyce's book series "Guardians of Childhood" -- falls back on violence as an easy, visual solution for conflicts, with Santa brandishing a sword in each hand!

Fisher's Tooth Fairy hardly registers in the tale until the end, when she punches a character in the face to show her disapproval.

Really? Do kids movies want to validate heroic characters hitting people just to show how they feel?

No wonder Santa has two swords.

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