Not since Space Jam (1996) has a film with animation gone to such great lengths to make classic childhood mascots seem edgy and new. An even older class of household names is reinvented in Rise of the Guardians, which brings together a sword-wielding Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), a boomerang-chucking Easter Bunny (Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman) and several other made-over mainstays. There’s a bickering and banteringAvengers vibe to the supergroup. “Some of us work more than one day a year,” Isla Fisher’s Tooth Fairy reminds her holiday-associated teammates, while reluctant rookie Jack Frost (Chris Pine) has a Tony Stark–ish streak of devil-may-care irreverence. And then there’s the opposition: a nightmare-dispensing bogeyman, voiced by Jude Law with the same snide menace Tom Hiddleston brought to Joss Whedon’s tag-team blockbuster.
Guardians, of course, was in development long before the Avengers assembled in May. This handsome but hyperactive fantasy draws its inspiration instead from a dozen other sources—among them The Nightmare Before Christmas, Monsters, Inc. and the William Joyce book series upon which it’s officially based. The Guardians, meanwhile, draw their strength from the belief of children; it’s an ironic plot point, given the film’s desperate attempts to make a new generation of jaded youngsters believe in these iconic, beloved characters. A few colorful details aside, Rise of the Guardians goes light on the type of wide-eyed wonder it purports to champion. It’s more like something off the Hollywood assembly line than a gift from Santa’s workshop.