MANY of the benevolent icons of childhood innocence are the universally adored faces of capitalism and greed.
Father Christmas rewards well-behaved children with expensive gifts, the Tooth Fairy marks the loss of an incisor with money under the pillow and the Easter Bunny reduces an important Christian festival to a carnival of cocoa-smothered excess.
So it seems fitting that the computer-animated fantasy Rise Of The Guardians should imagine a world in which children suddenly stop believing in these idols simply because there are no brightly coloured parcels under the Christmas tree or chocolate eggs hidden in their garden.
Without proof in the form of material or financial reward, impressionable young minds turn their backs on centuries of myth and legend.
Based on The Guardians Of Childhood book series by William Joyce, Peter Ramsey’s entertaining family-oriented film is a timely reminder that there are many things without rigorous scientific proof that still touch our hearts and change our humdrum lives for the better.
Screening in 3D in selected cinemas, Rise Of The Guardians boasts a pleasing mix of action, adventure and comedy – the latter courtesy of Santa’s army of expressive elves – that should stoke younger audiences’ sense of wonder as they stuff their faces with popcorn.
The film is narrated by Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), who emerges from a frozen lake without any memory of the past.
At the North Pole, Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) and his elves are hard at work when darkness flashes across his map of the Earth.
“The bogeyman was here,” Santa tells his fellow guardians Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and Sandman, who refuse to believe that Pitch Black (Jude Law) has risen to challenge their supremacy with his hideous nightmares.
Once the threat posed by Pitch Black becomes terrifyingly real, the guardians prepare to welcome a new recruit to their fold: Jack Frost.
“All he does is freeze pipes and mess with my egg hunts!” scoffs Easter Bunny.
Pitch Black gains in strength and the children of the world turn their backs on Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Sandman until just one boy, Jamie (Dakota Goyo), believes.
Everything rests on Jack achieving his destiny but he is haunted by the past he cannot recall.
“How can I know who I am until I know who I was?” he laments.
Rise Of The Guardians unfolds at a brisk pace, leaving scant time for in-depth characterisation between the eye-popping action sequences.
Law is a slightly lacklustre villain but other vocal performances are solid and Jackman trades dry Antipodean wit as the macho bunny with a bonzer boomerang.
Visuals lack the meticulous detail and complexity of Pixar’s recent offerings but colour radiates from the screen and director Ramsey combines the various elements with confidence.
STAR RATING: ***