Animated movies like "Arthur Christmas" or "The Polar Express" are designed to spark holiday cheer either through slapstick comedy or the marvels of the season. They have some tense moments to create drama -- but never to the point of distraction.
There are too many distractions in "Rise of the Guardians" to make this a holiday treat for the entire family. It's a dark tale that is too intense for young viewers and maybe even a few older moviegoers.
The film, based on "The Guardians of Childhood" books by William Joyce, reveals that North (Alec Baldwin), better known as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman (no voice actor; he never speaks) have a bigger calling than just providing gifts, eggs, quarters and sweet dreams. They've been charged by the Man in the Moon with the task of watching over all of the children of the world.
They need help when Pitch (Jude Law) -- better known as the Bogeyman -- shows up to bring misery to children everywhere. The impetuous Jack Frost (Chris Pine) is recruited to fight the evil darkness that's trying to children non-believers.
Director Peter Ramsey created a film with two distinct halves.
Parts of the movie are light and funny, especially those scenes with a group of goofy elves. There's a silliness to this part of the story that makes it the kind of fun entertainment people search for during the hustle of the holidays.
Then there's the efforts of Pitch to ruin some of the major things that makes childhood bearable. Each foreboding moment -- from death to despair -- drags the movie further away from the holiday spirit. That darkness eventually eclipses the fun aspects of the story.
The film is beautifully shot, but it fails to find the right story tone to fit the gorgeous look.
And the film is all over when it comes to voice talent. Jackman's perfect as the Rambo-like Easter Bunny and Law brings the perfect sinister tone to Pitch. But the casting of Pine as the young Jack Frost is a nightmare. His voice sounds far too old for Frost, which is jarring each time he speaks.
Ramsey also has trouble with pacing. There are several sequences -- including the efforts of the Guardians to replace lost teeth, placed under pillows, with coins -- that run past the point of entertainment to tedium. It would have been better use of time to spend a few more scenes with the elves -- a wasted comic relief element.
"Rise of the Guardian" has its moments -- both good and bad. It's like getting a pair of socks as a Christmas gift. It could be worse. It could be better.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Rated: PG for scary sequences.
Stars: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher. Directed by Peter Ramsey.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.