Rise of the Guardians opens in cinemas this Thursday.
(PG, 97 minutes.)
In the new children's animated release Rise of the Guardians, Jack Frost is your basic second-tier spirit figure: a perpetually wispy teen who resembles a member of One Direction after a peroxide overdose and who brings snow and the wintry fun that comes with it but doesn't command the belief of childhood's big four: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and the Sandman. He's a loner, and a definite ice abuser to boot. As voiced, with some emotional bluntness, by Star Trek's new Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, Jack doesn't have the faith of kids - he's just not trending - so they can't see him, but when Pitch Black, aka the Boogeyman, tries to recapture his previous heyday, the Dark Ages, it's Jack who this mythic underworld's non-confrontational deity, the Man in the Moon, nominates as the saviour of his better-known colleagues.
Jude Law voices the character of Pitch Black, aka the Boogeyman.
Liberally updated from William Joyce's storybooks, Rise of the Guardians thankfully doesn't look or sound like most animated fare. The colour palette is earthier and the characters look more bizarre than fetchingly cute, especially the yetis and diminutive elves that do the work at the North Pole, while there are looming shadows derived from German expressionism whenever Pitch Black and his minions try to destroy kids' faith.
By doing without the sly gags meant to knowingly amuse adults chaperoning children, the film feels more connected to the folk stories that originally inspired the characters. Santa Claus has a Russian heritage, complete with a thick accent from Alec Baldwin, although Hugh Jackman's wary Easter Bunny is as Australian as his boomerangs and demands that Jack ''rack off''.
There are requisite lessons to learn - Jack must become a team player and appreciate the value of helping others - but the film is really about the struggle of traditional belief to endure in an increasingly secular world. When kids stop believing in the various Guardians they lose their powers, and the unlikely movie this most resembles is Paul Thomas Anderson's labyrinthine drama The Master, which is also fascinated by the mechanics of indoctrination.
Unfolding mostly at night, when the dreams of children are the battleground of the Sandman and Pitch Black, who draws a malevolent vocal performance from Jude Law, Rise of the Guardians plays to a young audience, but it wants children to believe there's more to animation than fast-food tie-ins.