Rise of the Guardians, based on a series of children's books by William Joyce, is a stylish piece of animation and good family holiday fare. The guardians (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy) are benevolent forces of good, protecting children by encouraging wonder and joy. When that wonder and joy are threatened by boogie man Pitch, the guardians are instructed by the omniscient Man in the Moon to bring a new member into their fold--mischievous sprite Jack Frost.
The film may be called Rise of the Guardians, but it's really Jack Frost's story. Jack doesn't fit in with the rest of the guardians. For one, no one really believes in Jack Frost. Unlike the others, who gain their power through the belief of children, Jack's simply exist. The children of the world don't see or hear him, but he makes sure they have plenty of fun nonetheless. He's just not all that invested in being a guardian, per se.
He also might just have more in common with Pitch than he does with the Guardians. This dichotomy leads to one of the most interesting themes in the film. Despite the presence of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, the film makes a point of staying away from religion--maybe. Jack begs for guidance and answers from the mysterious and pointedly distant Man in the Moon, while being courted and tempted by the very present Pitch.
In addition to its more serious moments, the film provides plenty of comedy, especially from its supporting characters. Each of the guardians have cute, funny henchmen--the elves and yetis for Santa Claus, the mini fairies for Tooth, large eggs for Bunny, and the beautifully animated dream creatures the Sandman creates. The Sandman sequences are probably the most impressive animation in the film; their detail and movement are wonderful to watch.
The film's story is serviceable enough; engaging and entertaining for kids without talking down to them or the parents who take them. The animation is stunning, the characters are intriguing, and the voice cast is game and energetic--and with all these elements in place, I can't help but feel like there is a better movie buried somewhere in there. Rise of the Guardians is good, but not quite great.