Santa, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are all elevated to superhero status in this whimsical animated adventure from DreamWorks based on a book by William Joyce. Young Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) risks cracking under pressure after being chosen to join their ranks and defend the world's children from evil (Jude Law providing the requisite English accent).
Alec Baldwin lends his gravelly tenor to North - aka Father Christmas - and Hugh Jackman gives Bunny an Aussie twang as the more outspoken of the bunch who reckons Frost is bad news. In contrast, Isla Fisher is all sweetness and light as Tooth, and adds a little festive cheer as well with her sparkly outfit and rainbow wings. The Sandman keeps a hush for obvious reasons.
It's a motley crew charged with preserving hope in the hearts of children around the world, but Frost is more concerned with having wild times, laying down ice for little ones to slide around on at their peril. Illustrator-turned-director Peter Ramsey has fun with him too, staging an icy rollercoaster ride through traffic to get the action moving early on and making the most of the 3D effect.
Unlike the other guardians, however, Frost is invisible to humans because nobody believes in him. Apart from battling Law's black-clad fear-monger Pitch, his quest is to restore faith in himself and this means finding out what happened to him in a previous life. The past is a source of mystery from the opening scene, but writer David Lindsay-Abaire (Inkheart, Robots) lets the thread slip.
The closer Frost comes to uncovering the truth, the less important it seems to be, especially at the vital moment when Pitch offers him those long-forgotten memories in a tidy golden casing. The revelations then throw up more questions about his family, which Frost is too content to let go unanswered. It's a jarring moment for a hero bent on proving his caring side.
While the characters aren't fully realised, their mission to thwart Pitch does provide some exciting set pieces and a good dose of magic. Nightmares composed of glittering black sand shaped like stallions are beautifully visualised, but this is mostly a bright, candy-coloured film that includes a tour of Santa's workshop and a bit of slapstick humour courtesy of the elves.
Like the old man's sleigh, it's designed to offer an easy, breezy ride with a few new bells and whistles added to old-fashioned elements. That hardly makes for ground-breaking entertainment, but there's a comfort in familiarity, and the energy of the cast and the dreamy visuals should keep kids in a state of wonderment, even if grownups are only wondering what the time is.