As an animation house, Dreamworks tends to rely heavily on a wash, rinse and repeat formula for its family entertainment, mixing light-weight storytelling with A-list star power and shallow pop culture references. Occasionally, the formula works, as in Shrek or Kung Fu Panda. More often than not, though, the results are instantly forgettable and, in the worst cases (Shark Tale, anyone?), grating. No wonder How to Train Your Dragon was such an abashed joy: it was the rare entry in their catalogue to focus on heart, imagination and storytelling over exhausted market-tested gimmickry.
While their latest, the generically titled Rise of the Guardians (No, the owls of Ga’Hoole do not cameo), never soars to the breathtaking heights of the exhilaratingly loveable Dragon, it nonetheless makes broad, colourful strides in the right direction. Based on William Joyce’s "The Guardians of Childhood" book series, Rise boasts a premise that is ingenious in its kid-pleasing appeal: Santa Claus (called North and played by Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman – a cheeky highlight in rugby hooligan mode), Sandman and the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) are a top secret super-team responsible for protecting Earth’s ankle biters. Their greatest foe? Pitch Black (slyly silky Jude Law), better known as the Boogieman, who seeks to weaken the Guardians’ powers by polluting children’s sleep with nightmares.