Rise Of The Guardians
Director: Peter Ramsey.
Cast: (voices of) Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher.
THE Avengers isn't the only super-powered ensemble to impress on the big screen this year.
In fact, Rise Of The Guardians is a lot like a childrenised version of Marvel's blockbuster team-up - instead of Thor, Iron Man and The Hulk joining forces, we have Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy combining to battle evil.
As with The Avengers, each of the characters is given their time to shine and is nicely developed, while a tidy sense of humour sparkles on top of the darker undercurrents of the story.
The big bad here is Pitch, aka The Bogeyman, deliciously voiced by Law and hell-bent on infesting children with his nightmares in the hopes of becoming properly "believed in".
Standing in Pitch's way is North (aka Santa, voiced by a Russian-accented Baldwin), a boomerang wielding Easter Bunny (Jackman), the silent yet powerful Sandman, the birdlike Tooth Fairy (Fisher), and reckless newcomer Jack Frost (Pine).
It's Frost who is the central figure, with his search for identity and meaning in his life one of the key themes in this surprisingly deep and thoughtful children's adventure.
Duty, selflessness, teamwork, finding your purpose and overcoming your fears are often standard go-to ideals for a kid's flick, but in Rise Of The Guardians they feel fresh thanks to being dealt with intelligently, with the dumbing down kept to a minimum.
While few of its ideas are original - its characters are tweaked classics and even its "power of belief" plot was handled more cleverly and satirically in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Small Gods - the combination of its elements is exciting for all ages.
Pitch is a particularly intriguing character, artfully shaded to look like he's stepped out of a black and white film noir and developed enough to be more than a caricature.
Law's voicework is excellent, as is the broad Russian accent Baldwin brings to North. Jackman is allowed to let his ockerness run free, which borders on being a bit too "Strine" at time, but it's only Pine's too-mature voice that's really out of place.
The spectacle is excellent, from its continuous take chases to its hyper-powered battles. It should go without saying in this golden age of CG films, but Rise Of The Guardians looks amazing. Equally, the sound design is impressive, as is the use of light throughout - kids movies don't usually have this amount of flair too them.
It's not perfect - it's ending is too convenient and predictable and doesn't really make sense in the global scale of the movie - but it's thoroughly enjoyable, no matter how old or young you are, and that is the makings of a great family film.
Now, all we can do is sit back and weight for the inevitably disappointing sequels.