Photo credit: Courtesy of Dreamworks Animation, Courtesy of Dreamworks Animation
North (Alec Baldwin, center), along with Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman, rear center), Tooth (Isla Fisher, rear right) and two of his Yettis welcome Jack Frost (Chris Pine, not featured) in DreamWorks Animation?s RISE OF THE GUARDIANS to be released by Paramount Pictures. RG-044

Who knew that all of those childhood icons — you know, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, Easter Bunny and, of course, the big guy himself, Santa Claus — not only know each other, but under the direction of the Man in the Moon — sort of a Nick Fury character who says and does nothing perceptible — are part of a coordinated network that protects children worldwide. Known as the Guardians, this collection of, well, superheroes, is not unlike the Avengers or the Justice League.

Brace yourself. These are not the Hallmark or Coca-Cola portrayals we all grew up with. DreamWorks delivers characters with clout. Santa, aka North, is buff, tough and … Russian. He's very cool, big-hearted and Alec Baldwin does a great job giving North his voice.

The Easter Bunny, with the voice of Hugh Jackman, is not fluffy, not cuddly but is devoted to his task and, in a Crocodile Dundee sort of way, is lovingly Australian.

Then we have the Tooth Fairy, who is a little reminiscent of Tinkerbelle. Given Voice by Isla Fisher, Tooth collects the teeth of kids and carefully stores them away because they contain the childhood memories. Oh, and I need to mention Sandman, who communicates with sandy little thoughts that materialize above his heard. Sand is not just a little sleepy guy who gives you sweet dreams. When irritated he can deliver a sandstorm in defense of children and his fellow Guardians.

So, what is the threat that causes them to unite and even welcome a new Guardian into their ranks? It's Pitch Black, aka The Boogeyman. For more than 300 years, Pitch, with the beguiling, sinister voice of Jude Law, has been banished in obscurity because of the hope and joy spread by the above mentioned players. But it's time for him to make his comeback by spreading fear and bad dreams around the world.

This is where Jack Frost comes in. Sounding a lot like Chris Pine, Jack is a free, fun spirit who loves to spread winter cheer, instigate snowball fights and provide beloved "snow days." But Jack doesn't know who — or even why — he is. He starts to get clarity when recruited by the Guardians and ultimately he is the key to relegating the Boogeyman back to the pages of the Dark Ages.

"The Rise of the Guardians" is a fanciful, eclectic and wonderful addition to the holiday cinematic repertoire. While loaded with action — after all, I did make the comparison to The Avengers" — the film still carries sweetness and treats with respect time-honored tales and lore. The little asides are terrific. For example, we learn that Santa's elves just think they make the toys while it's really a gaggle of Yeti doing the real work. It is priceless.

This will be a delightful addition to family holiday entertainment for years to come. "The Rise of the Guardians" gets 3 ½ stars (I could have even been talked into 4) and it's rated PG.