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Darkness, fear, uncertainty. Enter Jack Frost, a young man rising out of that darkness and shedding that fear in the light of the moon, not remembering who he is or what he is supposed to do, but knowing that he is Jack Frost because that’s what the Man in the Moon told him. And so begins “Rise of the Guardians,” Dreamworks’ latest 3-D animated feature.

The film, based on “The Guardians of Childhood” series by William Joyce, brings to life characters who represent all of the wonder and magic that define childhood. Don’t get any silly ideas, though. These aren’t your holly jolly, bowl-full-of-jelly, hippity-hoppity, Peter Cottontail childhood friends. Instead we have buff, tattooed protectors of all that makes childhood wonderful.

There are four guardians: Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman ... who doesn’t speak but creates images in his dream sand to represent what he wants to say, which makes for some cute sight gags.

With bad guy Pitch Black (Jude Law), the king of nightmares and fear, finally making his move, the guardians are summoned together to fight the threat. The Man in the Moon lets them know that a fifth guardian will be joining their ranks, and it is none other than Jack Frost, that mischievous snow maker who has ruined a few Easter egg hunts in his day. Jack gets a little discouraged because no one can see him and he feels his work is unappreciated. The guardians welcome him to their ranks, but Jack isn’t sure he wants to be a guardian at all.

There is a lot competitive spirit and one-upsmanship among the guardians, but when it comes to the children, they know their priorities. The story flips around what you thought you knew about these characters and shines a different light on them, but it is a wonderful light and a comfort.

The guardians do have their weaknesses. Their relationships are symbiotic. Belief is a strong force and it’s one that Pitch hopes to exploit to his own ends.

Some parts may be a bit scary for the littlest ones, but that didn’t stop children in the audience from having a good time. Just be careful – the bad guy is all about nightmares, you know. But the movie is also about remembering who you are and who you were and bringing back that youthful joy and wonder in your life.

Yes, the children in the audience enjoyed the film, but it was the adults in the crowd that really took something home with them.

I have to admit, there were a couple of parts toward the end of the film that got me a little choked up.

It seems the real purpose of the story was to renew and invigorate the sense of wonder adults have misplaced from their childhood.

When the 3-D snowflakes drifted off the screen and into the audience, I saw little hands reaching out to try and grasp them, along with a few grown-up hands. I’d say mission accomplished.

“Rise of the Guardians”

Three stars (Out of four)

With the voices of Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Hugh Jackman and Isla Fisher. 97 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action.

email: eaustin@buffnews.com