By Karen Valby
November 23, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
DreamWorks Animation

Taking your child to an afternoon at the movies is one of life’s great pleasures — as long as your child doesn’t start crying because of an unexpected fright and the characters on screen aren’t irritating and loathsome and you don’t start checking your watch every 20 minutes wondering if the both of you will make it out alive. Occassionally we will offer you a new movie review column written from the point of view of a parent that will complement the Okay for Kids? feature in our official reviews. We’ll expound on the basics when it comes to family film-going: Is the movie scary? Is it sad? Is it delightful? Most importantly, will you the parent be bored and wish you were anywhere else? (Some background: Me and my 4-year-old daughter saw Brave three times in the theater because we both loved it so much.)

The trailer for Rise of the Guardians, about the efforts of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Sandman, and Jack Frost to spare children from the Boogeyman, is scarier than the actual movie. I was nervous taking my 4-year-old and resigned to the fact that we might have to bail midway. The premise sounds terrifying and there’s an early scene — in which the Boogeyman interrupts a child’s happy dream about a unicorn and turns it into a nightmare about sinister black horses with gnashing teeth, yikes! — that suggests what a dark movie this could have been. Can you imagine a worse idea than taking your child to a movie about uncontrollable nightmares run amok? You’d be sentencing yourself to years of him or her waking you up in the middle of the night and begging just this one last time to sleep in the big bed. But the scares pass quickly and any sad moments of the movie are brushed off before they can penetrate a child. SPOILER ALERT For instance, the hero Jack Frost yearns to know the secrets of his past life as a regular boy. Turns out that he died saving his young sister from falling through the ice of a pond. Huge bummer, right?: He drowned in an icy lake. His sister watched it happen. Never again would he see his family. But Jack Frost’s sole takeaway is “Whee, I’m a hero! What a relief!” And so my daughter didn’t get sad either and we didn’t have to have a conversation on the way home about drowning and how I would never let that happen to her. Score!

Of course, the problem with skimming along the surface of fear and sadness is that Rise of the Guardians entertains rather than enchants. It was a pleasant enough afternoon at the movies. I wasn’t bored. My child didn’t get squirmy. We made it through the credits and at several points during the film we both had smiles on our faces. The film’s message is sweet and potent: Children have power over their fears. But my daughter hasn’t brought up the movie since we left the theater. And so ultimately it’s a serviceable movie rather than a magical one. On the day before Thanksgiving, that was enough for us.

Violence: There’s a fairly intense battle between good and evil at the end but it’s mostly played for laughs. (The Boogeyman gets punched in the face.)

Deaths: One of the characters is consumed by the Boogeyman’s darkness but reappears at the end. The Boogeyman eats it in the end, in fairly ghoulish fashion as his fears plunge him into a hole in the ground, which made children in the theater cheer.

Laughs: Depends if you think people getting hit in the head with snowballs is funny. In our house, that’s a yes.

Tears: One kid in the theater started crying after Jack Frost fell in the ice.

Length of time it took me to start surfing my iPhone in my purse: 55 minutes.

For more Rise of the Guardians:

The EW Review

‘Rise of the Guardians’: Santa, Easter Bunny, and Sandman in knock-out new clip! — VIDEO

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