TORONTO - A tattooed Santa Claus, boomerang-wielding Easter Bunny and a silent Sandman hit the big screen this week in the animated feature "Rise of the Guardians," offering a few twists to the mysterious backstories of the legendary magical figures.
Santa in particular is nothing like the jolly old St. Nick that 13-year-old star Dakota Goyo imagined when he was younger, the Toronto teen admits.
"I had pictures of him in my mind of him very big, like, with big brown boots and always wearing his hat with his big white long beard with big glasses on," says Goyo, part of an A-list voice cast that includes Jude Law, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher and Hugh Jackman.
"I'd always pictured him like that and I'd always try to see if I could catch him. But I never ended up doing it."
The Santa here is a brash and beefy incarnation based on the illustrated books by William Joyce. The celebrated series delved into the mythical origins of the rotund Christmas gift-giver — known as Nicholas St. North — as well as those of the Tooth Fairy, the Man in the Moon, Jack Frost and the bogeyman.
Goyo says "Rise of the Guardians" offers a fresh look at the imaginary icons to reveal something new for fans.
"Santa has a Russian accent ... an amazing amazing accent, that makes it really funny when he says jokes like, 'I can feel it in my belly,'" says Goyo, heaping praise on "30 Rock"'s Baldwin for his voicework.
"And they used Hugh Jackman for the Easter Bunny, with the Australian accent. I think it adds a big twist to the Guardians, the different Guardians — it makes it more interesting to see."
Goyo plays true-believer Jamie, the only boy in the world whose faith in the mythical gang remains unshaken when the bogeyman — voiced by Law — spreads nightmares across the globe.
It falls on reluctant new recruit Jack Frost, voiced by "Star Trek"'s Chris Pine, to help the guardians fight back and regain the trust of the world's children.
Goyo says he was lucky enough to be offered his role without an audition — a testament to the breadth of experience he's already amassed through high-profile projects including Kenneth Branagh's "Thor" (as the young Thor) and Shawn Levy's "Real Steel" (as the son of a washed-up boxer played by Jackman).
Nevertheless, Goyo says he found working in animation to be particularly challenging.
"It's much more difficult than being on screen because you have no one to act with," notes Goyo, who has never taken acting classes but picked up tips along the way from co-stars including Jackman and Samuel L. Jackson.
"You have to act to get that same emotion out in your voice but you have no one else to act with so it's much harder."
There's been no shortage of mentors for the burgeoning star.
The Grade 8 student recently wrapped shooting on the biblical epic "Noah" in Iceland, where he plays the young version of Russell Crowe's title character. Goyo notes that getting that role was a little more nerve-wracking than his experience on "Rise of the Guardians."
"I auditioned in New York with (director) Darren Aronofsky and there were a lot of kids there," he recalls.
"And after my audition they did my hair and makeup which I thought was weird. I didn't know if I booked it or not — I had a good impression that I might have once they did my hair and makeup to see what I would look like, but that's pretty much it.... And then I got a call back home, I think two days later or three days later, and they said I got it so I flew to Iceland maybe a week after."
Also in the works is the alien thriller "Dark Skies," in which Goyo stars opposite Keri Russell. The film comes from the producers of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise and centres on a suburban couple convinced that an alien is trying to abduct their son.
The spooky material signals a shift towards more adult fare as Goyo heads into his teens, and he proudly notes that his "Dark Skies" storyline is very much a coming-of-age tale.
He's savvy enough to be musing on his next step, and how best to sustain his career into adulthood.
"I want to do a really cool action film. Or another scary film. I like scary films. That's awesome," says Goyo, who also hopes to direct — but not until his 30s.
Goyo's focus now is on building an array of diverse parts, and he cites former child star-turned-A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio as his career role model.
After a spate of parts as the cute kid, Goyo admits he's eager to start a new phase in his career.
"It's a role that I've done plenty and plenty of times. It's not as exciting for me to do," he admits. "When you're my age there's not many characters for you to play but when you're an adult there's plenty of characters for you to play."
"Rise of the Guardians" opens Wednesday.