Last month, ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to participate in a special preview of DreamWorks Animation’s upcoming Rise of the Guardians in New York. You can check our previous coverage by clicking here or read on for a follow-up held at the DreamWorks campus in Los Angeles where director Peter Ramsey was joined by executive producer Guillermo del Toro to discuss the innovative approach to adapting William Joyce’s children’s novel.
“My daughters are huge fans of Will Joyce,” del Toro says of boarding the project some years back. “I am, too… I think that we love the wide-eyed core that he has. Innocence, in a way. It’s a fresh look into things that create a sense of wonder.”
The film, which hits theaters on November 21, adapts the world of Joyce’s “The Guardians of Childhood” without specifically adapting any of his novels (currently standing at three, “Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King”, “E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core!” and “Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies”). The novels began when Joyce’s then six-year old daughter asked him if Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny knew each other.
“It literally is a guy with a lot of imagination solving a riddle that his daughter gave him,” says Ramsey, “and making a gift out of it for her and to inspire her.”
The film version, told from the point of view of Chris Pine’s Jack Frost, follows the newest Guardian as he joins forces with North (Alec Baldwin’s Santa Claus), Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman’s Easter Bunny), Tooth (Isla Fisher’s Tooth Fairy) and the silent Sandy, the Sandman to take on the nightmare threat that is the Boogeyman, Pitch (Jude Law).
“One thing that Bill and I bonded on was that a lot of his references were cinematic references or art references,” Ramsey continues. “…Cinematically, a big one for both of us that we kind of geeked out over together was Michael Powell’s movies like ‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘Black Narcissus,’ especially in terms of color.”
To capture the incredible world of the Guardians, Ramsey worked for more than three years with hundreds of animators to create a reality unlike anything that DreamWorks has done before.
“It really came out of, ‘Let’s take the belief in these characters kind of seriously,'” he says. ” Let’s base the story and the velocity of the movie on that and not make it a parody or get satirical with it.’ It is a weird sort of fairytale/superhero mishmash and we wanted it to have a timelesss quality.”
“It’s easy post-‘Avengers’ to say it’s ‘Avengers,'” del Toro says of the heroic ensemble, “but we’ve been doing this movie for years. Three years ago we were not going, ‘Avengers is coming out!'”
Relating the Guardians to superheroes, however, helped the characters escape from preconceived notions and operate on a global scale. Del Toro points out that just because some countries and religions might not celebrate Santa Claus, for instance, that doesn’t mean that the narrative is made invalid and superheroes make for a clear cut way into understanding that.
“There’s no culture in the world that goes, ‘Why does a man dress as a bat?!” he laughs.
One of the risks, on the other hand, is that dealing with super-powered heroes (in this case, powered by magic), one runs the risk of making the characters too close to omnipotent.
“I think the great think about Superman is Kryptonite,” says del Toro. “You need those checks and balances. If Jack [Frost] can just do anything, it doesn’t work.”
“What we tried to do was link our actual magical moments and make them kind of matter-of-fact,” adds Ramsey. “…For me, the magical moments were linked to actual emotion.”
The production design also called for all magical elements to have a physical side to them. Jack Frost’s freezing ability manifests on screen as virtual ice crystals and the animation team had to teach the computer how to replicate the actual spread of frost. Likewise, Sandy uses particles of dream sand, pulled together to make any form that can be imagined.
Although the story begins with the Guardians already more or less formed, it was important for the filmmakers to establish each one as though they could stand on their own. The decision was made for each member to represent something specific. North serves as the Guardian of Wonder, Bunnymund of Hope, Sandy of Dream, and Tooth of Memory. Throughout the film, viewers catch a glimpse into each of their distinct realms and the responsiblities that have shaped them.
“After hundreds of years, essentially you become your essence,” says del Toro. “It happens to us in a lifetime. I’m 48 and I’m more me than I was when I was seven. I can’t imagine how much more distilled you get over 100’s of years and that was the idea.”
To counter the joyous wonder of the Guardians, it was decided that the villian would have to be, as del Toro puts it, “completely sociopathic.” Creating Pitch meant pulling together all of fiction’s greatest nightmares.
“Many times we envoked the Child Catcher,” del Toro explains. “We envoked the Wicked Witch. Bambi’s mother. There’s darkness in this movie. I think that the less you sanitize kids to that, the less it has to do with the real world.”
Although the film strives to deal with real emotion, del Toro is quick to point out that the danger of doing so in a family film is that you can go too far.
“I remember when everyone was thinking it’s gonna be the edgy, dark version of these characters,” he says, “and everyone was thinking, ‘Is Santa going to cut people’s heads off? What’s the Easter Bunny gonna do?’ That’s also kind of a betrayal of what it’s all about.”
Because the animation process can take years to accomplish, both filmmakers were able to flex their creativity and slowly build up the ensemble battle between good and evil while carefully refining the balance between preciousness and darkess.
“It’s actually a movie about really good things,” Ramsey promises, “and it feels really good to donate all your waking hours to something that you can be unironically positive about.”
Rise of the Guardians hits 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D on November 21. You can check out all the previously-released trailers and featurettes by clicking here and check back soon for ComingSoon.net’s full review.