Dreamworks Animation Event: Rise of the Guardians
In the latest feature from DreamWorks Animation, the studio wanted to take on something different. Thus, they came across William Joyce and his inspired “The Guardians of Childhood.” What if Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy not only are friends, but they were superheroes of sorts who watch over all the children all over the world. This fanciful tale sprang to life with the help of executive producer Guillermo del Toro, director Peter Ramsey and a screenplay by David Lindsey-Abaire.
Recently JoBlo – along with a handful of other on-line journalists – was invited to visit DreamWorks Animation Studios to catch an early glimpse of RISE OF THE GUARDIANS. Originally however, we were told that we’d only see a few scenes. Yet soon after that, we were advised that we would be watching the film in its entirety. Generally if a movie doesn’t quite work you can always preview the best sequences for a small group and build up excitement for it, with audiences ultimately being let down. Since this was nearly a month before the film’s theatrical release and we were given the opportunity to view the entire feature, it was clear that this may be something special. Thankfully, we weren’t let down.
Before watching the film, we were given a behind the scenes tour of DreamWorks Animation latest. And in the first stop we were introduced to the studio itself with “Animation 101.” Our host presented a couple of short video clips looking back at many of their previous films including SHREK, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and KUNG-FU PANDA. While this quick stop was entertaining enough, it did present itself similarly to what you would get as a blu-ray special feature.
After the short video presentation we made our way to a little something called “Story Presentation” where we were given a brief history on how DreamWorks found themselves bringing a buff and tattooed Santa Claus to life. The film’s director Peter Ramsey, Head of Story Hamish Grieve and producer Christina Steinberg spoke to us about the project and gave us a little insight on how they approached this fantastical tale.
“In 2007, [Joyce] met with us here and he came with this incredible bible of drawings that he’d been working on for the last twenty years, based on all of his characters with a very, very detailed mythology about all of them. All of which were inspired by his daughter who when she was five, came to him and asked him if Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny know each other. ‘Of course they do’ and he started inventing these beautiful stories for her about how they all worked together and knew each other.” Steinberg shared as she talked about how the author and DreamWorks began their quest. She continued, “We embarked on this journey to take this huge bible and figure out how to create the movie at the same time he was starting on the book.”
Ramsey was coming into this taking on his feature film debut which would of course be a daunting task for anybody. Thankfully he had worked as a story artist with several top tier directors including David Fincher, Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg. Before this endeavor, Ramsey had a chance to sink his teeth in directing animation with the 2009 television movie “Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space.”
While it was a major opportunity Ramsey wasn’t initially sold on a fairy tale laden motion picture. “When I first heard the idea that there was this new take on childhood icons, it immediately sounded like something that would be super cheesy and super exploitive too.”
He continued,"I started thinking about it though and looking at what Bill had done and realizing the idea that he had which is, shift the prospective slightly and see them at a slightly different angle and suddenly all these things start leaping out, the things that they really represent. Kind of the potency that their images have in the world and the reason they’ve lasted for so long. It got me thinking about mythology. The core essential credence that each character represents…”
Next up we spoke to great Guillermo del Toro himself as he further took us into the story and the creative inspiration. “My two daughters are huge fans of Bill Joyce and I am too.” He said about his desire to take on GUARDIANS. “We love the sort of wide-eyed core that he has… innocence in a way. It’s sort of a fresh look into things that still create a sense of wonder.”
He approached this fantasy adventure as an “apprenticeship” for directing a feature animation himself with a desire to learn the procedure. “Something captivated me. In my estimation this could be a beautiful, powerful, rich movie…” The idea came early on to make it an origin story [about Jack Frost] but del Toro proposed a few changes in the course of “several really long breakfasts, one of which lasted over ten hours.”
Whether del Toro was giving story or sequence ideas throughout the process he said he remained “brutal and completely honest.” This included using his best resource, which meant bringing the material home to “check it with his daughters.”
The legendary director clearly had faith in the project. Even still we had yet to see what all the fuss was about. The strange thing about this entire event is you usually see the actual footage before you are given a look at the making of the film. Even after speaking to del Toro we were given more insight into GUARDIANS with production designer Patrick Hanenberger, an Animation Presentation with the Head of Character Animation Gabe Hordos as well as a Visual Effects Presentation with VFX Sup Dave Prescott and the Head of Effects Yancy Lindquist.
One thing was made perfectly clear is that this was an entirely different type of fantasy for the studio. In lieu of puns and pop culture references, GUARDIANS kept its focus on character and story. However, I was still skeptical. How could a movie about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy be more than just a silly children’s film with nothing of real weight to offer? Much to my surprise I was soon proven wrong when we finally sat down to watch RISE OF THE GUARDIANS. The 3D was impressive as were the visuals of course, but it is the story that sold me. With Chris Pine as Jack Frost, Alec Baldwin as North (Santa), Hugh Jackman as Bunnymund (Easter Bunny), Isla Fisher as Tooth (Fairy of course) and finally, a deliciously devious Jude Law as the film’s villain Pitch (Black).
At the end of the day, I was thankful to have given RISE OF THE GUARDIANS a chance (full review coming soon). With all the passion and respect for the material by all involved, in years to come this may very well become a holiday classic… is it wrong that I dug Pitch the most?
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS opens November 21, just in time for Thanksgiving.
|Extra Tidbit:||How old were you when you stopped believing in Santa Claus?|