DreamWorks' "Rise of the Guardians" (November 21) is an exquisite and enchanting adaptation of William Joyce's magnificent and epic "Guardian" book series, which reinvents some of our favorite fairy tale icons. First-time director Peter Ramsey, who cut his teeth doing storyboards for David Fincher and Spike Jonze before moving into animation at DreamWorks, has wisely upped the superhero quotient in "Avengers"-like fashion, which makes for a more spectacular movie. Its precious depiction of childhood innocence marks a new direction in tone for DreamWorks, in a way that adults should respond to as well. This means that the Oscar race for animated feature will heat up this holiday season, as Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" opens Friday.
Ramsey admits that when he first heard the pitch he was skeptical about uniting Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Sandman (a silent but badass, Buddha-like figure), and Jack Frost (Chris Pine). That is, until he considered the importance that belief plays in fueling mythology."Looking at what Bill had done, taking one step to the left, suddenly all these things started leaping out like hope, wonder, memory, and dreams," Ramsey said on Tuesday. "They start to take on a lot more power but the other thing that really got me was this idea that when you're a kid, it's not like they're characters in a cartoon. When you make a wish to Santa Claus and Christmas morning that present is there under the tree, it's a reality that's really powerful."
Likewise, Guillermo Del Toro, who served as exec producer, emphasized the importance of rejecting any sort of ironic spin. "This is romantic at its core," he suggested. "There is no post-modern winking, winking: these are characters that choose what they do; they each have a core and this is what you become. And Jack has not found it, which is how it comes together."
But Del Toro felt even more connected to "Guardians" than "Puss in Boots" or "Kung Fu Panda 2." When consulting on the story and character design, he couldn't step back and be objective. The mythological force and visual beauty were that strong (each character hails from a distinct and dazzling world). Not surprisingly, Del Toro identified more closely with burly large-scale Santa (or North, as he's called in the movie): the tough Cossack soldier who nonetheless is full of wonder.
Del Toro added that he views his DreamWorks tenure as an apprenticeship and that he fully intends to direct "Trollhunters" when he's ready. "I'm learning so much about animation that it's helped me enormously with the [giant robots] in 'Pacific Rim," he told me.
Speaking of animation, DreamWorks has significantly raised its game, particularly with particle simulation. As you can see in the clip below, both Sandman and the villainous Pitch (Jude Law) weave powerful character shapes for opposing purposes, and the studio's effects team came up with a great technique for conveying a rich look that's also emotionally resonant.
More on "Guardians" closer to release.
"Making Dreamsand" featurette is below.