Giving Rise to the Guardians
Give William Joyce credit for bringing together Santa (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Sandman, the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Jack Frost (Chris Pine), and The Boogeyman (Jude Law) in a whole new light in Rise of the Guardians, and first-time director Peter Ramsey (a story artist that's worked in both animation and live action) and the DreamWorks Animation team for embracing pure enchantment. The Guardians is The Avengers of fairy tales without a trace of post-modern cynicism. Even executive producer Guillermo Del Toro was more touched than usual. He found it romantic at its core.
"We all had an image of what these guys should look like but could never articulate it, so my job was to guide that place we'd almost been thinking of," Joyce explains. The celebrated children's book author and illustrator/designer, who won the Oscar this year for his animated short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, was first inspired years ago when his daughter asked him if Santa and the Easter Bunny knew one another. That got Joyce thinking about the nature of fairy tales and enchantment and eventually led to his Guardians book series and the DreamWorks animated feature, which have been developed simultaneously. Sadly, Mary Katherine, passed away two years ago of a brain tumor at the age of 18, so the project has become even more meaningful to Joyce.
Indeed, when I bring up the beautiful opening scene in which Jack Frost rises out of a frozen lake and is reborn, I ask Joyce if he's an angel or not. Joyce says he prefers to think of Jack as being rescued by the Man in the Moon from the brink of death. "Sometimes I'm not even sure of the literal meaning of certain things. To me, it's better to leave it up to interpretation."
And when it came to balancing tone, they all had an internal sense of how far to push it. "We got it right to that Wicked Witch of the West place where it's deliciously terrifying and you don't want to take your eyes off of it. And it's evil in a seductive way rather than, 'Oh, my god! I don't want to look!'
"I actually directed a scene early on that pushed it way too far. It was a prologue that was a battle between the Man in the Moon and Pitch [the Boogeyman]. It was so much fun doing it -- epic stuff -- but Pitch has this horrifying skull-like death head that's a zillion times worse than what's in the movie. As soon as we saw it, we said that's too far."