Childhood heroes get a backstory with 'Guardians'
Posted November 20, 2012
If you've ever thought Santa Claus needed to be handy with swords and the Easter Bunny could benefit from a lot more attitude, then William Joyce has some childhood heroes for you.
The author's rich mythology of characters kids have believed in for centuries comes to life on the big screen Wednesday in the DreamWorks animated holiday film Rise of the Guardians, which teams Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman to protect children all over the world on Christmas.
But these are more than just magical types with reindeer-powered sleighs and under-the-pillow cash-for-molars arrangements. In five books so far, Joyce has fleshed out adventurous backstories for each of his Guardians.
Nicholas St. North (voiced by Alec Baldwin) is Santa on steroids, a burly Cossack swordsman with "Naughty" and "Nice" tattooed on robust forearms that would make Popeye green from more than just spinach.
Boomerang-wielding chocolatier E. Aster Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman) doesn't take any guff, and heaven help those who call him a kangaroo.
Queen Toothiana (Isla Fisher) rules over an army of little sprites that collect teeth from all over the globe, and although he's silent, Sanderson Mansnoozie speaks loud with his ability to create wondrous dream images from his magical sand.
While Joyce's picture books and novels set the scene in their pasts, the movie takes the Guardians present day, where they band together with the playful and misunderstood Jack Frost (Chris Pine) to stop the bogeyman Pitch (Jude Law) from spreading his fear all over the globe.
Joyce, who won an Oscar this year for best animated short with The Fantastic Flying Books of Dr. Morris Lessmore, began creating his kid-friendly Guardians universe when his daughter Mary Katherine was a little girl and innocently asked him if the Santa and the Easter Bunny knew each other.
However, as he was fleshing out their backstories, Joyce tried to not make Claus and Co. different "but channel what I thought everybody hoped they'd be," says the Guardians writer and executive producer, whose daughter died two years ago of a brain tumor at 18.
Part of the plan of constructing the movie was to introduce these seemingly superhero versions but have kids and adults realize by the end of the movie that "they're pretty much exactly the characters you always thought they were," says Peter Ramsey, making his feature-film directorial debut with Guardians.
"Santa, despite the fact that he has two swords, does all the same things. He goes down chimneys and delivers gifts and loves kids. Even the Easter Bunny, he's got the boomerangs and he's kind of a ninja-type warrior, but we have a scene in the movie where we see him hopping in the grass with an Easter basket under his arm to give eggs to kids. He's the same guy."
The suggestion box was always open, though. During one of the story meetings, it was determined that Santa's bodyguard yetis were the ones who made toys and not the elves, who are a bit flighty. And when talking with Ramsey, Jackman convinced Ramsey to let Bunnymund have a little chip on his shoulder since North gets all the attention.
The key to voicing a gruff, albeit gentle, ninja rabbit? "Always recording early in the morning — then there's no acting required when it comes to gruffness," says Jackman, whose 12-year-old son Oscar and 7-year-old daughter Ava are already Guardians fans.
"It's really so fulfilling to me that they are so excited by it. They are obsessed with the movie and have been reading all the books since then. I'd like to say Bunnymund was their favorite, but I think the truth is that Sandman was their favorite and they just don't want to hurt my feelings."
Taking the movie to children all across the country this fall, Ramsey found that many connected with Jack, "a guy who's unseen and alone and can't get anyone to listen to him or see him," he says. "That's a powerful thing for a lot of kids."
Christmas classics such as Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer have famously tapped into the emotional core of audiences for decades, and that's what Ramsey and Joyce are shooting for with Guardians by exploring the power of belief.
"These characters might be the first things you really believe in your life. That's kind of a big deal," Ramsey says.
"They've been around for such a long time, and there wasn't an International Congress of Whimsy declaring in 1760 that 'And from henceforth there will be these iconic myths we will tell our children to believe in.' But it happened," Joyce adds.
"As a culture, we seem to have this need for these guys, (and) it points to something that we need to believe in things."
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