Reports from yesterday’s “Rise Of The Guardians” Q&A

Cannes 2012: DreamWorks Animation Promotes ‘Rise of the Guardians’

Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine and Isla Fisher, who lent their voices to the film about iconic figures like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, liken it to “The Avengers.”

Alec Baldwin called them “the Justice League of childhood.” Actress Isla Fisher called them the “animated Avengers.” They are the Guardians, the title characters in the 3D animated movie Rise of the Guardians, that DreamWorks Animation will open stateside Nov. 21.

In what has become an annual tradition for the Burbank, Ca.-based studio, DWA is using the Cannes Film Festival to show off its latest wares to the assembled international press. On Friday, DWA’s summer release Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted will get the full red-carpet treatment when it screens at the Palais. And as a sort of curtain-raiser, on Wednesday morning as the festival was just getting under way, the studio staged a press event of its own to show off footage from Guardians.

Introducing the show-and-tell, DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg credited author and illustrator William Joyce for the project’s genesis. It all began when Joyce’s daughter asked him if any of the characters that fuel kids’ imaginations – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy – had ever met. “You’re going to hear the answers to that today,” Katzenberg said.

Director Peter Ramsey then took the stage to lay out how the movie, based on Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series, has reinvented the iconic characters: Santa Claus is North, a big guy, with a booming, Russian-inflected accent voiced by Baldwin; the Easter Bunny becomes the tunnel-travelling Bunnymund, voiced by Hugh Jackman; ToothFairy is a half-hummingbird, half-human creature to whom Fisher lends her voice; and the Sandman is a silent character, who Ramsay described as “a cross between Harpo Marx and Bhudda.” In the movie, they are joined by a new recruit, Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine, as they all do battle with the Boogeyman, who goes by the name of Pitch and is voiced by Jude Law.

After showing select scenes from the film that set up the characters and plot, Ramsey was joined by Baldwin, Fisher and Pine, who all earnestly offered testimonials on the film’s behalf.

“It reminds you of old, old animated cells,” Baldwin said of the movie’s look. “It’s very beautiful, arresting.”

“It shows the joy of imagination,” Pine added.

Ramsey explained that as the filmmakers – who include Guillermo del Toro, who served as an executive producer – developed the film, they constantly asked themselves what sort of film it was. Is it a fairy tale?, they asked themselves, until Del Toro offered, “It’s a superhero movie where the superheroes get their powers from belief.”

Guardians rise at Cannes

“It’s like the Justice League of childhood,” says Alec Baldwin. Isla Fisher chips in with: “We’re like the animated Avengers.” Director Peter Ramsey says: “It’s a superhero movie where the superheroes get their powers from belief.”

The three are discussing Dream-Works’ animated picture Rise of the Guardians. It doesn’t open until Nov. 21, but attendees at the Cannes film festival were able to watch about 20 minutes of rough footage early Wednesday morning.

The film’s title bears an unfortunate similarity to 2010’s Legend of the Guardians, an animated film about owls. Rise of the Guardians does feature a large bunny named E. Aster Bunnymund (voiced by Hugh Jackman) but the rest of the characters are human, or at least human-esque.

Baldwin stars as the voice of North (Santa to the rest of us), a character he performs with a thick-as-goulash Russian accent. Fisher is Tooth (as in Fairy), while Chris Pine, who was also in Cannes to promote the film, provides the voice of Jack Frost. There’s also a silent character named Sandman, described by Ramsey as a mixture of Harpo Marx and Buddha. (I’d add that there’s more than a little Lorax DNA in him too.)

In the movie, the characters must band together to defeat a villain named Pitch (Jude Law) who wants to destroy children’s faith in their holiday mascots. The film pays fast and loose with some of the characters: The Easter Bunny, in addition to his thick Aussie accent, carries a boomerang, while Santa’s workshop is run by a collection of yetis. “Don’t get me started on elves,” he growls when asked about this.

The film is based on a series of books by William Joyce, whose animated short The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won an Oscar in 2012. Joyce co-wrote the screenplay and was also an executive producer on Rise of the Guardians. Ramsay is a first-time director, and cautioned journalists that some of the footage was rough: “If it doesn’t look perfect it means it’s not finished.”

Baldwin was in fine form at the Q & A following the screening, especially when the French moderator referred to Fisher’s character as the Fairy Tooth. “The Fairy Tooth is a club in Lower Manhattan,” he corrected. “She’s the Tooth Fairy. The Fairy Tooth is a place I hung out at in the late ’80s down on Thompson Street.”

Pine, who is 31 and childless, said he was “20 or 25” before he figured out the mystery of Santa coming down his chimney at Christmas. And Baldwin, infamously the father of a 16-year-old daughter, praised DreamWorks and other animation houses for their contributions to children’s entertainment. “These films are equal to the books we grew up with,” he said.

Not all films are equal, however. Baldwin remembered watching Brendan Fraser in George of the Jungle “50 times – until I wanted to jump out the window. I know every vein in his body.”

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