Tuesday, November 27, 2012

rise of the guardians and the rise of william joyce

We saw Rise of the Guardians over the holiday weekend. It was beautifully animated, more than a little frenetic, but intriguing. The kid loved it. I enjoyed most of it. Like the equally super-charged The Avengers, I find fight scenes in movies to always be a little too fast-paced and blurry and a little too long in length. I was going to say in animated as well as live-action movies, but lets face it, with so much CGI these days most fight scenes in the movies are 90% computer animated anyway.

Jack Frost just wants to have fun
The story is a standard good vs. evil battle. The very not-nice Pitch (Jude Law), or the Boogeyman, as most have come to call him, is tired of being shunned and ignored and is plotting to turn every human's, and especially children's, dreams into nightmares. The Guardians are a group of beings whose express mission is to protect children. Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), and The Sandman have come together to decide how to deal with Pitch when the Man in the Moon chooses a new Guardian, Jack Frost (Chris Pine). Jack is not only reluctant to join the crew, but is unsure of who he is and his real purpose. Maybe The Guardians aren't so different from those other super heroes, The Avengers, after all.

Kids will connect to the lonely Jack and love the other Guardians, especially boisterous Santa, his goofy elves, and the guys who apparently do the real work at the North Pole, the Yeti. Parents and guardians will like the slightly darker tone of the story and its imagery. Santa has "Naughty" tattooed on one forearm and "Nice" on the other. The Easter Bunny lives in a warren with monolithic sculptural eggs. The Tooth Fairy is unnaturally knowledgeable about Jack's and everyone's flossing habits. The voice actors for the most part have a lot of fun with their characters and their enthusiasm carries through to the audience. Pine does a nice job as Jack. Baldwin sports a Russian accent for his boisterous Santa. Hugh Jackman gets most of the laughs with his down-under kangaroo — I mean bunny. Jude Law is appropriately menacing as Pitch. Isla Fisher is fine as the Tooth Fairy, but her voice isn't very remarkable or memorable — it's not likely that the audience would recognize her the way they might have if the character was voiced by someone with a more distinctive voice like Reese Witherspoon.

The all-embracing Santa and his sidekicks, the Yeti
After watching Rise of the Guardians I was interested enough to find out a little bit more about it and its author, William Joyce. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I am already familiar with quite a bit of Joyce's work, and am now eager to see and read more. He is the co-director of the lovely animated and Oscar-winning short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. He is one of the founders of Louisiana-based Moonbot Studios, which produced Lessmore. He has also written several books which have been adapted into films, including Meet the Robinsons and Robots. The upcoming Epic (which we are really looking forward to seeing) is based on his book The Leaf Men.

Coincidentally I had picked up the first book this summer in the Guardians series at a library book sale, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King. The kid and I had not gotten around to reading it yet. After seeing Rise of the Guardians I zipped through it in two afternoons, deciding to read it first before handing it over to my daughter. We'll probably end up reading it together. It shares some similarities with the film, as Pitch is still the main villain, but it is more of an origin story for Santa Claus, or the bandit Nicholas St. North as he was once known. There are hints of everything from The Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter in the book, but kids should enjoy it and its heroine, Katherine, a young girl who joins Nicholas and the wizard Ombric on an adventure. Joyce has followed it up with E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth's Core! which also looks like a lot of fun.

The Easter Bunny can be tough when he wants to be
I'm happy to be getting to see more work from Joyce and his partners in crime (in the case of Rise of the Guardians, Guillermo del Toro). And I like how he talks and thinks about projects:
The idea of developing a feature, as just a feature, seems kind of limiting. You could develop it as a book, and develop it as an app, and get its — see how it’s working, and see if the designs are appealing. And get it out there, get a sense of people’s response to it, and not just stay cloaked behind a veil of secrecy. Back in the day, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, a lot of those — and Chaplin — they would take their ideas, and take them on the stage first. They’d go and play, evolve those ideas, see how the audience responded to what they were working on, and get a sense of how the story, ideas, the gags and things would work, before they go into production on a film. We’re finding the equivalent of that, you know, now with apps and other technologies. It’s kind of exciting.
DreamWorks's animated films just keep geting better and better looking, and Rise of the Guardians takes viewers through environments that are visual knock-outs. It's a fun movie, if a bit frenetically paced. There are likely to be a sequel or two. Hopefully the filmmakers will slow things down enough for the audience to take in all the pretty pictures.


A113 Animation, "Interview: William Joyce, Moonbot Studios Co-Founder and Co-Director of Morris Lessmore"
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