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DreamWorks Touts New 'Toon Footage

Posted on Thursday March 15, 2012, 03:53 by James White in Off The Wire
DreamWorks Touts New 'Toon Footage

It’s become an annual tradition for DreamWorks animation to put on a little show at LA’s Directors Guild Theatre to show off some scenes from their new films. This year was no exception, with directors, producers and even the odd actor (Jada Pinkett Smith and Chris Pine, at least) thrust on stage to talk up Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and the intriguing Rise Of The Guardians.

The latest Madagascar outing was first, with co-directors Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon and Eric Darnell bringing 12 years of friendship to bear as they each claimed to have invented the best elements of the franchise and running us through the previous adventures of New York Zoo escapees Alex (Ben Stiller), Gloria (Pinkett Smith), Marty, (Chris Rock) and Melman (David Schwimmer).

After showing some scenes and introducing the new characters including stern tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), slinky jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain) and excitable sea lion Stefano (Martin Short), McGrath explained how our suggest that the circus they end up joining could enter the 21st century and actually make some money for once. “Alex and the rest suggest that they can update the circus and re-invent it. Do something brand new, fresh, something never before seen. Vitaly’s response is, ‘You can't change circus! There is long tradition.’ And Alex replies, ‘Well, that's what everybody thought 'till those French Canadians came along, drunk off maple syrup and cheap pharmaceuticals and reinvented the whole circus concept. Now they play Vegas!’ And that's enough to inspire the animals…

After the footage was over, Empire corralled the three directors to talk a little about the movie, including just how having three of them works in practice. “It's the company you keep and that's where the strength of working with Eric and working with Conrad together helps,” says McGrath. “We work like an improv troupe, where a great rule of that is instead of saying 'No' you say ‘Yes, and...’ So you take these roads of being positive and it always adds things, then you bring that to the actors and they add more to it and over the course of work shopping the scenes over a year and a half, you get ideally the best scene you can make. And Noah Baumbach is a fantastic writer and he gave us the foundation to work from. We all came together and formed the story and we just kept adding to each other's ideas.”

Baumbach is not the first name you might think of to help script a madcap cartoon adventure, but he does have some form on that front and the team talked up the benefits. “Noah's really funny, too,” says McGrath. “People don't know that about him. You'd think he was a sick and twisted guy, but he's hilarious.”

“And he worked with Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr Fox and there's a lot of great, nuanced, subtle humour that he brought to that film,” adds Darnell. “There's an intelligence to his writing and a sophistication that combines with the tone of our humour.”

Finally, we asked about the opportunities that opened up with taking the animals from their established natural settings and putting them back in some more urban environments. While the trio swore that they hadn’t scouted some of Europe’s most famous destinations to get a free holiday, but in the cause of making the movie look better, they talked up the benefits. “Because we've always seem them in the jungle, but when you take them and put them in an urban environment it opens up all sorts of possibilities for comedy and conflict,” says Darnell. “This movie has the strongest villain of them all because she's an animal catcher, this woman from Monaco, Chantel DuBois. We have a villain with a motive, and that's something the other two movies didn't really have, to put pressure and conflict on to the characters, which immediately elevates this one.” We won't give away whether the leads make it back to New York, but the directors did drop the hint that this will be the final film for Alex and co. At least for now...

With the Madagascar section concluded, it was on to Rise Of The Guardians and director Peter Ramsey. “We've been flying under the radar for three years now, so it's a pleasure to finally be able to show people what's going on,” he said as he introduced the footage and explained his reasons for taking on the project.

“The compelling thing for me and I think our whole creative team has been the notion that this project taps into one of the most important parts of not just being human, but of childhood, and that world of the imagination. When you're a kid, you're trying to figure out where you belong, who you are, the boundaries of what's real and what's not. And the world that is operating just outside your peripheral vision. All that comes into play here. If you remember back to being a kid, laying in your bed in the middle of the night, can't sleep, weird noises outside, the floor is creaking, and you see weird shadows on your wall.... 'It's a skeleton! It's a mummy!' You don't know what it is. Until you realise, of course, that it's something like your cap hanging on your bedpost.

“Or you can't sleep for the exact opposite reason because it's Christmas Day tomorrow and you know there's going to be a toy under the tree. Or you lost a tooth and you know there's going to be something good under your pillow in the morning because the Tooth Fairy is real. When you're a kid, these things are real. That is the core idea that first got me really excited even before I came on to this project. Almost before you can talk, you know these things are real, you know Santa Claus. The Tooth Fairy. I know I did and I passed it on to my kids because it's special and important. Unless you had horrible killjoy parents, I'm sure people believe in him. It's kind of a big idea. In our film, it's such a big idea that if kids don't believe in the Guardians, they cease to exist.”

He introduced the main characters, who are all versions of very established fantasy figures including Santa Claus (North, voiced by Alec Baldwin, the Easter Bunny (Bunnymund, with Hugh Jackman providing vocals), Tooth (the Tooth Fairy, played by Isla Fisher) and Jack Frost (Chris Pine). There is also Sandy (the Sandman, who speaks via images he creates) and Pitch (the bogeyman villain, who boasts Jude Law’s smooth tones).

Ramsey brought Pine out, who expounded on his feelings about the role. “Something I think is really important to the story is the idea of the outsider, poor Jack who begins this not being believed in by anyone but not really having a community, not really having any friends for hundreds and hundreds of years. You can only imagine. I think that feeling of being alone and wanting friendship and wanting a community is very human.”

But he also faced a challenge: “I've never really done an animated film before and it frustrates me to no end and this is not the ideal medium for a perfectionist because I will re-do three words over and over again!”

Following the presentation, we talked to Ramsey and producer Christina Steinberg, who chatted about pitching the film to a world market where not everyone is immediately familiar with them and having their cast put on some interesting accents.

Given that Guardians will be distributed across the globe, was the pair worried about audiences not connecting with characters who might not appear in their mythology? “It was definitely something we thought about,” says Ramsey. “But as with Jack Frost, not many kids even in the States know him these days and it plays into this idea that nobody knows or believes in him, so he's isolated and alone. As far as the other characters, the thing we're happy with so far is that you accept them as characters, so even if you don't know the Tooth Fairy before you see the movie, you learn about them on the screen and hopefully you like them as characters.”

Asked what Baldwin was going for with North’s Russian accent and the decision to make Jackman’s Easter Bunny an Aussie, they both laughed. “To be honest, in the Bill Joyce books, North is a Russian warrior, and we were staying true to that,” says Steinberg. “For Hugh Jackman, we loved that everybody has the English Easter Bunny and no one has heard of an Aussie.”

“It's the twist on him, and was bizarre and leftfield,” adds Ramsey. “The funny thing is that Hugh is so used to not using an Australian accent that when our recording sessions started, he had a little trouble getting back into it…”

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted will arrive here on October 19. Rise Of The Guardians is out on November 30.

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