Children often strive to achieve their dreams, and refuse to believe in, or give into, fear, in order to truly be happy and content with their lives and their beliefs. That’s certainly the case with Jamie, the young boy in the new 3D animated family film ‘Rise of the Guardians,’ whose continued belief in Santa, the Easter Bunny and several other fabled fairy tales helps keep hope in children alive around the world. The film, which was helmed by first time director Peter Ramsey, proves that when a person believes in their dreams enough, nothing can come in their way of success.
‘Rise of the Guardians’ looks into what happens when Santa Claus, who’s known as North (voiced by Alec Baldwin); the Easter Bunny, who’s known as E. Aster Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman); the Tooth Fairy, who goes by Tooth (Isla Fisher); and the Sandman all know each other and team up keep children around the world happy and safe. Strong and immortal, the four childhood legends have been tasked by the Man in the Moon to protect the innocence and imagination of children of all ages to the fullest extent of their powers.
When an evil force, the bogeyman, who’s named Pitch (Jude Law), arrives with a plan to erase the Guardians from existence by robbing children of their hopes and dreams, the beloved crusaders elicit the help of Jack Frost (Chris Pine). Jack is a reluctant new recruit to the Guardians, however, as he would rather enjoy a snowy day than help save the world, as he’s upset no one believes in him. As the Guardians engage in an epic battle against Pitch, whose plan to conquer the world by spreading fear, can only be stopped by their magic and the lasting belief in young Jamie (Dakota Goyo).
Baldwin and Fisher generously took the time recently to participate in a press conference for ‘Rise of the Guardians’ at New York City’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Among other things, the two discussed the role of imagination in children’s lives, how they approach their work in an animated film and why they were interested in lending their voices for the family adventure film.
Question (Q): Can you both talk about the role of imagination in children’s lives, and how this movie plugs into that? Also, can you talk about the theme, that you have to acknowledge that the world is a scary place, and fear is part of being a child?
Isla Fisher (IF): That’s a very intellectual question.
Alec Baldwin (AB): You first.
IF: Well, I thought the message in the movie is that if you don’t believe in fear, it doesn’t exist, which I think is wonderful for everyone, not just children. That pretty much covers it, right Alec?
AB: Yes. (laughs) I was going to say that the key with these kinds of films is to work towards a more humanistic place, literally with your voice. We’re doing a lot of radio acting here, where someone else is going to render the physical dimension for us. So we want to work on going to a certain place without crossing a line, and make it too excessive.
With children’s films, because I’ve voiced other things as well, you want to make sure you keep it warm. You want to keep love in the piece, because there’s always a chance of making it bombastic, especially with the Santa Claus character.
But Ramsey and I would talk about how I would play it in a certain way in the sense, so people wouldn’t be exhausted after ten minutes in, and they couldn’t take it. So we had to find a way to vary the tones.
Q: What about the accent for you?
AB: What accent? (laughs) Well, I’m sure Isla has had the same experience, where I did plays over the years where they had a dialect coach present throughout the rehearsal period. You were given copious notes for your dialect throughout. Then you would get into the previews of the play, they would tell you to back off, and throw much of that away.
Isla is from the U.K., and understands that. In the United States, if we do an authentic accent on Broadway, they wouldn’t couldn’t understand what we were saying. I drew the same with this, and I tried to do the whole Rocky and Bullwinkle thing. (laughs) I hit the ball right there on the nose.
Q: A lot of actors have different approaches when it comes to how they look at their wok. Some actors like to wait until the final cut to see the film, while others like to see dailies. Can both of you discuss how you approach seeing your work with animated films-which way works best for you?
IF: I had to keep going to see this film, just because I wasn’t sure which piece each scene was for. It was confusing to me, because things kept getting rewritten, and sometimes things just didn’t work. So I probably saw the film multiple times. I was very annoying, and made them show it to me daily. Then I would go back in and fix things that didn’t ring true as a whole.
AB: Well this is a process, thankfully, that’s very much like the theater. With live-action films, it’s very hard to change your mind. You shoot and shoot and shoot, and changing your mind about the script and the character and elements of the character is very costly. Some do, if they have an expectorant amount of money, or if they’re Woody, and they’re very clever about leaving a couple of days in their pockets to shoot extra things.
But with animated films, it’s far more like the theater, where you can be two weeks in, and someone says, let’s re-block that scene, or do that scene completely different. The same is true here. They just hit delete, and everything goes into some bin, and they can render the whole thing again. I’ve seen that done in some films.
With Peter and everyone on this film, I would go into the booth, and they would say, we’ve gone in a different direction. The thing for me is to try to think of it in the tone, and to vary the tone. The guy’s very roaring and powerful in some scenes, and in other scenes, he’s like, (raises voice) where are the cookies? (laughs) It’s silly and fun and child-friendly.
Q: Alec, what kind of magic do you believe in, and what was your relationship with Santa when you were a kid, and when did you find out about him?
AB: Well, the magic I believe in is that I want this movie to make a lot of money. (laughs) That would be magical to me. I want this movie to make a lot of money, and be a huge success. That would be a good thing. (laughs)
The cynicism of that aside, I hope the movie is a success, because movies like this, that are very creative, are different. They’re looking for something beautiful. I think the tone is spot-on. So I hope it has the success it deserves. I think it’s an excellent children’s film.
With Santa Claus, I walked into a room, and my sister was wrapping presents. I was like, wait, what? (laughs) I was like seven or eight, and they told me what was going on. I don’t remember it that well, but I think the only reason why they told me was because the more kids my mother had, the more wrapping they had to do. (laughs) I became a wrapper, and my mother was like, pick up those scissors and let’s go. (laughs)
Q: Where you devastated?
AB: I was only devastated because it meant more work.
Q: Alec, the producers said they originally had you in mind for the character of Pitch. Did you do any of that work?
AB: No, that was never mentioned to me.
Q: How did you both hear about the movie? How did you first hear about it, and what were your initial reactions to it?
IF: I think I was shown the artwork. They brought me into a room, and it was very overwhelming how much work they put into this movie before I even came on board.
AB: At that stage, who was playing Santa Claus?
IF: Sacha Baron Cohen. (laughs)
AB: That makes a lot of sense.
IF: No one else was attached yet, but I was blown away.
AB: So I guess if Sacha Baron Cohen was playing Santa Claus, then the characters do have trans-species sex, then. (laughs)
IF: No, no one else was attached. But the character was so beautiful and original and magical and epic, and it felt different than anything else I had seen in the animated world.
AB: I did ‘Madagascar 2,’ I had a small role in that. When you get a call to do one of these DreamWorks films, the answer’s always yes. They’re the best in the business.
They called me, and I said sure. They took me into a meeting and showed me the renderings and the drawings, and they said, this is what we have in mind for you. So I said yes, I didn’t really think about it much.
Q: Alec, do you think it’s important for children to believe in Santa Claus and fairy tales. Isla, you have children, so do you try to keep that alive?
AB: How old are your kids, Isla?
IF: Five and two. I think it’s a personal choice for every family what they want to tell their kids. It depends on your religious affiliation and how you were raised.
AB: My daughter’s on a beach in Hawaii with her boyfriend right now. So there’s a whole other fantasy that’s going on right now. (laughs) It has nothing to do with stockings.
Q: Isla, when did you stop believing in Santa Claus, and was it a big shock to you?
IF:I was six when I stopped believing in Santa. My brother broke it to me, along with the Tooth Fairy not being real. It was a massive blow, and I remember feeling betrayed by my parents. But at least I was able to beg them more openly for the things that I wanted. (laughs)
Q: If you were both to open your own Matryoshka dolls, what would be deep down the element at the core?
AB: If I were able to open up my own personal Matryoshka, I would have to say Hugh Jackman would be inside. (laughs) He’s the greatest actor, and the greatest character in the movie.
IF: Also in ‘Les Miserables,’ I heard. I don’t know about mine, I guess Amy Adams is in mine. (laughs)
Q: Do you both think people place too much emphasis on dreams?
IF: Yes, possibly, it just depends, maybe on what Freud values.
AB: I think when you’re kids, it mimics as you get older. I’m much older than her, and I’m at that stage now where I’m more like a child. When you’re kids, everything’s small. You can play with a ball, you can play with a toy, you can play with an animal, you can run around in a field hour after hour, and do something very simple.
Then the world gets broader and broader, and more complicated. It’s bigger and more distracting. You have all your ambitions and your sexuality and your fantasies about money and power, and whatever you want to do with your life.
Then you turn 50, and it gets narrower again. I’d rather just stay home with my wife and my two dogs and watch TV. I’d rather watch a movie than make a movie. (laughs) No seriously, the world becomes a lot smaller. You’d rather do less things and do them well. I’m more satisfied in my personal life than I was for 20 years in my life.
I was chain-smoking my ambition, and doing this and this, and trying to cover as many of my bases as I could. So I don’t think dreams are over-emphasized in any culture or society. I don’t want to get into the whole what is reality idea. But I know that my reality is more and more about taking away and economizing and making everything more simple.
Q: In Germany, if you aren’t nice, then you don’t get presents. Was that what it was like in your homes, and if not, what is Christmas like?
IF: Growing up, there wasn’t much emphasis on being nice or naughty. As a family, there wasn’t much discipline. It was more relaxed at home, which I’m grateful for.
AB: Now, it’s so difficult because of the digital reality. We have that electronic leash on children. I’m with my friends all the time with young children, and the adults have found a way, quite frankly, to make their lives easier. You want to go to dinner with your friends, and the adults want to have a nice dinner and participate in conversation with their friends, they hand the kids a device and they go off in their own world. I sometimes wonder if all of us aren’t doing the hard work, and raising children in a more intimate way.
I think throughout time, people have wanted to manage their children in a way, and raise them, but also keep them in the perspective of their own lives. Either that, or you want to put them in a hot air balloon and release them into the atmosphere. (laughs) I’ve sometimes felt that way. You give them a nice basket of food, and they’ll land somewhere, hopefully safely.
The good news is, this film, in the world of entertainment, has provided for children, all the way up to teens. This is something I’m comfortable and happy with. I was one offered a huge amount of money to voice a guy in a video game. I’d be playing this guy who was a contract killer for the Mafia who killed a police officer. I said to them, it’s never going to happen.
So when people think it’s all in terms of money, people think we say, I didn’t write it. But I think most people have a conscience about it. I knew I wanted to do this one, because it’s good for kids. It reinforces the idea of believing in yourself. I found the Jack Frost character very, very touching.
Q: Growing up, were there any children’s movies that you truly cherished? Now that you’re older, were there any movies that surprised you when you rediscovered them when you watched them with your children?
IF: I loved ‘The Dark Crystal,’ it was the first film I ever saw. But I’ve never wanted to see it again, just in case it didn’t live up to the expectation.
AB: ‘The Dark Crystal.’ I feel so old, that was your first movie. I was going to say ‘Mary Poppins.’ (laughs) I feel 1,000-years old.
I was of a generation where most of your childhood experience was a book, and there wasn’t as much television programming and movies as there are now. In the ’60s, when I was a child, I was born in 1958, and up to 1970, when I was 12-years old, a lot of that was, you’d watch ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ on TV. You’d watch ‘The Grinch That Stole Christmas,’ the animated version. There was a lot of (Dr.) Seuss and Charles Schulz programming.
With film, there was nothing like there is today. There was no DreamWorks or Pixar. So films tended to be more like ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ There were the real pillars of children’s entertainment. When I was young, there was no cable TV, no DVDs, none of that. It was all broadcast TV.
There was no cable, so when these movies came on in the ’70s, like ‘The Sound of Music,’ they’d show a movie about five years after the theatrical release. They showed a restored print of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ on TV in the ’60s, and say, a major television event! Everyone would gather around the TV, and go, oh my God, we’re going to watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ on TV, this is so exciting. It wasn’t at all like it is now.
Written by: Karen Benardello