With Rise of the Guardians opening this week, I recently got to see the finished film at DreamWorks Animation and it’s really well done. Not only is the animation great to look at, it’s got a strong story that’s character driven and it doesn’t rely on stupid jokes. In addition, unlike most superhero films that spend half the time introducing characters by explaining their origin and showing off their powers, what’s fantastic about Rise of the Guardians is we join almost everyone in the middle of the story. If you’re not familiar with the story, it revolves around the rebellious Jack Frost (Chris Pine) teaming up with other mythical figures North aka Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), E. Aster Bunnyman aka Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth aka The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the Sandman to battle the evil Pitch (Jude Law). Here’s my video blog review and all our previous coverage.
To help promote the film, last week I got on the phone with Rise of the Guardians producer Guillermo del Toro. We talked about how they didn’t do a typical origin story, the tone, the Puss in Boots sequel, Kung Fu Panda 3, his DreamWorks Animation directorial debut Trollhunters, Pacific Rim, the 3D conversion, when we’ll see the trailer, the Pacific Rim sequel, and so much more. Hit the jump for what del Toro had to say.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: How are you, man?
I’m good. Hopefully you recognize the voice.
DEL TORO: Of course I do, man. Thank you for the [Rise of the Guardians] write-up, it was very beautiful.
All good. I’m glad you guys made a good movie.
DEL TORO: It was done in the right way. I thought the way you talked about it and the way you positioned it, it makes people understand what it is.
One of the things that I think is great about the film is that you guys don’t spend 30 minutes telling an origin story of all these characters and explaining powers, you just jump in and join them on the adventure. Talk a little about that and was there ever a debate over doing more of a typical origin thing?
DEL TORO: Not quite like that, but I remember when I first came on board it took a long, long, long time to get the movie started, really. One of the first things we did was reorganize the structure. We created cards and shuffled them around and threw stuff out and put new stuff in, and we knew that in the first few minutes you needed to see Pitch appearing in the North Pole and then the call to the Guardians and then Jack appearing in the ceremony and so forth. So we wanted to start the story in the middle, we didn’t want to start it in the very beginning. However, one of the pieces that we also came up with at that time was to open the movie with him floating underwater under the ice talking about the moon, and making sure that people understood that aside from having really great action and this and that, there were gonna be quiet moments.
Another thing that I like about the movie is there are no fart jokes, there are no stupid jokes; it’s a serious movie but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m just curious about the tone and that face that you guys aren’t aiming at the lowest common denominator.
DEL TORO: Well the reason why I got involved in the three first DreamWorks movies, I mean I did a very brief consultation on Megamind which I love, but Kung Fu Panda, Puss in Boots, and this one, the three of them I was very attracted to because they were earnest, really romantic movies. Ultimately Puss in Boots is a really great spaghetti western combined with a fairy tale, Kung Fu Panda was a really great martial arts movie with a psychopathic villain, and this one felt timeless and it felt really classic in a way. I remember very clearly talking to them and I was very encouraged by the fact that we all agreed that we were not gonna be post-modern, we were not gonna be a pop art sort of pop-culture referenced type of movie, we were going to be trying to reference illustrated books and painterly stuff and beautiful gorgeous colors and pictures and so forth, and that made it feel timeless.
Speaking of Puss in Boots, the movie went on to make $550 million worldwide. How gratifying was that for you and are you already talking about the sequel?
DEL TORO: Yeah we already did a couple of drafts on the screenplay (laughs). It was great because we were doing stuff that certainly seemed risky at the time. One of the big bets we did on Puss in Boots was that the quote-unquote bad guy, Humpty, redeems himself at the end; he becomes a hero in the last few minutes of his life, he can change. I wanted to do a movie that showed kids that you don’t have to be good or bad, you can change. It was very hairy to get that one through in a kids movie, because it’s not the norm. Normally you have a bad guy, you defeat him. So getting the box office backup gives us a chance to be risky and creative with the next one.
Obviously you can’t say much, but can you tease anything about the sequel?
DEL TORO: Yeah we take Puss to a completely different land which is very exotic. When Chris [Miller], the director, said ‘I don’t want Puss to happen in the same universe as the Shrek movies visually, I want to do a spaghetti western,’ he is, in this case, trying to do an adventure movie so we’re taking him to a very exotic locale.
DEL TORO: Yeah we basically talked about where we would go in the third one in the second one. We really finished [Kung Fu Panda2] with the real father of Po saying ‘My son is alive,’ so that allows us to continue that arc of Po as a character. All I can say is the bad guy in the third one is possibly the most formidable villain in the series
Are you guys already knee-deep in that one?
DEL TORO: Oh yeah we finished an outline, we presented a character design, we presented a couple of sequences in storyboard, and we are very hard at work on a screenplay.
What’s the status of you actually directing an animated movie at DreamWorks Animation?
DEL TORO: Well the relationship with DreamWorks Animation actually started with me approaching them and saying ‘I want to direct an animated movie,’ and we started developing that screenplay Trollhunters three years ago. We’re on the fourth or fifth draft and I’m doing designs for it, and when the screenplay’s ready and the designs are ready I’m gonna set aside 18 months of my life and dedicate them only to the animated movie.
Can you give a basic logline or is it all under wraps?
DEL TORO: It’s about a group of kids that basically are Trollhunters at night, and they have to still do the math exam during the day; they get fit with braces and go through all the growing pains. I love the idea of creating a sort of nuanced portrait of kids that they’re not all perfect. They’re kind of misfits but not in a picturesque, hip way, they’re really, really kids that are not entirely great (laughs).
I’ve gotta ask, when are we all going to see the Pacific Rim trailer?
DEL TORO: It’s about five weeks from hitting theaters, so around mid-December.
So you’re gonna be on The Hobbit?
DEL TORO: You know we’re gonna be attached to, I think, a big movie, but I have no confirmation of that yet.
Were you involved in cutting the trailer for Pacific Rim or is it something that the marketing department presents to you and you give it the go-ahead?
DEL TORO: No, no, they bring it to me and then I do a little pass myself, I help with the sound design, then we re-cut it again, and then I’m involved in the timing of the color and the mixing of the sound, so whatever you saw in San Diego or New York, I was completely part of the process.
One of the things that’s really tough with a visual effects-heavy movie and trailers is that you often don’t have the finished shots until a month or two before release. Do you have any finished shots in the trailer or is this all like 95% stuff?
DEL TORO: We have a couple of finished shots, but most of the stuff is being finished for the trailer.
So this is stuff that you’ll be very, very happy to show.
DEL TORO: Yeah, oh no absolutely. If it goes public, it has to be I’m very, very happy to show off what we’ll show in December.
I know that you have a close relationship with Thomas Tull at Legendary. I’m curious, how much is he pulling at you to say, ‘Hey, if Pacific Rim does the business we’re expecting it to do, we really want you to do the sequel,’ and how much is it like, ‘I have 10 other things that I’m thinking about doing, what the hell am I gonna do next?’
DEL TORO: A little bit of both. We certainly started tossing ideas for possibilities of a sequel and Travis Beacham and I are writing a proposal of ideas, but at the same time I know I don’t want to do that next. I want to do something else, I want to do something in a different genre that’s not so big. So I don’t know yet what it’s gonna be, but I know that next year I’m delivering Pacific Rim in July and then I’m doing—God willing—the voice shooting for Pinocchio and then the pilot for The Strain for FX.
That’s another thing I was gonna ask you about. I know that you’re partnering with Carlton Cuse from Lost on The Strain, can you tell people how that’s been going and what we can look forward to?
DEL TORO: Well Chuck Hogan and I are gonna write the pilot together, and we’re starting already to cast. In other words, we’re out to actors with the books and me meeting them and we’re starting to, with a little bit of luck, get a very interesting cast for the series. The pilot has been greenlit, which means that it’s not an ‘if’ but a ‘when,’ we’re gonna shoot it next year. It will shoot very likely in Toronto.
I’m very excited to see this thing. How does the 3D footage in Pacific Rim look thus far?
DEL TORO We’re getting footage in 3D from two forms: one is all the footage that is CG is being composited directly by ILM. So John Knoll, who is one of the greatest minds in the business, is supervising that there’s no miniaturization in those shots. And they’re looking gorgeous; they’re coming basically fast and furious every week. And the other source of 3D is Stereo D, and those are looking fantastic too.