After years of playing little sister to Pixar, Dreamworks Animation has finally come out on top, securing Oscar nominations for both Puss and Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2 in 2011. Riding high on the financial and critical success of these films, the studio invited press to the Director’s Guild of America the other day for a preview of their 2012 slate.
During the presentation, we saw about 25 minutes of the anthropomorphized crime caper, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and the premiere of the first footage from Rise of the Guardians, an epic new William Joyce (Meet the Robinsons) adaptation that focuses on the battle between holiday figureheads and the boogieman. Hit the jump for a breakdown of the footage and some thoughts.
First, we saw some key sequences from Madagascar 3.
Picking up where Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa left off, the new film begins with the so-called ‘Zoosters’ arriving in Le Grande Casino in order to track down their scheming penguin friends who have been trying to win enough cash to get back to New York City.
The penguins have done well for themselves. After building a disguise as the King of Versailles – an amusingly garish parody of 17th century French Monarch attire – the penguins have had a month’s long run of wins at the roulette table. They have almost enough cash saved up until the Zoosters ineptly try to kidnap them and incite a riot in the house of games.
What follows is a massive chase scene through the streets of Monte Carlo. And I do mean massive. It goes from the streets, to the roofs, to the skies and back again. It’s as big as the climax of Fast Five, but this time, it’s actually a cartoon.
Chasing our protagonists is the threequel’s new villain, Capitaine Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand), a sadistic animal control officer with dreams of hunting a lion. While DuBois may look like Inspector Clouseau, she is the exact opposite, edging closer to Terminator territory with her self-assured and ruthless demeanor.
After destroying most of the city and escaping DuBois and her cronies, the Zoosters take refuge in circus train car where they meet the alpha male tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), the goofy sea lion Stefano (Martin Short) and the kindly and beautiful jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain), who also have dreams of making it to America.
When the penguins use the last of their gambling money to buy the circus, the Zoosters must find a way to turn the business around so they can escape Dubois, save their hides, and finally make it back to the big apple.
The second sequence we saw is from the premiere of the Zoosters new circus act. It’s a four-minute piece of Cirque du Soleil style insanity that reminded me of the abstract animation and surrealist shorts I watched in college. I can’t quite describe it, but it’s a serious trip and cool enough that I will probably pay to see the whole film. You can see some snippets of the scene in the new trailer, but the whole thing is kinda jaw dropping and much more impressive than I was expecting from this often-sitcomesque franchise.
Though the footage we saw was in 2D, this sequence will be stellar in the third dimension. There are lots of groovy trombone shots, longtakes, some fun depth of field gags, and of course, lots of explosions shooting shrapnel at the screen. It’s a silly cartoon, but it’s really well.
Similarly, the screenplay, written by Noah Baumbach, is crafted to feel like a Marx Brothers routine. Each of the Zoosters, along with the penguins and the lemurs, has a distinctive voice, and nearly every single line of dialogue is a joke of some sort.
Is this a movie for most Collider readers; probably not. But if I were 10-years old, I would be freaking out over this stuff.
The day’s second presentation was for Rise of the Guardians.
Rise of the Guardians, which has been in production for three years now, has one of the cooler high concepts in recent memory. In the film, Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), The Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), The Tooth Fairy (Jenna Fischer), The Sandman and Jack Frost (Chris Pine) must join forces to do battle with the Boogieman (Jude Law). Think of it as a holiday themed Avengers.
The first clip showcased a rough version of the film’s opening wherein Jack Frost awakens in the middle of a frozen lake. He has no memories and no idea from where he came. In fact, the only thing Frost knows is his name, a gift given to him by the mysterious Man in the Moon, who functions as a sort of Bosley to these fairytale Charlie’s Angels.
300 years later, Frost is kidnapped by the titular Guardians so that he can help them fight the Boogieman, who has mysteriously returned to earth. Along the way, Frost must uncover his past and learn to be a hero.
During the introduction, Dreamworks executives compared the film’s scope and ambition to How to Train Your Dragon, and the metaphor is apt. The animation is sumptuous and beautiful and while elements of the plot immediately recall Harry Potter, The Santa Clause and even The Nightmare Before Christmas, there is a unique depth and emotional vitality to the piece.
For example, while everyone knows that The Tooth Fairy leaves money in exchange for baby teeth, Guardians posits that she keeps these molars and incisors because they hold the core of one’s childhood within them and that she protects the teeth so that one can draw strength from early memories.
Though most of the animation is still incomplete, Rise of the Guardians has the potential to be something really special. The reimagining of the holiday figureheads is clever – Santa as a massive Russian with, “Naughty” and, “Nice” tattooed on his forearms, The Easterbunny as an ornery Australian tough guy, The Tooth Fairy as a giant hummingbird, The Sandman is a silent pillow-shaped specter who communicates through pictograms – and the entry point of Jack Frost as an outsider who is literally invisible because no one believes him to be a real figure, carries a bit of weight to it. This, combined with a screenplay credited to David Lindsay-Abaire, whose utterly devastating Rabbit Hole took the theater world by storm (and made for a fine, under-seen film), really piqued my interest in the project.
The first trailer for Rise of the Guardians will premiere on April 6. The film comes out on November 21. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted hits theaters June 8.