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RISE OF THE GUARDIANS

What Would Santa Sound Like?
According to Billy Joyce's books, North, better known as Santa Claus, is the de facto leader of the Guardians - but it is the Man in the Moon, "the wise watcher of the world," Ramsey says, who chose him many centuries ago.

"When the Man in the Moon decided a group of special people was needed to protect Earth's children from Pitch, the first guy he found was Nicholas St. North," says Joyce, who envisioned North as a sword-wielding Cossack in his early days, "the wildest young warrior and thief in all of Russia," until his mission in life changed to become a protector of children.

For the film, everyone agreed that North, with his booming voice, blustering, uncompromising attitude and "naughty" and "nice" tattoos emblazed on his forearms, was a boisterous, larger-than-life character that needed to be played by a larger-than life actor. Who better than Oscar nominee Alec Baldwin?

"Alec personifies North," says Ramsey. "He's playful and mischievous, and he's a bit of a hotshot. When audiences see North's eyes on screen with Alec's voice coming out of him, there will be no mistaking whose soul is inside that character."

Adds Joyce, "No one could capture North's personality as brilliantly as Alec does."

Baldwin sees his character this way: "In my mind, North is a combination of personalities. He's kind of a magician - almost like the Wizard of Oz. He's very benevolent, like your favorite teacher, and he has the best interests of his constituency - children - at heart. On the more human side, he's obsessed with getting credit for everything. He wants to make sure everybody knows that Santa is the one who's laying down this deal here. Christmas is number one. He's constantly fighting with the Easter Bunny about which is more important, Easter or Christmas. In that regard, he's like Donald Trump."

"I can relate to North, because like a producer, he has to will everything into existence, even when he doesn't actually know if he can pull it off," producer Steinberg says. "He truly believes he can make anything happen just because he says so. We always describe him as a Hell's Angel with a heart of gold. He has this amazing spirit of joy, wonder, and hope. At the same time, he's tough and analytical. There are no gray areas for him."

As our story unfolds, it is North (along with his massive Yetis, who make all his toys, and the ubiquitous elves, who just get underfoot) who encounters the shadow of an enemy he thought was long gone: The bogeyman Pitch, who invades the workshop of North's magnificent North Pole Fortress and sends menacing black sand swirling around North's sputtering Globe of Belief. The globe is an enormous orb usually lit up with millions of tiny lights representing the belief of children around the world. The fact that it's growing dim is evidence that Pitch is up to no good.

Director Ramsey explains, "Pitch's issue is that children love and believe in the Guardians. They have a lot of emotional investment in them, and their parents encourage them to believe in these characters. But with the bogeyman, it's exactly the opposite. Parents always say, 'Oh, there's nothing in the dark.' 'You're just having a bad dream.' 'There's no such thing as the bogeyman.' The whole story gets going because Pitch is sick and tired of that dynamic. He represents fear and his ultimate goal is to be believed in by canceling out belief in the Guardians."

"The Guardians represent hope, joy, wonder and dreams," producer Steinberg notes. "If Pitch is able to take them out, they will literally cease to exist. The attributes they represent would be gone from the world and fear would reign."

The way Pitch attempts to do that is by corrupting one of the Guardians' tools. "He has a huge amount resentment for being shoved under the beds for hundreds of years," says actor Jude Law, who gives voice to Pitch. "He figures out a way to take the Sandman's dream sand - the positive, pure golden sand that gives everyone happy dreams - and twist it into nightmares (which take the form of amorphous black stallions subject to Pitch's command), creating fear within children."

And by design, the manner in which he operates is quite compelling, Ramsey says.

"We thought a lot about the way fear works in the real world, and the logic behind it. If you think, 'I want to go outside, but there are some clouds in the sky and that means it might rain. If it rains, I might get a cold. If I get a cold…' Pretty soon you're not going outside and you're missing all the best stuff in life because you let your fear snowball into something unhealthy. Fear shuts down your world. So we knew that we wanted a character that was alluring and could falsely convince you that being afraid was the only thing that made sense."

Steinberg agrees. "These iconic characters needed a worthy opponent. Peter, Bill Joyce, David Lindsay-Abaire and I spent a lot of time talking about our favorite villains in past movies. We all loved the feeling we had watching 'The Wizard of Oz' when we hid behind our bedroom doors, peeking our heads out to watch the Wicked Witch of the West. She was scary, but exciting and charismatic at the same time. We wanted to bring that dynamic to Pitch as well. So, he's not a terrifying, moustache twirling villain. He has a lot of personality. He's wicked, funny and smart."

Lindsay-Abaire adds, "There's a human side to Pitch, as well. Like our hero, Jack Frost, Pitch is a lonely soul who simply wants to be believed in. Unfortunately, he thinks the way to make that happen is through fear and intimidation."

"When Jude Law's name came up for the role, everybody's bells just went off," Ramsey says. "We listened to his voice in combination with some animated tests and we knew we had the right casting. Pitch moves through shadows. He moves on the edges of what you can see. Jude's voice has this beautiful quality to it - we call it 'the velvet touch of Pitch' - and you just want to listen to it forever even when it's telling you these terrible things.

"Pitch's story is pretty compelling," Ramsey continues. "He's a guy who's been on the bottom for a long time and who has now found a way to strike back and take power for himself. Jude has been able to flesh out the nuances of this character's many layers. It's a magnificent thing to listen to - the hair literally stands up on the back of your neck."

"The voice casting was, no pun intended, pitch perfect," executive producer Guillermo del Toro says. "Jude brings fragility, refinement, intelligence and cunning - a lot of stuff that is beyond the lines - to his character. There's a sense of isolation and loneliness in Pitch that is all Jude's doing."

After the bogeyman's "visit" to the fortress, North summons his fellow Guardians - the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman - to the North Pole for a summit. It's been a long time. The Guardians don't always work together, as each has "incredibly complicated jobs," Ramsey notes. "North is delivering toys to everybody in the world in one night. It's a huge operation! The Easter Bunny, too, has a lot preparation to do to give eggs to kids all over the world. And Tooth and Sandy are busy every night. So they only come together when they genuinely need to." Well, they need to now.

In Joyce's books, E. Aster Bunnymund, better known as the Easter Bunny, is a Pooka, the last of an ancient race of giant, warrior rabbit-priests that protect life. Bunnymund has the ability to create magical portals that allow him to travel throughout the world in the blink of an eye to deliver beautifully decorated Easter eggs.

"This Easter Bunny is the coolest character you've ever met," says Hugh Jackman, who voices Bunnymund in the film. "He's pretty badass. Think Indiana Jones with a touch of Steve Irwin. He protects nature, he's a brilliant martial artist and he's very strong. He can jump high, of course, and he has these two boomerangs on his hips, instead of six-shooters, which he uses to great effect. It was great that they allowed me to play him as this irascible Australian - tough, a little bit grumpy, and no-nonsense. He doesn't muck around. He's got a job to do and he's going to get it done, no matter what."

"He's almost like a cowboy in some ways," Ramsey says. "He's got a little bit of that feel about him. He's a perfect counterpoint to North who comes into a room and knocks everything over because he's so big."

"He's a fierce warrior when he needs to be," Steinberg agrees, "but he also has this amazing other side to him. He's a ranger and a nurturer - of Spring, of hope, of new beginnings, of the little eggs that he grows."

"One of things Hugh latched onto was the rivalry that we've got between Bunny and North," Ramsey adds. "Hugh loved that. He did so many riffs where he's annoyed because North is always trying to steal the spotlight and elbow Easter out of the way. But Bunny is going to protect his holiday to the very last breath. Hugh brought that to life."

Isla Fisher plays the half-human, half hummingbird Tooth Fairy who is able to collect lost teeth all over the world, 365 days a year. "She's tiny, but with these gorgeous teal blue and green wings and big, big eyes," Fisher says. "As far as personalities go, she's definitely type-A and a little bit like Tracy Flick from 'Election.' She has to get everything right and on time. She's quite militant in the way she collects teeth but she has a soft side too, and gets extremely excited when she sees pearly white incisors."

"We envisioned her as a hummingbird because she's always on the job," Ramsey says. "She's always flitting here and there, always with a thousand things to do, her mind always in a million places at once, always talking, always communicating."

She doesn't work alone, though. "Tooth has lots of Baby Teeth, little fairies that are miniature versions of herself," Fisher says. "They flutter around, collecting teeth and leaving little gifts and money."

Says Lindsay-Abaire, "Tooth is an air traffic controller, managing all of the children and their teeth in every country."

"For a long time, the Tooth Fairy was, conceptually, one of the trickiest characters to get right," Ramsey says. "But there were a few tests that the animators did early on with Isla's voice where we all went, that's the Tooth Fairy. Isla is a great comedienne. She also handles these very emotional scenes, with the perfect balance of toughness and vulnerability, where you really see what matters to her about her work. She gets all sides of Tooth dead on."

Whereas one would be hard-pressed to get Tooth to stay quiet for more than a minute, the Sandman - Sandy for short - doesn't say a word. The architect and bringer of good dreams, "the one who sets your imagination free and let's you dream of possibilities and fantasies at night," Ramsey says, doesn't need to.

"It's great to have one character who's in the center of the hurricane," adds Ramsey. "Sandy ends up being a pivotal character in a lot of scenes. He may not say anything, but he packs a huge punch in terms of his role in the story and what he means to the Guardians. His ability, the power of dreams, is one of the strongest any of them has."

"He communicates with dream images above his head," explains Steinberg. "He's like Buddha. He's very mellow and calm, but he, too, has another side, and when he needs to he will defend himself and defend children. He's actually a fierce warrior, who, like Yoda in the 'Star Wars' films, can pull it out when he needs to. He can use sand to create and control any object he needs in a pinch, and he usually wins every fight he's in."

Guardians convened, the Man in the Moon shines down on them and gives them some surprising news. In order to defeat Pitch, they're going to need some help from an unlikely source: Jack Frost.

"They know Jack as a troublemaker, as this immature kind of guy," says Ramsey, and by all appearances, he is. Jack is a 300-year-old prankster in a 17-year-old body, with the power to create frost, wind and snow. Happiest when he's causing havoc, controlling winter with a swing, tap or touch of his staff, to him, a successful day is measured by how many snowballs he's thrown, how many windows have been fogged and how many schools have closed after it's been declared a snow day. He has no responsibilities, no one to answer to, and ultimately, at least in his mind, no purpose.

"That bothers him," says Ramsey. "Other than knowing that his name is Jack Frost, he doesn't know anything about himself, much less what he's meant to do in this world. To make matters worse, no one can see him and, unlike the Guardians, no one believes in him, so he's kind of a loner and an outsider."

To play the role of Jack, Ramsey and the "Guardians" team knew they had to find an actor that could demonstrate the conviction of a leading man - in many ways, "Guardians" is Jack's story - but who could also be playful and vulnerable to express Jack's range of emotions in the film. They found what they were looking for in actor Chris Pine.

"We loved Chris in 'Star Trek,'" says Ramsey. He's exciting and smart. That comes through as soon as you see him on-screen. He's got a twinkle in his eye that can be heard in his voice. He's a leading man with energy, charisma and a sense of fun - all the qualities that Jack Frost has."

For his part, Pine gravitated to the role because of Jack's plight.

"One of the journeys of this film is how Jack finds a home, friendship, community and a sense of purpose," he says. "Jack will instigate snowball fights, desperately wanting kids to have fun but also wanting them to know that he's the guy behind it, that he's reason that they're having a good time. Jack's quest - to have connections with others and to find the answer to what are we put on this Earth to do - is something that's so very human."

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