LOS ANGELES Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is known for putting a dark twist on super heroes and children's fantasy, but in "Rise of the Guardians" the producer brings together holiday heroes for a festive adventure.
"Rise of the Guardians," which will be in theaters on Friday, is based on award-winning author William Joyce's "The Guardians of Childhood" books. In the film, traditional characters such as Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost join forces to save earth's children from the evil Pitch Black and his band of Nightmares.
In the movie that stars Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher and Hugh Jackman, del Toro, 48, steps back into the executive producer role after directing dark fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth" and the "Hellboy" superhero franchise.
He spoke to Reuters about putting his own stamp on beloved holiday heroes, and why children's films are important to him.
Q: In "Rise of the Guardians," Santa has tattoos, the Easter Bunny is Australian and the Tooth Fairy is half-human, half bird. Not the way most of us grew up imagining them, is it?
A: "We didn't want the characters to have the affections that are given to them in certain cultures. We didn't want to go with the safe Easter Bunny that is now a marketing tool ... We wanted them to represent the world and to geographically make sense. Where would a burrower live, the Outback? The original incarnation of Santa is almost that of a hunter and wild man. It comes from the Nordic and Eastern European notions so we thought it would be great to make him Slavic."
Q: The film is about addressing fear, which is always a challenging lesson for parents to teach their children. Why make this the central theme?
A: "In order to address fear, parents always end up tiptoeing around the subject. Shielding our kids is not the way to go, but you also don't want to send them out unprepared without a healthy sense of self. I thought the movie was a great analogy to many things. It's a great metaphor for kids to interpret the world."
Q: What attracts you to the children's genre?
A: "Some of my favorite authors in literature are guys that are great portrayers of childhood, but not necessarily childish - Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl. And my movies like 'Hellboy' and 'Hellboy 2' are about misfits coming together. Same with my Spanish movie 'The Devil's Backbone.' So this movie is thematically very much within what I like to do.
"I think that for good or for bad, we spend the rest of our lives dealing with our first 13 years of life, trying to remedy or be lifted by whatever tools we were given when we were kids. Those first years are when we, as adults, sculpt the character of our kids ... In reality, life puts kids in our lives for us to learn from them. There is no braver soul in the world than a kid."
Q: Which "Guardian" do you identify with the most?
A: "I identify with North (Santa Claus). I have the greatest blessing in my life, which is the capacity to remain a child in the way I like to see the world. Like every artist, I have turmoil and I suffer. But ultimately I am able to find magic in the world. When North declares those principles, when he says 'I feel it in my belly,' it's very much something I identify completely with."
Q: Can we expect to see more of this band of heroes in future films?
A: "Obviously the possibility of telling another tale is completely dependent on the studio. But Bill Joyce has written many books on the characters and we are on board to create more and more adventures for them. We've been talking about some storylines. I am eager to tell everyone the story of North."
Q: You recently finished shooting sci-fi adventure "Pacific Rim," due in theaters in 2013, which is your first directing venture since 2008's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." Why the break?
A: "I went to New Zealand to direct 'The Hobbit' and I was there for two years. I co-wrote the script, and at the end of the process there was a moment of decision where I really wanted to pursue something else and not keep waiting ('The Hobbit' production was delayed due to movie studio MGM's financial troubles).
"Then I spent over a year trying to get a movie called 'Mountains of Madness' off the ground. That didn't happen. Next it took another two years to get 'Pacific Rim' to the screen. But in the meantime, I co-wrote three novels, produced three movies and wrote a TV series. It's been a very busy five years."
(Reporting by Zorianna Kit, editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Jeffrey Benkoe)