Child’s question inspires La. writer to pen Guardians

DreamWorks photo by MATHIEU YOUNGProducer Christina Steinberg, from left, director Peter Ramsey, executive producer and author Bill Joyce and producer Nancy Bernstein discuss DreamWorks Animation's Rise of the Guardians.
DreamWorks photo by MATHIEU YOUNGProducer Christina Steinberg, from left, director Peter Ramsey, executive producer and author Bill Joyce and producer Nancy Bernstein discuss DreamWorks Animation's Rise of the Guardians.

William Joyce, the Shreveport-based writer and filmmaker who won an Oscar this year for his co-direction of the animated short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, follows his made-in-Louisiana triumph with one of the holiday movie season’s major releases, Rise of the Guardians.

Joyce is executive producer of Rise of the Guardians, the latest film from DreamWorks Animation, opening nationwide this week. The movie’s screenplay, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, is based on an original story by Joyce.

Joyce’s earlier credits include the computer-animated films Robots and Meet the Robinsons and the Emmy-winning TV series Rolie Polie Olie. He’s also published five stories in his 13-story Guardians series.

In Rise of the Guardians, set 200 years after the first Guardians story, children’s characters Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost unite against a wicked spirit named Pitch. The spirit wants to erase the Guardians from existence, thereby robbing the world’s children of their hopes and dreams.

Joyce’s Guardians began 14 years ago with a question from his 6-year-old daughter, Mary Katherine. It was a magnificent question, one that only a child would ask: Are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny friends?

“None of it would have happened if she hadn’t posed that question,” Joyce said from New York City a few weeks ago, just before the East Coast premiere of Rise of the Guardians. “That’s one of the things I revel in. It all started with a kid, my kid, asking, what to her, was a very legitimate question. And she asked it in August, nowhere near Christmas.”

Joyce wished he’d thought of the question himself. He also recognized the worlds of storytelling potential it opened for him. He began creating mythologies, or back stories, for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost.

“These guys needed a little help,” Joyce said. “I felt a little in awe that I was taking on the task of helping to find them. I also got the sense that this was a story I was put on this Earth to tell. Everything that I loved and admired and wished for, I was able to express in pulling these mythologies together.

“And once I got into this, it just got richer and funnier. It was so delicious. I didn’t want to quit eating.”

The reactions audiences have had to Rise of the Guardians during preview screenings delighted Joyce.

“They ride it like a rollercoaster,” he said. “I heard them laugh and gasp in disbelief and cry at the touching parts. It seems to be doing exactly what I and everybody at DreamWorks hoped for.

“When I went to DreamWorks, I said, ‘I want to make a Wizard of Oz, Thief of Baghdad, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs kind of grand entertainment. They were like, ‘We do, too.’ ”

Rise of the Guardians is dedicated to the child who inspired it, Mary Katherine. She saw much of the movie’s in-production development, but died two years ago from a brain tumor.

“It will keep her memory alive,” her father said. “But I’d rather have her and no movie at all.”

Joyce, a perfectionist who holds every piece of work he does until it’s pried from his hands, can count, for instance, a thousand things he’d liked to have done better in the Oscar-winning The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

“I cling until the last second. I’m never satisfied. I’m never happy and it’s never all the way right. So many times they’re like, ‘OK, get away from your desk! There’s no more time!’

“There are only two movies that I’ve worked on that I’m really happy with. The first one is Toy Story. The other one is Guardians.”