DreamWorks brought out their animated fall player “Rise of the Guardians” for Los Angeles press Tuesday at a tastemaker event with director Peter Ramsey and executive producer Guillermo del Toro (who had a big hand in character designs) in tow. Earlier in the day press were rounded up for a trip to the studio’s Glendale, California campus for a full day of presentations and buttering-up, the usual.
I wasn’t at those events (I saw the film a few weeks back in New York and made some cursory comments in our survey of the Best Animated Feature Film contenders). But even from way out here you can see the heat is on as the studio preps the film to open just a few weeks after Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” gobbles up a lot of the demographic pie.
Looking back on the film with some time in between, I still feel the same as I did then. It’s beautifully animated but feels somewhat empty. “Empty” isn’t the right word. It’s very clearly a movie about faith and how that translates to childhood, and kids will love it, so it’s nice that it’s playing off an interesting theme. But there’s a thinness to it. The film’s heart doesn’t feel like much more than artifice, and that’s particularly pronounced when you put it up against a film like “Wreck-It Ralph” that is swimming in heart and thematic virtue.
Anyway, Anne and I will probably talk a little more about “Rise of the Guardians” in tomorrow’s Oscar Talk podcast, but for now, it’s worth pointing out that the studio is gunning for some unique areas of the Oscar race by pitching it for SAG ensemble consideration. Writes Jenelle Riley at Backstage:
“DreamWorks certainly thinks it has a shot, submitting the voice cast for ‘Rise of the Guardians’ in [the] Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Motion Picture category at the 2013 SAG Awards. This marks the first time DreamWorks has submitted an animated film in the category…It’s certainly a reach, but considering the SAG Awards have no voice acting category, it’s worth a shot. Besides, people once laughed at the idea of animated films earning Best Picture Oscar nominations before ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Up.’ And now animated films have their own category at the Academy Awards.”
The only time I’ve ever really felt voice work deserved awards attention was when Ellen DeGeneres came along with a stellar performance in 2003’s “Finding Nemo.” Though a lot of people have had and will continue to have glowing things to say about John C. Reilly in “Wreck-It Ralph.” I mostly agree with them; it’s an endearing and lovable portrait.
Maybe it’s time to start considering a new category or some kind of peripheral recognition for voice work. Eddie Murphy managed a BAFTA nomination for his work in “Shrek” in 2001, but that was an anomaly. And it wouldn’t have to just be for animated films, necessarily. Just look at what Mercedes McCambridge did in “The Exorcist.” (Indeed, McCambridge’s plight was recounted in a great piece about the film’s many details by Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Breznican yesterday.) After all, when it’s not just about a quick paycheck for an actor who gets in and out without caring much (you know who you are), a voice performance can actually mean something.
I doubt much will come of DreamWorks’ SAG push, but it’s nice to see them trying.
“Rise of the Guardians” opens nationwide on November 21.