DreamWorks Animation Previews <i>Madagascar 3</i>, <i>Rise of Guardians</i>

DreamWorks Animation presented a sneak peek at its 2012 slate on Wednesday, showcasing the third installment of the popular Madagascar franchise and the holiday-themed Rise of the Guardians.

The presentation to a gathering of journalists began with Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, which picks up where 2008’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa left off, with Alex the lion, Melman the giraffe, Gloria the hippo and Marty the zebra still stuck in Africa. It seems they were left behind when their makeshift plane destined for New York was instead diverted to Monte Carlo by the penguins and monkeys, who were itching to hit the casinos.

Co-directed by Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon and Eric Darnell from a script by Noah Baumbach, the sequel sends Alex and the gang after their wayward pilots and into the path of Monte Carlo animal control officer Captain DuBois (voiced by Frances McDormand). Chased out Monaco, they catch a ride with a traveling circus in hopes of avoiding detection. Now they must help turn around the failing circus to win a contract to perform in the United States and gain entry back to New York City and their beloved zoo.

With the full cast returning -- Ben Stiller as Alex, Chris Rock as Marty, David Schwimmer as Melman, Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria and Sacha Baron Cohen as lemur King Julien -- Pinkett Smith introduced the 3D trailer and footage, saying it was “great to work with such a great and talented group of people” again.

Showing an extended car chase scene through the streets of Monte Carlo as DuBois tries to apprehend the gang, the footage also introduced three new characters, members of the traveling circus: Russian tiger Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), sea lion Stefano (Martin Short) and jaguar Gia (Jessica Chastain).

Moving onto the second animated film of 2012, director Peter Ramsey introduced Rise of the Guardians, based on William Joyce’s children’s book series The Guardians of Childhood. If the author’s name sounds familiar, it’s because Joyce is behind the book and Disney TV series Rolie Polie Olie, the 2005 DreamWorks film Robots, the 2007 film Meet the Robinsons, and the Oscar-winning short The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Three years in the making, Rise of the Guardians follows the Guardians of Childhood, a super-team of make-believe creatures that helps to protect children and bring joy to the world made up of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and the Sandman.

When the children of the world are threatened by Pitch, the Bogeyman, the Guardians band together to take on the threat and restore children’s belief in wonder and in themselves -- because without kids’ belief the Guardians will cease to exist. However, the group learns its only hope in defeating Pitch lies in Jack Frost, an amnesiac trickster who loves using his cold-inducing powers for mischief and sees the Guardians as boring stiffs. Presenting a different side of the holiday archetypes, Santa (or North as he’s called in the film) is voiced by Alec Baldwin, Bunnymund the Easter Bunny by Hugh Jackman, Tooth the Tooth Fairy by comedian Isla Fisher, and Pitch by Jude Law.

Jack Frost actor Chris Pine helped DreamWorks introduce the footage, saying that, “What was most special [about the film] is the idea that childhood imagination is powerful. ... That is the fight of this movie and the fight of these Guardians, this fight against the cynicism of adulthood.”

A mix of unfinished animation and completed scenes, the footage showed a young Jack Frost first learning about his powers while revealing that he knew nothing about his past or his powers. The clip also showed the Guardians version of Santa Claus’ workshop, where North relies on a team of Yetis to build his toys (the elves are there as well, but as North explains to Jack, they’re rather useless as they flop around wearing giant belled hats).

The footage mainly served to show the film’s twists on each of the classic characters: North is more Russian mobster than jolly old man, with “Naughty” and “Nice” tattooed on his arms. Tooth is a human/bird hybrid attended by a swarm of hummingbirds that helps her collect kids’ teeth and protect the childhood memories stored inside them. Bunnymund is a giant Australian jackrabbit with an attitude. And Sandy the Sandman is a silent mime, a “cross between Harpo Marx and Buddha,” director Ramsey joked.

DreamWorks Chief Creative Officer Bill Damaschke, who concluded the full presentation, also said that, as with 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, the studio hopes Guardians will strike a different chord with audiences, a chord “which we believe again pushes the boundaries of animation.”

The trailer for Rise of the Guardians will begin playing in theaters April 6 ahead of the film’s Nov. 21 release in 2D and 3D. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted opens June 8.

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