According to Joyce, the books are about "how they [the Guardians] became who they are" and the movie is about "what they are."  With Santa (or Nicholas St. North), screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire states that "The spirit of him is exactly the same" in the novel and in the books.  Those who have read the books and then see the film will note that North is certainly more human in the opening of the first book than he is in the opening of the film.  When we meet him in the books, he doesn't know of magic and North has not yet taken on the Santa persona.  
One of the things that doesn't change from the books to the movie is North's Russian-ness and in fact, Baldwin voices him with a Cossack accent.  At the press conference, Baldwin talks about the necessity of learning an accent and then backing off it to make it easier for audiences to grasp, jokingly noting that he tried to do something akin to Boris Badenov and "The whole 'Rocky & Bullwinkle' thing."  Baldwin lets his stage experience show through here, first with talking about the accent, discussing how in the theater you would be coached on an accent only to be told to back off it later, and then soon after talking about the ability to change a scene or a performance after beginning the play/the start of filming.  As Del Toro earlier stated at the press conference, doing animation "gives you time to think."
The Cossack nature of Santa may surprise many, but that isn't the only thing that will cause some to wonder with the character in Guardians.  The Nicholas St. North we get in the series comes out of a background of thievery—certainly not a very Santa-like characteristic.  He may be much more traditional Santa here, but does sport a couple of tattoos, one saying "Naughty" and the other "Nice."  
Looks, and voices, can be deceiving, and while he may be a warrior, Santa in "Rise" is still a warm lovable good guy, and presumably Baldwin would not have played him otherwise.  "I was offered an exorbitant amount of money—a huge amount of money—to voice a character in one of these videogames where I was going to play this contract killer for the mafia who killed a police officer and I said to them 'That's never happening.'" He continues "I think most people have a conscience about it and I knew that I wanted to do this one ["Rise"]…it's good for kids, it's very sweet."  The film, he argues, "Reinforces the idea of believing in yourself."  That notion of believing is true to the books as well, where every magic spell begins "I believe. I believe. I believe."  
Whether Del Toro, Baldwin, Joyce, and the rest are able to take that belief and weave a magic spell that entrances audiences remains to seen.

"Rise of the Guardians" opens November 21.
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