Exclusive: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ brings classic video game characters to the movie screen

Movie TalkSeptember 12, 2012

"Toy Story" answered the long-standing question of what toys did when you weren't in the room. But did you ever wonder what video game characters got up to when you weren't playing?

That's the idea behind Walt Disney Studios' next animated comedy, "Wreck-It Ralph." It's the story of Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the villain of the 8-bit arcade game "Fix-It Felix," who has been smashing buildings for three decades.  When he finally gets sick of always being the bad guy, he skips out of his cabinet and tries to be the hero of some newer and flashier games.

Ralph gets drafted into "Hero's Duty," a high-tech shoot 'em up action game under the command of the tough-talking Sgt. Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch). And he winds up in a candy themed racing game called "Sugar Rush" where he befriends a little "glitch" called Venellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman).

While "Wreck-It Ralph" introduces games created just for the film, the electronic world they live in is populated by familiar characters from over 30 years of video game history. In the new trailer which debuted exclusively here on Yahoo! Movies, you get glimpses of the many cameos of game icons that pop up in the film.

Ralph is seen at a support group for video game villains, which includes Clyde the ghost from "Pac-Man," Bowser from "Super Mario Bros.," and "Street Fighter" baddies Zangief and M. Bison.  Also, Q*Bert has a speaking role in the trailer (even though he doesn't speak English). Even the bartender character from "Tapper" (a beer-slinging game that was rebranded "Root Beer Tapper" to be more kid-friendly) makes an appearance.

I spoke to Rich Moore, the director of "Wreck-It Ralph," in a phone interview this week, and he told me that his love of video games goes way back.  Moore, who won Emmy awards for his work on "The Simpson" and "Futurama," makes his solo feature directorial debut with "Ralph," and he discuss how his team spent years developing the story and video game world of the movie.

And be sure to check out the "Wreck-It Ralph Play & Win Sweepstakes." Earn points by watching trailers and playing games, and you could earn a chance to win a "Backstage Magic" trip for four from Adventures By Disney.

Wreck-It Ralph
Wreck-It Ralph

Matt McDaniel: Why was this the project that brought you to the big screen?

Rich Moore: It's the opportunity to tell a great, great story on a really broad scale working with what I would say are the best artists in the medium of feature animation at this studio.  It was a great opportunity to work with some old friends again, some old colleagues... and to me it's like a whole new group of people here at Disney Studios.  And it's been a blast and I really, really enjoyed it.

MM: Now, it seems that the interesting challenge of this story idea is figuring out the rules of the logic of this video game universe.  So how long was that process and how involved was it?

RM:    Well, it was a pretty long process.  We worked on the story for about two and a half years, to be honest, from beginning to end.  And I would say a good year and a half of that time was banging out all the rules of what was possible, what was forbidden in this world.  Even up to the end, we were always tweaking things, because it's a big world.  It's a pretty complex world.

The challenge with it is making it simple for the audience to get -- so when you first watch the movie, you know what you're in the middle of. And that was a huge challenge, to take something as complicated as a world or worlds -- we're dealing primarily with three separate worlds of video games in the movie.  It was a challenge to present the genres quickly, where the audience got them and really knew, "Okay, so this is that and that's how it works."

And coming from square one, it's not based on any other film or property. It's a brand new big idea.  And I think the audience is going to be really excited about how quickly they kind of jump into it, how full the world is, how amazing it looks.  And again, I think it speaks to this amazing crew that we have at the studio.

MM: Now, are you personally a gamer?

RM: I am. I spent many an hour, many a year, a lot of time in the arcade when I was a little kid and pizza places that had video games in them.  I was one of the first on my block to get the home version of PONG.  We got it for Christmas and that was big.  When the Atari 2600 came out, we had that.

When the Nintendo system came out after that with "Duck Hunt," we played a lot of that.  When the N64 came out that was a big day. I'm lucky because I got to start as a kid playing games when they were pretty prehistoric and primitive. And I've been able to kind of watch them mature and have a front row seat as someone who loves video games to watch this medium kind of grow up.

I love Xbox.  I like PlayStation; I like XBox a little better. But I do like the games. Maybe not hardcore like someone would identify, but I do like video games a lot.

MM: What was your arcade cabinet of choice back in the day?

RM: Well, back in the day when I was in high school, there was a pizza place, Rusty's Pizza, right next to our high school, and we would go there everyday after school.  There was a tabletop Pac-Man game, [and] there was something great about that game.  My friends and I would just sit around it and play for hours.  You didn't have to step away from the game to let the second player play.  They were across the table and the screen would flip.  I loved that tabletop Pac-Man.  Also, as I got older, I loved the games that Don Bluth did in the '80s, the "Dragon's Lair" and "Space Ace" games, because of how it implemented animation into the games, so those were huge favorites also.

MM: Now there are a lot of the classic characters that pop up in the movie.  Which characters were you on a personal crusade to make sure that they had a part on this movie?

RM: Well, Q*Bert was always a favorite of mine.  There's just something inherently funny about the character, Q*Bert.  He's a ball with just two feet and a nose and eyes.  So way from the beginning, we really wanted to work with the great Q*Bert.

I'm pretty proud that we have Paperboy in the movie.  He's got a small part, so I think it will be great for the world to see Paperboy again.  It was great to have the characters from "Street Fighter" in the movie, like M. Bison and Zangief, so it's really working with great classic characters that you loved in your childhood.  And now, we're actually working with these guys.  It's exciting, and also you kind of have to have a little bit of reverence for them. Like, "Wow!  I'm working with Pac-Man, so it's pretty cool."

Wreck-It Ralph
Wreck-It Ralph

MM: Now you've got great human actors in it, too.  How did they work together?

RM: In animation a lot of times, since you're just recording the voices, you don't need everyone together at one time.  So a lot of times, people will come in individually and record their part as they're playing off the other character, but we have a cast that works so well off other actors that, as a director, I wanted to kind of create an atmosphere that would bring out the best in the actors that I was working with.

So we kind of went out of our way to make sure everyone was scheduled that at least we would have John [C. Reilly] and Sarah [Silverman] in together.  We would have John and Jack [McBrayer] in together, John and Jane [Lynch}, Jane and Jack.

Usually two at a time to play off one another, and that was because we found that with these really great comedic actors -- and they're great just as actors also, but as far as with the comedy, that a lot of gold came out of first recording the scenes as it was written on the page and then trying that a few times.  And then as we would get the gist of the scene, then kind of going off page a little bit, and trying some different things and a little ad-libbing. And always trying to kind of stay on point as to what the scene was about, but just having some freedom to play with it a little bit.

Sometimes from there, as a director, I would try to kind of reel it back in a little bit.  So we would then take whatever gold we discovered in the looser takes and implement them back into something more that was in the page.  So it was a great way to work. Really, really fun.  And I think everyone not only performed great work from that technique, but I think everyone really enjoyed it as well.

MM: With this new trailer, are there any hidden Easter eggs we should be looking out for?

RM: Well, there's a lot of stuff in the background.  I like to fill up the frame with a lot of things.  My favorite as a kid was "Star Wars" and what I loved about that movie, especially in the theater, was how many times I can go back and watch it and find out how George Lucas packed it with all these details.  It felt like such a real, cool world.

In my work, I like to try and do that same type of thing, too, where if you really pay attention that there's some graffiti on the wall or a character doing some sort of behavior in the background or just observational detail. Which is something that in working on something like "Futurama" or "The Simpsons," when I was the director on those shows, I loved that aspect of those shows where there was an opportunity to kind of put very slice-of-life mental-observation-detail in the background.

Specifically in this trailer, I think there's going to be a few more shots of Game Central Station, and let's just say there's lots of graffiti in the movie, especially at that location, that I think there might be some things to catch.  You're going to see a lot more of the world of "Sugar Rush" in this new trailer because we're starting to show off what's at the heart of the movie, and that's the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope, and that's John and Sarah Silverman's characters.  So there's some nice kind of candy-related things in the background, which is what I like about the movie.  There are not just references of video games.  You get into a whole different sphere once we get into "Sugar Rush" a kind of sweet treats and candy tips of the hat and all that, that I think fans are really going to enjoy also.

We had a screening recently, and afterwards, someone was talking about it saying, "Man, this is, like, two of my favorite things in the world in this movie: video games and junk food."  So I think we've landed on something that people really like in this movie.

"Wreck-It Ralph" opens November 2.