From director Rich Moore (The Simpsons, Futurama), the animated movie Wreck-It Ralph is an equal parts hilarious and adorable arcade adventure. For 30 years, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has been stuck in the role of bad guy while the good-guy star of Fix-It Felix Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer) always gets to save the day. When Ralph leaves his game, he embarks on a hero’s journey that leads him to the candy-coated cart-racing game Sugar Rush, where he meets feisty misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), who not only becomes his first real friend, but who also gives him his chance to finally save the day. The voice cast also includes Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Joe Lo Truglio and Adam Carolla.
At the film’s press day, Collider spoke to Rich Moore, in both a 1-on-1 and a roundtable interview, about the biggest challenges in taking the villain and making him the hero, how he ended up voicing a character himself, how Skrillex got involved with the movie and even ended up having an animated cameo, how much harder the 8-bit characters were to animate, that he and screenwriter Phil Johnston are going to make a live-action short for the DVD, about the guy who held the high-score record in Fix-It Felix and how it ruined his life, and that he definitely intends to continue working in animation. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: What were the biggest challenges in taking a character that’s supposed to be the villain and making him the hero of the movie?
RICH MOORE: Yeah, it is a challenge because he’s supposed to be unlikable and bad, and he’s supposed to do bad things. The challenge is, how do you take someone who’s supposed to be a villain and make that appealing and lovable? You have to empathize with him and put yourself in his shoes, and root for him and want him to have the things he wants. Having John C. Reilly as the voice of the character helped. He brings about a very strong humanity to his characters. He’s able to play someone who’s a little wrong-headed who wants the wrong thing, but you feel for him and you understand what it is that he really needs and you want him to have it. The challenge is not making the role of the bad guy so bad that he seems irredeemable, unlikable and unpalatable. You can’t look at him and go, “I don’t want to follow him. I don’t want to watch a story with him.” So, we made Ralph more like an oaf. He’s not evil. We went for Ralph being more childish and selfish. He can’t be a saint. He’s supposed to have flaws and be someone that needs to do some growing up, but we never have him do things that you would consider to be not nice. He’s a softie inside.
What was it about this idea that really got its hooks into you?
MOORE: Being able to make a comedy at Disney was really appealing. From the beginning, Phil [Johnston] said, “Let’s try to make this the funniest animated comedy that we can make.” But then, the flipside of that was the fact that we were able to get tremendous heart into the movie. The hallmark of a good comedy is that it can make you laugh, but it can also take you to the point where you’re in love with these characters and you want to see them be happy and you want to feel that emotion for them. That speaks to the heart of the film. The fact that it’s about video games is something that I love. That’s a part of my childhood, and my whole life. That’s something that I’ve enjoyed and that’s been close to me, and to depict this universe of worlds that come from things that I used to play as a kid, and continue to play today, has been really fun. It’s really great!
Did you always want to voice a character for the film?
MOORE: No. It was one of those situations where I was doing what we call the scratch or temp dialogue for a character, and a lot of the screenings have a lot of scratch in them. There’s some of the actual actors and actresses, but it’s mostly scratch, and the two that I did began as scratch. When John Lasseter heard the actors that we wanted to use in those roles, he said, “No, I like yours better. I like your Sour Bill better. Put that back in!” I was like, “No, it needs a little finessing,” and he said, “Well, let’s go do it right now! I’ll direct you!” So, John and I ran into the booth and redid lines that needed some finessing, but no, it was never an intention. I like it, but it did not start out that way. Phil and I did lots of scratch for the movie, and he ended up doing the Surge Protector. It was just one of those happy accidents. It was fun. I like doing that kind of stuff.
How did Skrillex get involved with the movie, and what led to his animated cameo?
MOORE: Skrillex came into the movie because we felt like, more than any other Disney movie to date, this was really a great opportunity to have some contemporary music in the movie. Especially going into the world of Hero’s Duty, we wanted something that was very, very modern and very contemporary. That game is very different from the rest of the movie. Tom MacDougall, our music supervisor at the studio, said, “You know, I’m thinking about Hero’s Duty. What do you think of Skrillex?” I was like, “I like Skrillex.” And he said, “No, what do you think of him doing the music for Hero’s Duty?” And I was like, “Oh, that’s a good idea! That would be great!”
So, we met with him and we had no idea what he would say or what his opinion of animation or Disney was. It turned out that he’s a huge fan of animation, and Disney animation. He went on and on about Tangled and was like, “Tangled is great! I loved it! It was so right on the money!” So, I pitched him the idea for Hero’s Duty and he was like, “You’ve got it!” It was just one of those moments where he was like, “I’m in! Yes, I want to do this!” That’s how he got involved.
And then, the reason that he was in the movie was because we wanted to have a DJ at the party. We were like, “Well, what about Skrillex? We could do a Guitar Hero type of look for him.” It’s so cool! When people see it, they’re like, “What?!,” because he is recognizable with the glasses and the hairstyle. I showed it to him, and he was like, “Woah, that’s my cameo?! I wasn’t expecting it to be so cool looking!” He’s fun! I love him! He’s so collaborative, and a super nice guy. I love his music. He’s really, really creative and really had a good vision for what the movie could be. He added so much with that track. He was a real pleasure to work with.
When did you start thinking about special features and extras for the DVD, and what do you have planned?
MOORE: When we make these movies, we remake the movies, over and over again. We make it like seven times, and it’s always in varying degrees of completion. The first one through the third or fourth one is comprised of just storyboard panels. We film storyboard panels and marry it to a rough soundtrack. It’s the length of the movie we’re watching, but it’s animatic. It’s a very rough version of the movie. In doing that, we really see what plays and what doesn’t. A lot of times, there will be scenes that never end up being used in the movie that make good DVD extras. We can show them as storyboard sequences because they never existed as finished scenes. Those things are always available to put on a DVD for extras.
I think, for this, we’re going to make a little live-action film, in the style of King of Kong, about the guy who held the high-score record in Fix-It Felix and how it ruined his life. Phil Johnston, who’s the writer, is going to play the guy, and he and I are going to make our own live-action short about that guy. That will be on the DVD. And I think we’re going to try to make a little short starring the Nicelanders, all done in 8-bit animation, about what their life is like in the Niceland apartment. We didn’t start planning those things until about two months ago. Now that the movie is finished, we’re like, “Okay, what can we do?”
Do you hope to bring arcades back?
MOORE: They’re gone?! Well, I think we still have them at Dave & Buster’s and Chuck E. Cheese, but it’s not the glory days of arcades. It would be fun if they did come back. There’s one in L.A., on Vermont in Koreatown, called The Family Arcade, and over in the Valley on Sepulveda is Castle Park. I grew up in Ventura and we had Golf ‘n’ Stuff, off the 101, and that had a great arcade that I wasted a lot of time in, but I think it was worth it.
As the line between the traditional Disney style and the Pixar style blurs more, is that just the natural course of things, at this point?
MOORE: I guess it is. I would say that what we called the Pixar sensibility goes back even further. It is kind of a CalArts sensibility because so many of the people who are creative instrumental people at Pixar came from that school. John [Lasseter] is from there, along with Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, Joe Ranft, Jeff Pidgeon and Peter Doctor. They were all classmates. Andrew and Peter were classmates of mine. So, what we know as the Pixar style is a CalArts style. Myself being at Disney, at this time, I am also bringing that sensibility that’s born from those classrooms at CalArts to Disney, and infusing the Disney style of fairy tales and classic storytelling with what I’ve been steeped in, as a student at CalArts.
How Brave happened is a good question. That’s something that does seem very ensconced in that class fairy tale storytelling, which is very interesting to me. That’s something that Brenda Chapman, who was also a classmate, brought to Pixar, at that time, and it speaks to her early experiences with Disney and DreamWorks and that more fairy tale storytelling. At our studios, the subject has come up a lot, especially when we were developing Wreck-It Ralph and people would say, “This seems like they should be doing this at Pixar. Shouldn’t we be doing Brave?” So, the comparisons were not lost within the people at the studio. It’s fun to hear that you’re observing that, from the outside.
Were the 8-bit characters easier or harder to animate?
MOORE: It was harder. I was working with animators who were trained in the classic Disney style of full character animation. So, when a new director comes in and says, “I want you to take everything you know and throw it out the window and make it limited,” there was just a look on some of the animators’ faces. I was like, “It’s all right. It’s going to be okay. You’ve gotta trust me on this. These are supposed to be little 8-bit people. We’re depicting them with full volumes, but I want their actions to duplicate what we know from the screen of those games.” It was something that took a lot of trust, between myself and the animation staff. It was kind of like being Columbus sometimes, telling them, “There’s land, don’t worry. You’re going to love it, when it’s all done.” It was great to watch the medicine taking, where they would go, “Oh, now I get it!” People aren’t mind-readers. Just because I can imagine something, I can’t expect that they’re going to know. So, it took some working with that style for people to get it, but then they couldn’t stop. But, it didn’t happen over night. It was something that took some nurturing.
Are you looking to continue working in animation?
MOORE: Oh, yeah! All of my schooling was in animation and I have a BFA degree in animation. This is what I love to do. I love filmmaking, but I like making animated films. I see this as a legitimate art film. There is nothing about it that makes me feel like I’m compromising any vision or storytelling ability by not doing something in live-action. I know there are a lot of people that like to try their hand at live-action, but this is the art form that I grew up loving and it’s the one that I studied and it’s the one that I’ve worked in for my whole career. I’m not going to stop playing the violin because the tuba looks interesting. So for now, this is my first love and I’m very, very happy doing it. I hope to do more in this medium, and at Disney, too. I really like the group of people, and the friends and family that are there. I feel very lucky to be a part of it, right now.
Wreck-It Ralph opens in theaters on November 2nd.