Disney's Wreck-It Ralph footage promises a hilarious journey into old-school video games

Wreck-It Ralph stars comedy genius John C. Reilly as the bad guy in an old, 8-bit video game who dreams of proving he's really a hero. This movie might just do for video games what Toy Story did for toys.

At yesterday's D23 presentation, Disney animation head honcho John Lasseter introduced the first four minutes from Disney's upcoming computer animated film. What we saw was very much a work-in-progress - while some of the animation looked more or less done, it was mostly a patchwork of storyboards, animatics, and unfinished animation. But what the footage did feature was a lengthy monologue from Wreck-It Ralph explaining his world and how he fits into it.

That means the footage was mostly just John C. Reilly talking, and that's pretty much instant comedy gold as far as I'm concerned. From Boogie Nights to Walk Hard to his work as Dr. Steve Brule, Reilly is a master of lovably off-kilter line readings and comic intonations. While the footage had plenty of good laughs on its own merits, Reilly elevated the material from merely amusing to downright hilarious just from the way he read the lines.

As Reilly's voiceover explains, Wreck-It Ralph is a 9-foot-tall, 600-pound behemoth who is pretty much a working case of structural damage. He lives inside the arcade game Fix-It Felix, and his job is to wreck the game's one high-rise building while Fix-It Felix, Jr. fixes it. Like most Reilly characters, Ralph is a big sweetheart, and he's got nothing against Felix - he says he's a perfectly nice guy and fixes things well, though he does point out that's not quite so impressive when you consider Felix's dad gave him a magic hammer.

Disney's Wreck-It Ralph footage promises a hilarious journey into old-school video games

But such details don't matter - the point of the game is to fix the building, not wreck it, so that means Felix is the hero and Ralph is the bad guy. Ralph observes, "I ask you, are there any medals for the sweet science of wrecking? Hah! No." (This is one of those lines where Reilly's delivery makes it about 200% funnier than it would be otherwise.) Ralph is philosophical though, and he realizes he's lucky to have a steady gig for the last thirty years. He knows others haven't been so fortunate - he mentions "all those guys in Asteroids" as an example of fallen comrades.

The Toy Story comparison feels particularly apt when we see the arcade shut down for the night, and the "off-duty" video game characters are left to their own devices. The residents of the high-rise building shower Fix-It Felix with thanks and adulation, while Ralph is left to slink away to his bed, a pile of garbage in the dump with a blanket of bricks. Reilly mixes the funny with the tragic when he assures us his life isn't so bad, even if he is living in "a lousy cesspool of desperation at the edge of humanity."

The scene then cuts to a meeting of Bad-Anon, an Alcoholics Anonymous style gathering for villains in video games where the motto is "One game at a time." Ralph's monologue has actually been his address to the group, and we next hear from Tigor, a fighter from a Mortal Kombat type game who relates how he once found himself beating a guy with his own leg, which was the point that he accepted his fate as a bad guy - but, as Tigor puts it, just because he's a bad guy doesn't have to mean he's a bad guy.

Ralph replies that he has no idea what Tigor is talking about, but it's at that point where the session ends with the bad guy affirmation: "I am bad, and that's good. I will never be good and that's not bad. There's nothing I would rather be." But it's clear that Ralph isn't content with that, which is where the footage ends.

The movie is directed by Rich Moore, a stalwart director for both The Simpsons and Futurama. He directed such all-time classic episodes as "Marge vs. the Monorail", "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie", "Flaming Moe's", "Cape Feare", "Hell Is Other Robots", and the greatest Futurama of them all, "Roswell That Ends Well." (He's also a reliably dry wit on the DVD commentaries, assuming you're the type of obsessive fan who listens to commentaries often enough to tell apart distinct personalities...which, uh, is totally not what I am.)

Disney's Wreck-It Ralph footage promises a hilarious journey into old-school video games

Moore explained that Ralph is indeed no longer content with his life, and so he leaves his 8-bit game to find a new game where he can become a hero. To that end, he arrives at Game Central Station - which to us humans would just be the arcade's power strip - which serves as a portal and gateway to all the other games in the arcade. He tries to join a new, state-of-the-art first person shooter game where futuristic marines are tasked with fighting merciless aliens on a faraway planet...basically, he goes to Halo, which a brief glimpse of the game's visual design very much confirmed.

Unfortunately, Ralph proves to be in way over his head,and so he instead tries his hand at Sugar Rush, a seemingly more innocent, kiddie-oriented racing game set in a Candyland-like world. However, this world holds a dangerous secret that threatens the entire arcade. That's all we got to learn from the presentation, but here's guessing that this finally gives Ralph his chance to prove his heroism...and it looks like he'll have plenty of opportunities to interact with iconic video game characters (or their legally approved stand-ins) along the way.

This wouldn't be the first time in recent memory an animated movie has revealed the heroic side of a born villain - that's pretty much the exact premise of the flawed but occasionally great Dreamworks movie Megamind. The difference here is that Wreck-It Ralph is far more a lovable victim of circumstance than a monster in need of redemption, and that certainly fits well with Reilly's performance.

Joining him in the voice cast are 30 Rock's Jack MacBrayer as Fix-It Felix, Jane Lynch as the tough-as-nails space Marine Sergeant Calhoun, and Sarah Silverman as Ralph's new friend in Sugar Rush, the young would-be racer Vanellope von Schweetz.

Obviously, it's impossible to judge an entire film from four minutes of unfinished footage, but this was easily the most pleasant surprise for me of D23. A movie like this could probably just coast on John C. Reilly's talents and prove at least mildly entertaining, and I'm optimistic about what Rich Moore, who has brought so many excellent half-hours of The Simpsons and Futurama to life, can do with his first solo feature directing effort.

Here's a newly released official description from Disney, which offers a few more key details on the plot:

Wreck-It Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) longs to be as beloved as his game's perfect Good Guy, Fix-It Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer). Problem is, nobody loves a Bad Guy. But they do love heroes… so when a modern, first-person shooter game arrives featuring tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun (voice of Jane Lynch), Ralph sees it as his ticket to heroism and happiness. He sneaks into the game with a simple plan-win a medal-but soon wrecks everything, and accidently unleashes a deadly enemy that threatens every game in the arcade. Ralph's only hope? Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman), a young troublemaking "glitch" from a candy-coated cart racing game who might just be the one to teach Ralph what it means to be a Good Guy. But will he realize he is good enough to become a hero before it's "Game Over" for the entire arcade?

D23 photos via Animatie.