Wreck-It Ralph is a great animated film, with lots of heart and amazing comic timing. So it's not really much of a surprise when you find out that director Rich Moore worked as a director on several episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama. We sat down with Moore and he explained how those shows prepared him for Ralph.
Minor spoilers ahead…
The main thing Moore learned from The Simpsons and Futurama, he tells us, was that "treating your characters as human beings, with legitimate wants and desires" is vital to tell good stories - especially animated stories. "It was always stressed."
Mooreworked on The Simpsons from the very beginning of the series, and Executive Producer Jim Brooks always urged the directors never to "lose sight of the fact of the Simpsons being a family." These shouldn't just be cartoon characters - they love each other and have the real dynamics of a family. "What we were making wasn't a cartoon show, it was a sitcom about real people, that happened to be animated." Moore carried that ethos with him, when he worked on The Critic and Futurama.
And that idea "directly translates even into a Disney movie," saysMoore. "What we're trying to do is tell stories about characters that we care about, in a world we believe in."
This wasn't Disney's first stab at a video game movie
Back in 2008,Moorewas invited to come work at Disney by John Lasseter, who wanted Moore to develop some movie ideas, including one that he could direct. And Lasseter always wants to hear multiple story ideas, rather than having directors get stuck on pitching just one idea, because "people tend to get very precious with just one idea," says Moore. "It's good for a director who's developing something to be nimble, and not get so ensconced in one idea."
But then Lasseter revealed there was one thing in particular he'd love to have Moore pitch him: a video game movie. Disney had been trying to make a movie about video games since the 1990s, and had "never cracked it." In fact, Lasseter told Moore they had just "put the kibosh" on one video game film that wasn't coming to life the previous year.Mooreasked Lasseter if he needed to build on one of the video-game ideas that someone else had started, and Lasseter said no - it just needed to have video games as a backdrop.
"So I really fell in love with this notion of doing a story set in that world, the scope and scale and big spectacle of video games, and having a story about a simple man and an existential crisis - wondering is this all there is in life," says Moore. And Lasseter really responded to that idea.
"That's what gave the movie its heart," adds Moore. "It wasn't about two warring factions within video games [like some of the previous pitches]. It had the action within games, but also a profound situation that our character is struggling with in his mind."
And as the movie developed, they fleshed out the idea that the character came from the early days of gaming, so it made sense to have him come from an 8-bit time. And as they fleshed this out, they realized this allowed them to "pay homage to the entire history of video games."
A film like Wreck-It Ralph can exist today, largely because video games have been around long enough that they're "ensconced in the culture. An older person knows what a game is, and a younger person knows what a game is. A big audience can get it." When he started working on the film, Moore asked his then-14-year-old son if Pac-Man had any meaning to him, and his son responded that he grew up with stuff like that - the same way Moore grew up watching Laurel and Hardy on television, even if he never saw Laurel and Hardy in the theater.
AddsMoore, "I think even 10 years ago, it might have been hard to make this movie, or even five years ago."
Moorehas loved video games since he was a little kid, playing Pong at the pizza palace, and he feels like they've always been a part of his life. When he was spending an "inordinate amount of time" in arcades and miniature golf courses that had video games, playing classic games, adults always told him he was wasting his time and money on them. "And now, it's surreal to think that was research."
The selfishness of wanting to be a hero
Wreck-It Ralph starts out as a totally selfish character - a video game villain who wants to win a medal for heroism but has no clue what actual heroism is. Moore says they weren't aiming to tell a story about the meaning of heroism, exactly, but they did envision Ralph's journey being "from selfish to selfless."
Adds Moore: "This is a story about someone who's very immature in the beginning, who's trying to fix something that's broken inside with an external object." And then he " finally meets someone worse off than him," the girl from the sugar-themed racing game, Vanellope von Schweetz. Through his relationship with Vanellope, he "starts to mature and becomes a big brother to this kid, and ultimately like a father," who would lay down his life for hers. And that's a good definition of heroism, to Moore.
"I consider a hero to be someone bigger, taking care of someone smaller who's in need," saysMoore. Not so much someone who needs to be admired for good deeds or external signs of greatness.
The greatness of Alan Tudyk
Did you know Alan Tudyk was in this film? I didn't, until I saw the credits at the end. He actually plays a really pivotal character, King Candy, who rules over the sugar-themed racing game where Ralph meets Vanellope.
Moore says they were keen to get Tudyk because he's so funny and "has such a great vocal range."
"I'm such a huge fan of his," saysMoore. "He can just do anything."Moorewasn't sure that Tudyk was going to be able to do an impression of Ed Wynn, the old vaudevillian actor that King Candy was based on - butMoorehad a feeling that Tudyk would "know what this is." And sure enough, when Moorepresented it to Tudyk, "he just knew it and went right into it."
Wreck-It Ralph is in theaters tomorrow.