Assembling the collection of classic video game characters that inhabit Walt Disney Animation Studio’s upcoming “Wreck-It Ralph” was a lot like casting a movie full of A-list actors — first you have to snare the star.
“Pac-Man was the first one we got that was big, and then we were able to say to Nintendo, ‘Pac-Man’s in it, so you’ve gotta be in it,’” said “Wreck-It Ralph” director Rich Moore, in an interview at Comic-Con after he presented 10 minutes of footage with voice cast members John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman during the Disney panel.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is about a video game villain who longs to be a hero — Ralph (Reilly), from a fictional 8-bit arcade game called “Fix-It Felix.” Filled with mid-life ennui, Ralph attends a support group for other disillusioned digital bad guys, including a Pac-Man ghost and Bowser, the turtle-like nemesis from Super Mario Bros. On a quest for something better, Ralph starts hopping through the other games in the arcade, where he meets Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), of the first-person shooter game Hero’s Duty, and Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), of the car-racing game Sugar Rush.
Moore began working on a concept for a video game movie four years ago, and the idea for “Wreck-It Ralph” came from his own frustration about the limitations of the format.
“I was thinking it would be so boring that these things are programmed around avatars and sprites that do the same thing day in and day out,” Moore said. “They have no free will. This is depressing. Why am I even considering this for a movie? And then it hit me — that’s a great conflict! That’s a great wall to be bashing your head against — if you were someone in there who was unhappy with your existence, if you did not like what your role was in that dynamic.”
Once the story was hatched, the trick became how to populate the video game cast, which includes a massive list of 182 characters. “Early on, I decided, if we’re going to do this, it’s only going to be worth it if we have the real characters,” Moore said. “If we’re just doing ersatz types, it’s not going to feel as if there’s much authenticity, so let’s proceed as if we have them.”
Accordingly, Moore and his producer Clark Spencer launched a charm offensive on the video game industry.
“We started building relationships with people at NAMCO, Capcom, SEGA, meeting with them, pitching the movie to them,” Moore said. “Once it broke down to the human level of creating relationships — and I’m sure the lawyers at Disney will say, ‘Oh my God there was a zillion I’s to dot and T’s to cross’ — but the actual moment was very personal, and I think it was the right way to go, rather than sending out legal people. They got that, OK, they’re being respectful and having some fun with it, and it’s just a great way to get their properties out there.”
Moore’s team didn’t get everything they wanted, however — Nintendo’s Mario from Super Mario Bros. is still holding out.
But they did get a different kind of embrace from the video game industry. SEGA is adding “Wreck-It Ralph” to the cast of one of its Sonic the Hedgehog games — the upcoming racing game “Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed,” which comes out in November.
“Wreck-It Ralph” opens Nov. 2.
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