Wreck-It-Ralph is one of the year’s best animated features with a terrific underlying concept. You can check out my review by clicking here. While he was recently in Australia, I had a chat with writer-director Rich Moore, who started his career on The Simpsons, to talk about the film…
You can down a quick 2 minute audio extract by clicking here.
Matt: “You were involved in the early days of The Simpsons, one of my favourite shows of all time, and now you’ve stepped up to the plate with this animated feature, Wreck-It-Ralph. What sort of changes in technology have you seen in animation over that time? Has it become easier or harder for you?
Rich: “I don’t know if it’s easier or harder but it’s very different. When I started on The Simpsons and began my career back in 1989, the show was being animated on paper, photocopied onto cell and then painted. It’s the same way they made Snow White back in 1937.
A lot of shows now, like The Simpsons, are drawn on a computer. They’re composited in a computer, there are no cells and there is no paint. It’s very, very different but… the goal is still the same – to tell a great story with great characters that takes place in a world that we believe in.
Once I got to know the animators at Disney who were computer-generated animators, we started to speak the same language and it was a simple transition for me to go from a show like The Simpsons to a film like Wreck-It-Ralph.”
Matt: “Let’s talk about Wreck-It-Ralph. It’s such a great concept for a movie with all these video game villains finally standing up for themselves. Where did this idea come from?”
Rich: “I am someone who always loved playing games. I started playing arcade games back when I was a kid. When I started at Disney, I had heard that they had always thought about making a movie about video game characters. This concept had existed in different shapes and forms for about 20 years. No one had been able to crack a story for the idea.
I jumped at the chance to be able to develop something around that concept because my love for that medium and form of entertainment. What I didn’t want to do what to do was make a movie about video games that was all based on action and adventure. I wanted there to be a very solid character at the core of the movie and a very solid dilemma with this character in his mind.
So I fell in love with this idea of taking a very simple character from an old game and putting a complex dilemma in his mind. What I was trying to get at was – what’s the meaning of life? Here the character is programmed to do one thing day-in, day-out. What if he didn’t like that? What if he wasn’t feeling fulfilled?
That simple concept of taking a Donkey Kong-esque guy and saddling him with this very profound existential crisis and setting it all in a video game world was the genesis of the idea.”
Matt: “How did the copyright work with all of these characters? Was it easy getting the rights from all the game manufacturers to get everyone you wanted?”
Rich: “It was simpler that you might think. We were told in the beginning that it might be very difficult but I knew going in that if we were going to make a movie about video games and the history of video games that I really wanted real game characters in it.
So I never tried to limit myself. I approached developing the movie as if we had them. When the time came to actually meet with the game companies, Clark Spencer (the film’s producer) and myself met them face-to-face and we would pitch the movie to them and describe how we would use their characters in the film.
For the most part, people were very receptive. Movies like Roger Rabbit and Toy Story have demonstrated what a movie like this can be. They were eager to be a part of it. We formed real partnerships with these game companies where we didn’t just use their characters but had them involved in making sure that their characters were represented correctly. We gave them approval over script pages, over design, over rough animations and I think it gave us really great performances from those characters that fans of those games have recognised as being authentic.”
Matt: “Moving to the movies, there’s a great cast here with John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch amongst others. How much time did you have to spend finding the right voices for these characters?”
Rich: “For a lot of the characters, before we even picked up a pencil and deciding what these worlds would look like, the writer Phil Johnston and I worked for 9 months developing these characters. Both of us like to work with these characters first – as if we’re going from the inside out.
We were very clear-minded in who these characters were, what their personalities were like and who we wanted to play them. We were able to then go into the process with a clear vision on who we wanted to cast.
We did something a little unusual for a Disney or Pixar film in that we did a table read for the first draft of the script with a lot of the people who we wanted to play the characters. We did this up at Pixar and it was in that moment, once people heard these actors playing these characters for the first time, that we had a clear vision about what this movie was going to be.
Matt: One of the challenges of an animated feature is something that can entertain both adults and kids. As a writer of this film as well, how do you know when you have that balance right?”
Rich: “That’s a good question. It’s something that comes with trial and error. What you’re describing is a type of entertainment that I’ve loved all my life. I’m talking about comedy movies and television shows that I could enjoy, my siblings could enjoy and my parents could enjoy. There’s something very special about those things where I felt like I was part of a bigger experience watching a show or movie.
I’ve always attempted to strive for that in my own career. I think The Simpsons was very much that type of show where we appealed to children, young people and adults. It was a really important factor of the show to Matt Groening that we were not excluding anyone from our audience – we had something for everyone.
Knowing when the balance is tricky. We remade this movie 7 times while it was in production, in a rough form. There are times when you watch it and you’ll watch it with your colleagues and other directors and you get a clear sense that the version played “a little young”. It feels like we’re insulting the intelligence of the adults. We need to “age it up” a little bit. Sometimes you’ll feel that a section is “too adult” and that we’re talking down to kids. We then try to make it more inclusive.
Having done it for a long time and trusting the opinions of my colleagues and friends, I ultimately get to a point where I feel like I’ve struck that balance.