‘Wreck-It Ralph’ director Rich Moore on bringing blue Sarah Silverman into the Disney world

You can easily say that landing a best picture nomination is the toughest fight any studio will endure during awards season.  Even with the relatively new 5-10 nomination system and no matter who get the “frontrunner” label, it’s a battle to get a nod let alone win.  That will likely be the case again this year, but one other category is also completely up for grabs, best animated feature.

Usually, picking the animated picture nominees is pretty easy.  Throw in a Pixar flick, a DreamWorks Animated feature, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest, a major stop-motion production and whatever been hot on the art house circuit (“Persepolis,” “The Triplets of Belleville”) and you pretty much have your field.  And unless it’s terrible (cough, “Cars 2”), the Pixar nominee is likely going to win. 

Looking at 2012’s crop of animated films most industry observers will tell you even the nominees are completely up in the air.  Candidates include Pixar’s “Brave,” Focus Features’ “ParaNorman,” Walt Disney Studios’ “Frankenweenie,” Sony Pictures Animation’s “Hotel Transylvania,” Universal Pictures’ “The Lorax,” 20th Century Fox’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (highly unlikely) as well as DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” and the studio’s bigger player, “Rise of the Guardians.”  Additionally, there are a number of lesser known independent animated films that have debuted on the festival circuit such as “Ernest & Célestine” that could make the field.  However, one film Walt Disney Studios is very high on this year and is hoping will crack the animated five is “Wreck-it-Ralph.”

Directed by Rich Moore (“Futurama,” “The Simpsons”), “Ralph” is a video game character voiced by John C. Reilly who is tired of being the bad guy in his classic 1980’s arcade game. When he doesn’t return to his game as scheduled and starts visiting the worlds of other games he turns the entire structure of his arcade upside down.  The film also features “30 Rock’s” Jack McBrayer as the “good” guy in Ralph’s game, Fix-it-Felix and Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz, an aberration program in a candy world game.  “Ralph” also features a slew of cameos from well known video game characters over the decades including Q-bert and Sonic the Hedgehog (just to name a few). It’s been described as a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” for video games and it’s honestly not a bad comparison.

Unlike some of their counterparts, Disney hasn’t been afraid to show extended clips and scenes from “Ralph” since the D23 convention back in August of 2011.  They also previewed even more footage at Comic-Con 2012 this past July.  To say they are bullish on the commercial prospects for “Ralph” is an understatement. 

As “Ralph” is opening in a little over two months, Awards Campaign recently took some time to chat with Moore about his feature film debut and bringing the often un-translatable video game characters to a Disney animated film.

Many times directors for Disney films have been working at the studio for awhile, but you don’t have that sort of typical history with them.  You came from the outside.  How did you get involved with this project and end up directing this picture?

Rich Moore: When Disney and Pixar merged I got a call from John Lasseter, who”s an old friend, and Andrew Stanton. Andrew”s a classmate of mine and John I”ve known for a long, long time.  He said, ‘Look, we”ve merged with Disney and we would love for you to come in and pitch some ideas, develop some ideas that could become a movie that you direct at Disney.’

So, I started at Disney in 2008 and John likes to hear multiple ideas when a director pitches to them.  So I was kind of preparing ideas for him and someone had mentioned that at the studio there was in different iterations a movie idea for like a video game story, like the secret life of video game characters.  I thought, ‘That”s kind of cool, you know?’  And I think like two or three other directors had kind of had a try at it at a story involving video games and didn”t have a lot of luck with it.  So, the idea was kind of off the shelf.  Without looking at the takes that the other directors had gone for I just went with the simple idea of, ‘O.K., what is it like to be a video game character?’ Because it seemed like the life of or the world of video games looked very rich and it seemed that it would be interesting to set a story in the world of video games.For awhile I thought that I was kind of hitting a dead end because I”d see all video game characters do is the same job day in and day out and that it would make a really boring movie just to watch a guy doing his job.  At that point, I thought, ‘Well that”s a pretty good situation.’  If you had a character who didn”t like his job in a game it seems like a really good conflict to put a character up against.  The idea came out of that.  It was one of the ideas that I pitched at John on that day.  And it was the one that he kind of looked at and said, ‘Well, I loved this.  So let”s kind of move forward with this.’

And had you been a fan of video games previously?  Was it something that was actively part of your life?

Rich Moore: Oh, God, yeah.  I think I was probably part of the first generation, you know, of little kids that had video games, you know, available to them.  You know, I can remember playing Pong like in a pizza place and I can remember then from there it came like Space Wars and stuff like that.  Asteroids and Pac-Man.  So, I spent a lot of time in arcades as a teenager and then if there was a home system I had it.  Especially as a young adult.  And then when I had kids it was like we played a lot of Mario Cart around our house.  As a kid I loved animation, Star Wars, video games and comedy.  Those were my big things.  So, it”s definitely been a part of my life for a long time.

I know that like the producers of ‘Roger Rabbit’ you went to different video game publishers to get the rights to use some of their characters in the movie.

Rich Moore: Right.

How did you work it out with the publishers? Were you having to change the script based on their requests?  Were there big changes when maybe one company would let you use their character and another company wouldn”t?  Or did most of them come on board?

Rich Moore: Nine times out of ten they were pretty receptive. Maybe just a little change where it”s like, ‘O.K. You can use Pac-Man  but he just has to kind of eat. He”s always kind of eating.  He can”t tell a joke that”s out of character from the Pac-Man that you know him from the game.’ If there were any kind of stipulations they were pretty minor.  You know, things that we could definitely kind of work with with the owners of the characters but then were just times when they would say ‘Well, no, we don”t own full rights on these characters so we can”t really give you permission to use them or we”ve licensed that character for something else, so it”s not available to you.’ And when we hit a wall like that then we were just like, ‘Well that”s obviously kind of a dead end so you might as well just kind of try something else.’  But the companies like Nintendo and Sega, Atari, and some of them are owned by different groups now.  Some are just kind of big blanket ownership of other places but they were all really pretty fair and nice to work with.

And are there any characters that we haven”t seen in the trailers or that you”re not revealing until the movie comes out?  Any secret cameos or Easter eggs?

Rich Moore: Yeah.  I mean, there”s a lot.  There”s quite a few. I don”t know if it”s the tip of the iceberg, but I mean there are still a lot that you guys haven”t seen that are outside of the trailer.  It”s like when we hit the Sugar Rush [game world], there”s other types of cameos and appearances and stuff that are more kind of tailored to the Sugar Rush world. There”s like a whole other layer of different kinds of video game theme things that kind of come in and out of the movie that I think there”s still a lot of surprises still, you know.  Like, I guess I should put it that way.  We haven”t just blown it all like in our teaser trailer.

One of the things that”s so intriguing about the film is John C. Reilly’s involvement. But at some point he was obviously going to get a chance to do a film for Disney or Pixar, DreamWorks or something.  However, and I”m sure you get this question often, where did the idea of Sarah Silverman joining the cast come from? 

Rich Moore: I”m a huge fan of hers.  I think she is one of my favorites and I”ve been a fan for a long time. When we started working on the Sugar Rush world we thought, ‘How can we make it not what people are expecting? We’re building this candy world and the audience will come in with some expectations of what that”s like.’  [Sarah] was just like the first person I thought of.  I was a big fan of her autobiography that she wrote and I had her reading it [on a] books on tape on my iPod that I would listen to all the time.  Just the way that she would tell the stories about her as a kid.  And I just thought Sara playing like herself as a kid in a candy world is just like gold.  So that was something that we kind of hit on really, really early in developing the movie.  And I thought, you know, there”s a lot of people too that their minds are just kind of blown about Sarah Silverman in a Disney movie.  It”s like, ‘How is that possible?’ Sarah”s the first one to kind of point out well Eddie Murphy has been in a Disney movie and a DreamWorks movie and he had a career as a pretty kind of blue comedian.  So, hey look, if Eddie Murphy can make the jump it”s like, ‘Why not?’  I”m just so in love with her and with all the other actors.  They bring so much to their roles.  I mean, John was like, ‘I have not done animation because I don”t like the way that process sounds.’  So, I said to him, ‘We can make it work however, whatever works best for us. If it works better to have you and Jack [McBrayer] working together [and] playing off of one another we”ll make that happen.  If you want to we can set it up [so you and] Sarah can do your scenes together.  It doesn”t have to take place in a vacuum.’ I went to John because I knew that he was going to bring another layer to Ralph that we weren”t going to think of.  It was important to me to create an environment for him where he was comfortable doing that.  So and that”s why having actors record together isn”t necessarily normal for an animated film, but it was way worth it for this.

You’ve mentioned how this was a three-year process. At what point did you go and design the actual Fix-It-Felix game in the movie?  And to do that did you go to video game developers or did you do it just with animators?

Rich Moore: It’s funny, over three years you can have things moving along [in the production] almost on separate rails [and this was one of them].  We went to a lot of different game studios just to kind of pick their brains and talk to them,  And then once we kind of did our research and once we did our homework we were able to kind of make really great design decisions and story decisions and feel like it comes out of a game, if that makes sense.

Did you create a real version of the game you can play on somebody”s computer?  How far did you go with it?

Rich Moore: We created like an arcade cabinet that is like the Fix-It Felix game, as it would have appeared like in 1982.  It”s playable. It is, I think, a really amazing version of a game from that era where it really feels like it came from that time period.  We”ve had them around our lounge here at work for a little while and people are just amazed when they play it.

Where are you currently with the film itself?  Are you done?  Are you almost done?

Rich Moore: We are in the home stretch.  I think we just have like a tiny little bit still to animate.  We”re still doing effects animation.  We”re scoring it right now.  We”re probably about a month and a half off to being completely finished.

“Wreck-it-Ralph” opens nationwide and in 3D on Nov. 2.