When animation director Rich Moore was growing up in Oxnard, he spent so much time in video arcades that his parents worried that their young son was wasting his time. “They would always tell me that I should be concentrating on the real world,” says Moore, who grew up to put all that invaluable research into his first big-screen movie, Disney's “Wreck-It Ralph.”
The film is a loving homage to the era of blocky video games of the '80s and '90s. In the vein of “Toy Story,” it gives these childhood favorites a life and story of their own.
“The idea had been kicking around at Disney for quite some time, but they could not really come up with the right storyline,” says Moore, who is based in Burbank.
Moore thought about the characters inside a video game. “The little characters are programmed. They don't have free will. They do the same job every day, and they're happy to do it,” says Moore. “Where would the emotion be in that? I realized if we had a character who didn't like his job, he's having an existential crisis. He's wondering, ‘Is this it?' We always remember in Donkey Kong with the Marios climbing up, and it's King Kong up there throwing stuff down and well, what if we had a game where it was like that and the story was about this guy. Let's see their secret life, when they are off the clock and they are free to leave their games.”
The story centers on Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), who for years has been overshadowed by the good-guy star of the game, Fix-It Felix Jr., who always comes to save the day. Ralph sets out on his own journey across the different worlds and generations of arcade video games to prove that he can also be the hero of the day.
“These games are very dear to so many people,” says Moore. “I grew up with them, but it's not just my generation that connects to this. I have had teenagers saying thanks for making a movie for us, and then I also have people in their 50s saying they are happy I have made a movie for the arcade people.”
Moore had a rich history in the animation world before moving to Disney's Burbank studios three years ago. A graduate of the CalArts Character Animation Program (along with such luminaries as Pixar's Andrew Stanton, director of “Wall-E” and “Finding Nemo”), he worked on the landmark TV animated show, “The Simpsons,” as one of its original directors. “I was there for the first five seasons, starting as a storyboard artist, and then moved into direction. It was an amazing experience,” says Moore. “When we came along, there was no formula for that kind of show.”
In 1996 he teamed with fellow CalArts alum Gregg Vanzo at Glendale-based Rough Draft Studios, overseeing the creative development and production of Matt Groening's “Futurama.”
“Rough Draft is this little independent studio in Glendale created by Gregg doing great-quality work that really helped spearhead the '90s evolution of animation. I was very proud of the work I did for them there,” says Moore.
After being courted for many years to join Northern California-based Pixar, its merger with Disney sealed the deal. “Andrew Stanton called me and said, ‘Well, you don't even have to move from Burbank now,'” Moore recalls with a laugh.
“I literally live a few minutes away from the studio,” he adds. “I love living in Burbank. It has major movie studios, huge media empires, but the city still feels like a mom-and-pop town. It's not pretentious at all. It doesn't feel like a big Hollywood town, and it has every right to be, but it's very friendly and easygoing. The Coral Cafe is one of my favorite places. It's a great mix of people any time of the day or night.”
He calls his time at Disney the high point of his career so far. “It's an amazing group of creative people we have here in Burbank,” he says. “I think ‘Wreck-It Ralph' can stand proudly in the pantheon of the great Disney animated films. It's a fairy tale disguised as something more contemporary. With its balance of heart and comedy, it is still very much rooted in the Disney legacy.”
KATHERINE TULICH writes about film and is a regular contributor to Marquee. Contact her at email@example.com.