8-bit Heroes and Villains

When Rich Moore arrived at Disney in 2008, he began developing ideas for an animated film that would take him back to his childhood.

“I remember playing pong at a pizza place growing up, and you were controlling something on a TV, and for me TVs were made for watching and not interacting with,” Moore told The Guardian in a conference call Sunday. “It’s been great watching the evolution of video games over the last 30 to 35 years.”

While the video game industry was busy expanding and developing into the multi-billion dollar mammoth it is today, Moore graduated from California Institute of the Arts in 1987 and was promptly asked to direct some episodes for a fledgling animated sitcom. That animated sitcom was “The Simpsons.” Since, Moore has become a key figure in modern studio animation and has directed numerous classic episodes of  “Futurama,” “Drawn Together” and of course, “The Simpsons.”

Now, Moore has completed a project that Disney has been developing about video games since the early 2000s, the upcoming “Wreck-It Ralph.” The movie, in theaters Nov. 2, features the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer — an all-star cast of comedic talents giving these familiar characters a brilliant 3-D revamp.

“It was amazing to work with those four, and Alan Tudyk also, who’s in the cast as King Candy,” Moore said. “You know what’s great about it is that I’ve been a fan of these guys for a long time. All of them.”

Moore was especially in awe of John C. Reilly, the boisterous voice of the film’s towering, eight-foot tall eponymous villain-turned-hero.    

“John just kind of gave his all for this character and is so invested in it,” Moore said. “It’s not often that an actor in an animated film will say ‘can I come over and can we talk a little bit more about Ralph’ or, ‘I’d love to meet the animators.’ John is so funny and every character he plays feels like a real human being with a real heart — you really care about his characters, and you really want them to achieve what they want and desire. Ralph is just another one of those classic John characters.”

In an interesting twist on the cliché hero, the film introduces Ralph as the villain of a fictitious 8-bit game “Fix-it Felix Jr.,” reminiscent of the original “Donkey Kong” arcade game. Tired of being unappreciated and vilified by the other characters in his game, Ralph abandons his past and sets out to rename himself as one of the good guys.

Moore wanted the visuals of the film to feel authentic for gamers young and old, challenging the animation team to make an 8-bit landscape that would be captivating for viewers in today’s day and age. After Ralph escapes from the retro arcade throwback “Fix-It Felix,” he travels to an ultra-realistic shooter, “Hero’s Duty” and a fusion of “Mario-Kart” and “Candyland” called “Sugar Rush.” Transporting Ralph from one digital world to another world is the massive Game Central Station — resulting in a scene responsible for making “Wreck-It Ralph” the Disney film with the most individual characters to date. At 190 unique characters, featuring cameos from video game favorites like Bowser, Q-Bert, Sonic the Hedgehog and many more.

“I’ll be honest, 190 characters does not seem like that much to me,” Moore said. “I like ambitious stuff, and I like big casts and big movies. ‘The Simpsons’ in its day was very ambitious and I never wanted to back down from a challenge, so I’m really proud of what we achieved.”

This confidence didn’t arrive overnight. Moore started out in the animation business when it was at perhaps its lowest point and the future for animators looked bleak, with jobs few and far between. But Moore’s passion and love for animation kept him invested in the field.

“We just kept at it, and we just had faith that something was going to happen,” Moore said. “For this to happen, for this dead and desolate business to revive, who would have thought it would happen… It’s all out there waiting for people, for filmmakers to come out and grab it and do with it what you would, because it’s not going to stay the same, it’s always changing. Whatever you want to do it is totally possible, you just have to jump in and stick with it because the ones that stick in are the ones that make it.”

Today, animation is a burgeoning industry, and with “Wreck-It Ralph,” Moore is pushing the craft to new heights. He’s also realized a dream he’s had since he was a child, busting his fingers under the neon glow of the arcade’s blinking splendor.

“I got a talk several times from my parents that went, ‘you are wasting your time at that arcade and no good will come of playing video games,” Moore said. “I like to think I proved them wrong.”

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