Kermit the Frog’s big woe is that “it isn’t easy being green.” For Wreck-It Ralph, the title character of Disney’s latest animated feature, in theaters Friday, it isn’t easy being mean.
Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of the 9-foot-tall, 643-pound villain of a fictional 1980s-style, 8-bit arcade game, Fix-It Felix, Jr. What Ralph wrecks, the Felix fixes with his magical tools. If the game player is successful and makes it to the end, Felix wins a medal and the adoration of the occupants of the apartment building Ralph terrorizes.
Ralph explains his game as the movie opens, and we’re very quick to learn that he’s troubled by the situation because he actually isn’t a bad guy, he just plays one on TV, so to speak. Expressing his feelings at a Bad-Anon meeting, a support group for video game villains also attended by Super Mario Bros.’ Bowser, Clyde from Pac-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog nemesis Dr. Eggman, and Street Fighter’s M. Bison and Zangief, among several others, Ralph wants to be the guy hailed as a hero, carried on the shoulders of those he saves, made a welcome friend into their community … not dumped into mud, relegated to living in a junkyard of bricks and treated as a barbaric giant.
Ralph – voiced by Oscar® nominee John C. Reilly – has, in fact, a giant heart and an incredibly enormous appetite for life, curious to see if there’s more to life, hungry for a chance to prove he is a good guy and longing for a place where he truly belongs.
The studio’s 52nd animated feature since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Wreck-It Ralph could very easily earn the “classic” label, joining that first Disney feature and others, including Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. And Reilly is fully aware of the pedigree of the studio’s work and the honor that comes with starring in one of its movies. ”Let’s face it, it’s not like every day someone’s coming to me, saying, ‘Oh, do you want to play the lead in a Disney animated film?’” Reilly says.
But for this one, they did come calling, and their choice couldn’t have been more perfect. The movie is written by Phil Johnston, who wrote Cedar Rapids in which Reilly starred alongside Ed Helms, and directed by Rich Moore, an Emmy®-winning director of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” making his feature debut here. Together, they developed the script from an idea that had been kicking around the studio for several years. ”What I liked about it was…the ability to take that big, spectacular world of different genres of games,” Moore says, “and putting a very kind of simple, profound story in the middle of it…a simple man wondering if this is all there is to life.”
Being the one to play that “simple man,” Reilly says he knew he was in good hands, yet it still took a while for him to sign on. ”I wanted to make sure I was going to really be able to believe in the project, and be able to really put my heart into it, instead of just kind of plugging in, like a hired hand kind of thing,” Reilly explains.
What he found was an incredibly collaborative environment at the studio, run by John Lasseter since 2006 when Disney bought Pixar. ”It’s still this big corporation and it still has this wide reach, but the actual creative people behind it are being given a lot of freedom and a lot of chances to really put their heart into their work,” he observes, pointing out the animators’ enthusiasm at his own creative suggestions, especially when it came to Ralph’s look and movement.
“I come from an Irish-Catholic family in Chicago. There’s a lot of ex-football player guys with big guts. They carry themselves a lot like [Ralph] might carry himself,” Reilly explained. ”So I went in and did this motion study where I actually acted out the scenes. I walked around, I showed them…the eight-step process of getting up out of a chair, all that stuff. So they really appreciated that. As a result, even more than usual, a lot of my physical characteristics ended up in the character.”
Sarah Silverman, who voices Vanellope von Schweetz, a girl Ralph meets when he ends up in the game Sugar Rush, can relate. ”As the character developed, the sketches changed,” she explains. ”And then, when I first saw the eyebrows, I was like, ‘Hey, that’s like me.” And when the hair turned black, in a ponytail [like me]…it’s so neat. It’s already so cool to be in a Disney movie. They don’t want to just crank ‘em out. They take a lot of time and are constantly honing and tweaking and making every moment as rich as possible. And it’s cool to be a part of that.”
Referred to by others in her game as “The Glitch” because of a programming mistake, Vanellope desperately wants to participate in that game’s cart race, but she’s often ridiculed by the other racers and considered an outcast by King Candy (voiced by Alan Tudyk). ”She’s this scrappy, obnoxious, precocious, tough kid,” Silverman says, admitting she could relate to the character. ”But behind every tough kid is a scared little boy or girl. I think she’s very human and relatable in that way.”
And it’s precisely why Ralph befriends Vanellope, despite their annoying first meeting, helping her build a top-notch racing car. He sees a similar soul in this little girl who’s being held back from exploring life and seeing what she’s really capable of accomplishing.
From their time spent together in voice-over sessions, a job normally done solo with little, if any, interaction between the actors, Reilly says he was impressed with his co-star’s work and saw a different side of her. ”I was just bowled over by how seamlessly Sarah channeled that character. Talk about inner-child…it was kind of amazing,” Reilly says. ”And Sarah’s a really good actress. I mean, there’s some scenes we have that are not funny scenes, that are just really heartbreaking, emotional scenes and those are some intense days. I was like, ‘Wow, you should do this more often, Sarah! You’re good at this.’”
The often crude, highly polarizing comic and actress was grateful for the opportunity to show her range. ”The dirtiest comic of the ’80s was Eddie Murphy, and he’s slipped into this world pretty seamlessly,” Silverman observes, “but I have other sides of me that can be lovely and child appropriate.”
Wreck-It Ralph is exactly that, very child appropriate, incredibly funny, and loaded with references and tributes to classic video games, even candy and junk food as the movie explores Sugar Rush.
Also joining in on the laughs and action is Jane Lynch as the skilled, intimidating, no nonsense Sgt. Calhoun from Hero’s Duty. ”She’s definitely tough and in charge, but she has a heart – she has a soft side,” Lynch says, adding “she’s hot.”
Sgt. Calhoun ends up joining forces with the overly friendly and resourceful Felix, voiced by “30 Rock”‘s Jack McBrayer, as they try to track down Ralph. She is desperate to stop a Cy-Bug that infiltrated Ralph’s transportation in Sugar Rush and could wreak havoc on the game; Felix is trying to convince Ralph to return to their game before its deemed “Out of Order” for good.
Neither can do little to stop Ralph as the opportunity finally presents itself for him to prove whether he can actually be a hero. And that’s where studio chief Lasseter thinks the movie lives up to classic Disney fare. ”The hallmark of a Disney film is the heart and it’s the foudation of Wreck-It Ralph,” Lasseter says. ”It is one of the funniest films I’ve ever been associated with – so clever and beautiful. But it’s the heart that just catches you by surprise.”
Wreck-It Ralph may very likely be Disney’s next Best Animated Feature Oscar® nominee, with its witty, smart writing, stellar voice cast, incredibly vibrant animation that varies greatly over its four different worlds, Henry Jackman’s outstanding score, and a relatable, unique, funny and emotional story that will takes audiences on an exciting journey encompassing the history of video games – a special dose of nostalgia – while creating its own one-of-a-kind identity.
In this video feature, the cast and filmmakers further explore the world of Wreck-It Ralph, from the various video g