To call Rich Moore's feature film directorial debut a success would be an understatement. Moore, who worked on "The Simpsons" and "Futurama," was the driving force behind Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph," the blockbuster animated comedy that has grossed over $368 million worldwide and is nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 85th annual Academy Awards.
"When I started working at Disney, about four years ago, I was invited by [Disney and Pixar chief creative officier] John Lasseter to come in as a director and to develop ideas. There had been kind of a notion about making set in the world of video games," Moore told HuffPost Entertainment. "Rather than just making a movie about video games, I wanted to start with the character and what the character was going through. I fell in love with this idea of an old school game character, like Donkey Kong, who looks like a very simple guy but is really wrestling with this very profound struggle: 'What's the meaning of life? What if I don't like this job I've been programmed to do?' To me, that felt really juicy."
"Wreck-It Ralph" focuses on that juicy title character (voiced by John C. Reilly), who goes on an adventure of self-discovery with a young girl named Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman), who has big dreams of her own. Moore recently spoke with HuffPost Entertainment about his Oscar nomination, what he hopes young audiences will get from the film and whether fans can expect "Wreck-It Ralph 2."
This was a huge year for Disney animation: 3 of the 5 Oscar-nominated films were produced by Disney. Do you, Tim Burton ("Frankenweenie") and Mark Andrews ("Brave") arm wrestle at all these Oscar events? Mark and I are old friends -- I've known him for a long time. Tim, I've gotten to know over these past couple of months. I think we're really happy for one another. We were at the Golden Globes together, all sitting at the same table. I feel really honored to be nominated with these guys. I'm in such good company. The fact that we're all nominated in one year is like, whoever wins of that group, I feel like the family wins. I'm really proud of my film and what we achieved here at the studio. To be nominated amongst friends is really cool.
Where do you think animated films are right now, in terms of creativity? From an outsider's perspective it feels like everyone has raised their game in this post-Pixar world. Yeah! Just look at what's nominated this year: three of them are stop-motion; in past years, you'd be lucky if there was one stop-motion film in the bunch. The fact that there's so many mediums played with and lots of ideas being explored -- they're not all fairytales. The different types of tones of the movies, from comedy to pseudo-horror films -- it's such a wide range of themes, storylines, tones, mediums. I'm really excited. I look at our studio and the slate of films coming down the pike and what we've achieved even within the last couple of years, with "Tangled," which is like the classic Disney, fairytale-type movie and "Wreck-It Ralph," which is more of a character comedy; both of them have the heart-and-soul of a Disney film, but they're different in tone and story. I think, just speaking for where I sit at Disney, it is a boon time for animation and I think it's something of a renaissance. It's just a really good age to be working in and enjoying animation.
What do you think when people say "Wreck-It Ralph" feels like a Pixar film? I think that's a huge compliment. That's a great thing. I think that Disney had a period of time that it kind of wandered the woods a little bit, when other studios were kind of coming into their day. The technology and the industry was kind of going through a change. I think that Disney had a period of time where it had a chance to re-imagine itself. With John Lasseter coming in as the creative head of the studio, it really kind of shored things up. He was a great beacon. To be working with someone like John at the studio that, for myself, ignited my passion for animation when I was child is an amazing thing to be a part of.
When did you start feeling like "Wreck-It Ralph" could work? We did a table read of that script around April of 2010 with a lot of our cast members who are in the final film reading their parts. It was kind of our first chance to share with my colleagues here at Walt Disney animation -- and also at Pixar -- what was on my mind and what I was hoping to make. It was very well received and from there we began the process of storyboarding the film. It was always this process that started with me sharing the idea with another person and then we asked another two people to come in and it grows and grows and grows. By the end of the production we had upward of 450 people working on this movie. It's been an amazing journey for me being the guy who had this little idea based around a love of video games and thinking, "Oh, you know what? This would be cool to do." So, to be the one shepherding this through the process to make sure it got its due and was portrayed in the best way it could be, it has been an amazing journey. I'm doing a lot of traveling with the film right now and taking it to other countries. It's been a really unique experience. I've worked on some great things in the past, but this, I must say, has been very creatively satisfying as a director, artist and animator.
One of the things that I love about the film is the casting: There are no "big" names, but you cast the best people for the job. To me it was really important that we cast not just for a name, but that they really can embody the characters. As Phil Johnston and I were developing, we started with the characters and Ralph's situation. As we developed these characters, we would always say, "Who would you see doing this? Who can bring something to this character and round them out in a way that makes the character unique? So it's not just someone coming in and reading a part off the page. Who can really breathe life into these characters?" We were really fortunate that the people who we really imagined for each one of the characters are the people who ended up playing them. I, from day one, we knew Sarah was perfect for Vanellope. As a matter a fact, a lot of Vanellope's character came out of inspiration that I had from reading Sarah's memoir, "The Bedwetter," and listening to it on my iPod -- just a books-on-tape version of Sarah reading it. There were things about her childhood and the way she described herself as a little girl that were hugely instrumental in the forming of the character.
John, meanwhile, is a great, great actor. He's so funny. What I love about him is the fact that regardless of how broad his characters are that he plays, there's always a humanity to them. I really care about the guys he plays and I want them to achieve their goals, regardless of how crazy they may be. There's something very human to the characters that he plays. This is something I really wanted for Ralph. We were going to go with this bad guy character as our protagonist, so we needed someone who was appealing -- who people could relate to. John was always the person who I would think of as Ralph. We brought him very early in the development, as we did with all the actors. Bring them on board and let them be part of the developing of the characters. Which I think really made the film nice and deep and profound. I don't feel like we were ever in a situation where people were reading the lines off the page. Over the course of time that we worked together, we became a real family. I watched those actors kind of become their characters and know them better than I did, by the end of the production.
Have you enjoyed awards season so far? It's really cool. I started working on this thing nearly four years ago. Towards the end we did screenings with the outside world, but pretty much we're working together as a team here in the studio and we're in a bubble. And you wonder -- I do, as the director -- along the way, "How is this going to be received? Is this as good as I think it is?" I used to think that with "The Simpsons," too, in the early days. "Is this as good as we think it is? Are we telling a truth here that other people will embrace and enjoy and find some meaning in?" So these last couple of months bring a little affirmation to what I've been doing for the past four years. It has been meaningful and people are embracing it and it was worth it. And this crew of people -- all 450 of them -- and I have something that we can be really proud of.
My first movie I saw when I was a kid was "The Jungle Book." I was 5 years old, and I saw it in a movie theater. Seeing that movie really lit the fuse and ignited my passion for animation. That moment always became this North Star -- this direction that I followed through my whole life. To be at the end of it all -- we're going to the awards and I have a chance to reflect now -- it's an amazing feeling to kind of sit back and say, "Wow, that experience when I was 5 meant something." It did mean something! Now, I'm adding to the legacy of movies at the studio -- my own contribution. I hope a kid just like me when I was 5 is seeing "Wreck-It Ralph" and is being inspired the way I was. Someday, that kid will be adding his or her contribution to the legacy of films. I'm in a reflective mood right now. It's kind of funny. It's moving to me! As a filmmaker, as an artist, it's giving real validity to the work I do. It feels very nice.
"Wreck-It Ralph" was a huge hit with audiences and critics. Would you do "Wreck-It Ralph 2"? Oh, yeah. My experience was so tremendous on this film and the animators, the designers, the story artists, the actors -- I know everyone here had a good time making the film. I've talked with John and Sarah and we would all love to visit that world again and work with those characters again. We would jump at the opportunity. We're all crossing our fingers about as far as you can cross them that we get a chance to do that.
"Wreck-It Ralph" is out on DVD and Blu-ray on March 5