Rich Moore: From <i>The Simpsons</i> to <i>Wreck-It Ralph</i>

For those of you like me, today marks a day full of anticipation not seen since December:finally makes its way to DVD.
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For those of you like me, today marks a day full of anticipation not seen since December: Wreck-It Ralph finally makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray.

Wreck-It Ralph, the Academy Award-nominated animated feature, is the story of a video game arcade and its rag-tag group of residents who all inhabit the games, most of which we know and love. Our protagonist, Ralph, is the villain of his game and tired of his lot in life. While he sleeps in the garbage dump, and at the drop of a quarter destroys the neighboring apartment building, the game's hero, Fix-It Felix Jr., gets a medal for fixing the damage Ralph doles out. While Ralph attends AA-esque meetings for villains (one of the highlights of the film) called Bad-Anon, he still dreams of getting his own medal. This leads him into a game-hopping adventure into the worlds of Hero's Duty, a violent military shooter, and Sugar Rush, a racing game.

This was my favorite animated film last year, and simply one of my favorite films of 2012. As a casual gamer, this reunited me with so many of my favorite characters and video game tropes. And, when it comes to my kids, even having already seen it, they literally begged me one Saturday afternoon last month to take them to go see it again. So we've all been looking forward to this release.

To celebrate this blessed day, from which henceforth my children will watch nothing but this for the next three weeks at least, I got to speak with Rich Moore, the director, from of all places London, where he reported it was actually sunny. We spoke about the film, but not before I first geeked out all over the place with him about The Simpsons.

I mentioned what an indelible influence early Simpsons had on me as an adolescent, specifically thanking him for "Homer vs. Lisa" and the "Eighth Commandment," still one of my favorite episodes, in which Homer gets an illegal cable hookup. "That was my first episode that was about Homer and Lisa: I really like those episodes that paired those two characters. They're both so different, but have a great father-daughter dynamic."

In much the same way, Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz, the glitchy racer intent on competing in Sugar Rush, form a bond in the film. Moore explained the evolution of the script, "We let the story kind of come organically. There was a time when the story was more about Ralph and Felix... We found that the real heart of the story was with Ralph and Vanellope, these two misfits."

I had to ask with what I saw as some beautiful parallels between Homer and Lisa's relationship and Ralph and Vanellope with Ralph as an almost parental figure if he drew any inspiration from that. Moore pointed to a different inspiration (at least partially): the birth of his daughter. He was also able to draw from his love of these games, which he got to experience when they first came out. "The best games came from great characters." And so for inspiration for the film, he pointed to Pac-Man as a great character running through a maze: but why? What does this mean? What's the story behind that?

Pac-Man was one of dozens of classic video games that they were able to license, from Q-Bert to Tapper to Sonic the Hedgehog. However, there was one notable exception: Mario. This was not, however, due to any interference from Nintendo. Indeed, Moore said Nintendo was a "great partner" and they had even gotten initial clearance to use Mario. With the character of Bowser and his performance in the Bad-Anon meeting, it was a perfect fit. But with Mario, they never found a spot to fit him in organically. "It never really came. It felt like I was trying to force something into the movie that didn't feel natural. I just didn't feel like we had the perfect spot." With the success of the film and the expanse of the universe, Moore quixotically and offhandedly mentioned maybe we'd get to see Mario in a sequel.

Moore's fingerprints are also seen in the film in a couple of other places. He provides the voices of Zangief, the musclebound Russian from Street Fighter, and also Sour Bill, one of King Candy's henchman in Sugar Rush. Moore describes himself as "a reluctant actor" but tells how he ended up doing the voices as being the work of producer Jon Lasseter, producer of numerous Pixar films. Since voice recording and digital animation is an iterative process, often animators provide temp tracks for dialogue to animate around. Just like how Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton provided the voice for Crush the sea turtle and they simply couldn't find anyone better, Lasseter heard the scratch dialogue for Zangief and Sour Bill and didn't think they needed to look any further. (I heartily agree.)

Moore is an incredible talent, and Wreck-It Ralph is the latest testament of that. Also amazing is his humility. He seemed so full of gratitude to have been able to work with some of his heroes, from Matt Groening and Jim Brooks on Simpsons to Lasseter now. Moore said of Lasseter, "He is the best" and as good a creative partner as he is a friend. I can think of no better testimonial of the excellence of Moore and Lasseter's work here that that statement.

Wreck-It Ralph is available starting Tuesday March 5 for digital download and on Disney DVD and Blu-ray. Pick it up in hi-def. It's worth it.

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