Disney is known for traditional holiday-season movies about princesses and fairy tales — but this year it has turned to the world of video games for its latest animated blockbuster.
As the lucrative Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas period looms, “Wreck-it Ralph” plays on nostalgia for 1980s-style arcade games with the hyper-realism familiar to modern online players.
Directed by Rich Moore, a veteran of “The Simpsons,” it’s not the first time the entertainment giant has spotlighted the video games world: live-action “TRON” was an early offering in 1982, updated two years ago in “TRON: Legacy.”
But mixing the gaming world with animated film is new for Disney, even if it had been working on the idea for 10 years.
And rather than adapting existing games, as other filmmakers have tried without much success, Disney — which just this week bought “Star Wars” studio Lucasfilm for a cool $4 billion — decided to create its own new ones.
“We wanted to represent different genres of video games — the ones that we liked, the ones that we thought that people could identify with,” Moore told AFP ahead of the movie’s release this weekend in North America.
The film, which is reminiscent of work by Pixar — the animated studio bought by Disney in 2006 — follows the adventures of Ralph, the baddie in a typical 1980s pixelated game, like Pac-Man or Space Invaders.
“For Ralph, we wanted to make a world very simple, old school, low-tech,” said Moore.
Tired of always being the villain but condemned every day to destroy buildings which “good guy” Fix-It Felix immediately repairs with his magic hammer, Ralph decides to escape.
He flees into other video games, seeking to win a medal which will help him regain his self-respect.
“What I find interesting about him is how flawed of a character he is. He thinks he knows things that he doesn’t know,” said actor John C. Reilly, who voices Ralph.
“He’s very confident, he messes things up, makes mistakes, is kind of greedy, selfish,” added the 47-year-old, whose credits include everything from 2002’s “Gangs of New York” to 2008 comedy “Step Brothers” with Will Ferrell.
“In the beginning he’s also full of self-pity, blaming the world for his unhappiness. And then he discovers that the hero’s journey is really an interior one, less about solving things from the outside in as opposed to the inside out.”
Over the course of the film, Ralph discovers worlds which are totally different from his own — starting with “Hero’s Duty,” a fight game along the lines of “Call of Duty.”
“There was a nice contrast between his world and ‘Hero’s Duty’ which is very aggressive and realistic, even in the way it’s designed. Everything in ‘Fix-it Felix’ is a square, it’s made of blocks,” said Moore.
“In ‘Hero’s Duty,’ everything is angular and with sharp shapes.”
To complete the picture, the director invented a car chase game called “Sugar Rush,” in which Ralph can find a girlfriend, in the form of the fun-loving Vanellope von Schweetz.
The colorful Japanese-inspired game “looks like it’s for little children, innocent and sweet, but at the center of it there is a secret,” said Moore, who like Reilly is a big video game fan.
“I was of the generation that first got video games. To go from pinball machines to Space Invaders was a huge, huge leap. In fact Space Invaders was my first interaction with being able to control something on a screen.
“There were no computers or cell phones at that time. That was very addicting. Now, I don’t play that much. The whole world has become a video game.”