What makes Wreck-It Ralph such a fascinating movie isn’t just that it turns a villain into a hero or that it has a bunch of video game references – it’s the entire world that it creates. Instead of looking at games as single entities, the movie establishes that an arcade is actually an interconnected universe, where 8-bit characters, space marines and candy-themed go-kart racers all join together for a fun adventure. It’s an ambitious undertaking with plenty of surprises (and a full heaping dose of nostalgia), and this past summer I had the chance to dive into the world head first with a trip to Disney Animation Studios where they were working on the movie.
While the movie was still in production I and a group of other journalists were invited down to the Disney lot to get a first-hand look at the making of Wreck-It Ralph, and with the film in theaters this weekend I wanted to share the experience with you. Check it out!
All Your Favorite Classic Characters In One Complete Set!
One of Wreck-It Ralph’s most exciting features are the fantastic video game character cameos that are spread throughout the film. Because all of the games in the fictional arcade are linked together via “Game Central Station” (which is actually a power strip that keeps all the games running), characters from titles old and new have quick, fun appearances that are not only funny, but also lend the project a great Who Framed Roger Rabbit quality. Be it Ralph giving some of his Pac-Man cherries to the team from Q*bert, who have been left homeless after their game has been unplugged; or Sonic the Hedgehog warning others about the dangers of “game jumping,” the walk-ons add to the film’s larger universe.
“When we started it seemed like, if we were gonna make a movie about video games, I really, really wanted it to be authentic and have it have real characters in it from real games,” director Rich Moore told us during a roundtable interview with producer Clark Spencer. “That was important to me as the filmmaker, that it have that authenticity. So we just kind of went for it.”
Rather than thinking about it from a legal standpoint right off the bat – imagining which characters they wouldn’t and wouldn’t be able to use – the filmmakers behind Wreck-It Ralph simply started writing and storyboarding the movie with the cameos that they thought would fit into certain situations, be it on the Game Central Station floor or in the “Bad-anon” support group for villains. They aimed specifically to get the characters that they thought people would connect with in the right way.
“Early on we put up a board in the building and told people, tell us your favorite video games you played with, and who your favorite characters are,” said Spencer. “So they gave us a big bed of characters to look at as we were building the movie and putting them into it. “
Much to their surprise, once they had planned everything out and started having meetings about using characters they found that companies were actually receptive to the idea. “When you sit down and just kind of explain yourself, sometimes through translators, people are very receptive, and want to be a part of something that they feel a person has passion for,” Moore said.
But, as you can imagine, it wasn’t all super easy. Because the video game companies have a stake in how their characters are represented, the filmmakers would occasionally have to check it and get notes about how they were using the borrowed properties. One such case involved the main villain from Nintendo’s Super Mario franchise.
“At one point they said, ‘Well, Bowser’s much bigger than that. You’ve got him sitting next to, to M Bison, and Zangief - he’s way bigger than Zangief. Need to make him bigger,’” the director recounted. “It’s like, ‘Okay, well, we’ll make him bigger… and how’s that?’ ‘Yes, that’s good, but he wouldn’t drink his coffee like that. He wouldn’t make that mouth shape.’”
As cool and exciting as the cameos are, however, the filmmakers really hope that people will walk away from the movie not just talking about Pac-Man ghosts, but more the connection between Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz, the two main characters in the story.
Said Moore, “They’re seeing a trailer with fun cameos and characters that they know, but I think they’re gonna be surprised when they go see this movie, and how deep the relationship is, and how emotional it is. There is a ton of heart to it with these two misfit characters that are pariahs in their own worlds that come together and help one another.”