Wreck-It Ralph Director Rich Moore Talks Classic Disney Influence And The Nostalgia Factor

Ralph from Wreck-It Ralph
(Image credit: Walt Disney Pictures)

Director Rich Moore has spent his entire career working with some truly brilliant animated material, but has never really gotten the recognition he deserves. Working in the industry since the late 80s and holding a number of positions, his career on television has included a number of great shows, including both The Simpsons and Futurama. But now Moore is getting set to receive a great deal of deserved attention, as his directorial debut, Wreck-It Ralph is getting ready to hit theaters.

While on my visit Walt Disney Animation Studios and going behind the scenes of the new movie (which will be in theaters this weekend) I was given the wonderful opportunity to sit down one-on-one with the filmmaker to talk about his first feature. Check out our conversation below in which we connect due to our mutual love of the short-lived television series The Critic (on which he was a producer and director), and talk about the challenge of jumping from 2D to 3D, the new film’s nostalgia factor, and the project’s epic scale.

I need to start by saying that while I love The Simpsons and Futurama, I don’t think there’s a show that I think about more than The Critic thanks to this job.

I loved working on that. That was a show that I think was before it’s time. Because a lot of people say, “Family Guy is so much like The Simpsons” – I think that Family Guy and The Critic come from some of the same kind of seed. I don’t know what it is. The Critic was so absurd and I loved that. I loved working with Jon Lovitz, I think he’s got a great, great voice for animation. Thanks for bringing that up, man! I love those characters!

Absolutely! All the time I get shirts and other pieces of clothing with movies branded all over them and I can’t help but think of all those gags in the show where Jay Sherman would rip his pants and it would say “Armageddon” or something on his underwear.

[laughs] I saw one like six months ago, I can’t remember which one, and I forgot how funny it was. There’s a lot packed in there. “I forgot that joke!” There’s a lot of great stuff and a fun show to work on.

To talk about Wreck-It Ralph, you have spent all of your career in television and you’re making the jump to film now, but you’re also making the leap from 2D animation to 3D. What was that experience like?

Pretty great. We did a lot of 3D animation on Futurama, so I was already kind of in that mindset of what that’s like. And there’s a lot in The Simpsons Movie too, and I was a co-director on that movie too. But ultimately at the heart of everything we’re all talking about the same thing, and it was really important to me that when we started designing the rigs for the characters – the “Sugar Rush” world, we knew we wanted the characters to be cartoony, like classic squash and stretch animation, so let’s really build these rigs so that they can be deformed in 2D animation, so that it looks like that kind of golden age Disney stuff from the 50s, like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and that era. What they, on the technical end, did to give the animators the ability to deform the characters and animate using that kind of path of action, classic animation style – it’s amazing. Glen Keane working on Tangled, he and the directors, Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, they set up a great way of sitting with the Cintiq and reviewing dailies, and Glen kind of going, “Well, if you give it this shape…” That’s why Tangled looks so great. So I’ve inherited a great team of animators and a great process and I feel like we really built on that with this movie, where we took it to a whole other level.

And this movie really seems like a massive undertaking too. I heard that there are 188 original characters in this movie – which is the most in Disney animation – and you have “Fix It Felix Jr.,” “Hero’s Duty” and “Sugar Rush,” which are all worlds with completely different looks and feels.

The natural flow of these things is that they want to land in a homogenous kind of look where everything feels of the same mind and spirit – and this is one that I kind of had to bulldog and be like, no! “Remember, Calhoun’s from “Hero’s Duty” world, and that’s very realistic, so you have to push the realism – she’s a little too cartoony here, you have to push the realism on her.” And that was not just on animation, but on design, the camerawork, the layout, the lighting of every world. It was a challenge to shepherd people in a way they’re not used to. “I hear what you’re saying, but we usually do…” “No! It’s gonna be fine! It’s my job, it’s gonna be fine! It’s really gonna work out in the end!” [laughs] And little by little people were kinda going, ”Oh! Now I get it! That’s why the Nicelanders [the residents of “Fix it Felix Jr.] are like 8-bit, but in 3D!” But then once people kind of get it it’s like they can’t stop doing it [laughs]. “I’m having fun with this!”

Nostalgia is another interesting thing about this film because our society has actually become rather obsessed with looking into the past and remembering the good ol’ days and this movie seems to really tap into that in an interesting way. But there’s also the fact that video game arcades aren’t really as big as they used to be and you’re still appealing to a young audience.

That was a concern while we were developing it. I would think, “Is this just nostalgia? Is this just some kind of pining for some time that a lot of people won’t know about?” But I have kids – my daughter is 21, my son’s 18 right now – and I started this when my son was 15. I was like, “What do you think of arcades?” And he was like, “I love them!” Because we’ve been to tons of birthday parties at places like Dave and Busters and bowling alleys that had video games – we go to this one car wash that has video games sitting off to the side that we play. So you’d be surprised. This was a 15 year old kid was like, “Oh yeah, I know Pac Man! I know Dig dug! Yeah, I grew up with those.” So to him it feels like he’s grown up with those, that they’re a fabric of his childhood: a 15 year old being nostalgic. So I thought that was kind of interesting and I asked other people too. In the early days there was like, “Do we want to make this in an arcade? Is it all taking place on a hard drive?” It just didn’t seem very interesting. I get here’s Pac Man and here’s Centipede and Fix It Felix and Q*bert, and they’re their own worlds and they’re linked by plugging into a power strip. I get it. Whereas how would you show that… I’m sure you could, I’m just not that man [laughs]. No vision for that aspect of it. But then I think it gets into looking something like Tron or something, which is not where I wanted to take it. It’s its own thing.

So early on I was like, “I think it’s cool that people like it” – because I’ve had teens like my son’s friends who say, “I’m so into this movie! This is so for us!” And then I’ve had people in their 50s be like, “Man, finally Disney is making a movie for me!” Something’s happening – and I have people in the middle also saying, “This is for us!” So it’s multigenerational, I think. Games have been around long enough that if you’re 60 or 70 you probably still have some kind of connection to them – maybe not played them, but you know what they are. And if you’re in your teens or younger, you know what the old ones were to the point where you feel a connection to it. I think we’re really lucky. And my daughter, who is 21 now, her new hangout, like where her and her friends go after concerts and stuff, is Family Arcade on Vermont. There’s still an arcade there and they go all the time! They’re like, “We’re always playing the old games! We love em! My friends are so into this movie!” Thank you universe for putting us at the right place at the right time! [laughs] It’s a privilege to be the guy helming it.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.