An Early Look at Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph

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Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California was host last week to a special early press day to promote their upcoming Wreck-It Ralph, a video game-themed adventure that features the voice talents of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch and many, many more. In fact, the November 2nd release features 188 unique character models, more than triple that of an ordinary computer-generated feature.

Helmed by “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” director Rich Moore, Wreck-It Ralph follows the adventures of the titular Ralph, an 8-bit arcade villain from a 30-year-old cabinet game called “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” whose sole task in life has been to destroy the Niceland condo complex while Felix (McBrayer) races to repair it. After three decades, Ralph is now finding himself wanting more out of life and decides to leave his game in the hopes of winning just once.

His game obviously owing a great deal to “Donkey Kong,” Felix was originally planned to be the focus of the entire film before Moore realized that following the bad guy might be even more interesting a subject. From there, Ralph went through several different incarnations, including more monstrous takes and even one where he was drawn as a giant rabbit.

As was shown in the film’s trailer, Wreck-It Ralph is loaded with cameos from actual video game characters like Bowser, Pac-Man, Frogger, Sonic the Hedgehog and Q-Bert. It’s only about 20% of the background characters that are pre-established, however. Like many of the toys in Toy Story, much of the rest are designed to evoke the feeling that they’re from a specific franchise even when they’re wholly original creations.

In some of the footage that was showcased, we find Ralph coming home from his “Bad-Anon” meeting (a support group for video game villains run by Clyde the Ghost of “Pac-Man” fame), to find that Felix and the residents of Niceland are celebrating the game’s 30th anniversary without him. After a confrontation, Ralph decides that he’s going out into the world to win himself a medal just like the ones that Felix gets awarded at the end of every game.

The first of two other major game worlds in the film is that of “Hero’s Duty,” a “Halo”-style first person shooter wherein armored marines battle against “Cy-bugs”, gigantic robotically-enhanced insects that look like something out of Starship Troopers. It’s here that we meet Lynch’s Calhoun, a tough-as-nails military woman that’s equal parts Master Chief and Lara Croft. We also meet a character literally named “First Person Shooter” who is sort of a monitor interface on tread-wheels, through which kids in the “real world” enter the game.

The environment of “Hero’s Duty” was constructed from the ground up, building an environment that, within the computer, exists as a single solid mass constructed with thousands of triangle panels. The sharp edges of the wartorn city’s skyline are meant to give off a jagged, dangerous look.

Jumping forward, a few scenes were showcased from the film’s third major world. Ralph (having found a medal) crash-lands a spaceship in a Candyland-meets-Mario Kart game called “Sugar Rush” (complete with a catchy anime-influenced theme song spelling, “S-U-G-A-R! Climb into your racing car!”)

The polar opposite of “Hero’s Duty,” “Sugar Rush” delivers a soft, friendly landscape with candy-covered buildings inspired by the real world architecture of Antoni Gaudi. The design teams visited Barcelona, Spain to take in the unique look and Cologne, Germany for the ISM, the world’s biggest candy convention.

In “Sugar Rush,” Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), a young lady who, though she seems like she should fit in with the rest of the world’s candy-inspired little girl racers (each with a sweetly thematic vehicle), is actually a glitch. She was a design that was originally planned for the game, but was never finished. All she wants is, like Ralph, to win and she thinks she might have a chance to do that with Ralph’s medal.

Ralph and Vanellope become unlikely friends and decide that they’ll work together so that she can win a race and he can get the medal back. We get to see them practice in the “Diet Cola Hot Springs,” a “Sugar Rush” level that, like Vanellope, was never finished and exists outside the main game. She resides there despite the warning signs, “Watch for falling Mentos!” When the stalactite-like candies fall into the boiling cola, fizzy gushers erupt.

As narratively dense as Wreck-It Ralph seems from the 30 minutes that were shown, the footage is said to only go as far as the beginning of the second act, meaning that there’s still quite a bit more to be revealed.

Also showcased for press was the new short film, “Paperman,” which will screen before Wreck-It Ralph in November. Directed by animator John Kahrs, the dialogue-free, black and white short makes use of an innovative animation process whereby scenes are first rendered in a computer and then rotoscoped over with traditional animation. The effect is a blend of modern and old-fashioned technology well-suited to the short’s romantic tale said to be inspired by Kahrs’ own days living in New York City and meant to evoke a sense of isolation despite being surrounded by people.

While much of the studio is decked out with Ralph-themed items (including a full arcade with a rotating selection of cabinet games), some areas are beginning to be converted to celebrate Frozen, the studio’s November 27, 2013 release which features the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. Loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” the film will feature songs written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

To help bring about the look of Frozen, the design team traveled to Norway (where the film is set), Jackson Hole and Quebec, taking in the chilliest experiences they could and even staying in ice hotels. Like Tangled, the character designs seem very inspired by Disney’s traditional animation, and in addition to the leading characters of Elsa (Menzel) and Anna (Bell), there were drawings of a princely male character, Hans, a fellow named Kristoff described as being “Anna’s partner in crime,” a goofy-looking talking snowman named Olaf and Sven, a mangy but lovable reindeer.

We’ll have lots more on Wreck-It Ralph between now and the film’s release on November 2nd so check back soon!