Rich Moore interview: Wreck-It Ralph, Disney and animation

Rich Moore talks to us about directing Wreck-It Ralph, about how it differs from his work on The Simpsons and Futurama, and much more...

Since the moment Disney pressed down the accelerator on Wreck-It Ralph, a film that’s been in gestation in many forms for some time within the studio, our ears have pricked up. A Disney movie set in the world of videogames, where an 8-bit character makes his way into modern games? It’s like someone had made a film especially for us.

The icing on the cake was that Rich Moore, a veteran of The Simpsons and Futurama, would be making his feature debut directing Wreck-It Ralph. A month or two ago, we were lucky enough to catch up with him as he entered the final stages of making the film. And here’s how it went…

I want to start with Steven Soderbergh. When he was making Ocean’s 11, I read interviews with people on the film who said that it was a ball of a film to make. And then I read a piece with Soderbergh, where he basically said that it’s been fun for everybody else, but I’m the one who had to glue it all together. Can you relate to that?

A little bit. It feels like we’ve been working on this for almost four years. It’s not so much the person that sits in the middle of all of it, it’s the person who moves through the whole thing. So I’ve been involved with it from day one, and I’ll be involved with it at the end of the line. And you move through different stages of production.

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I would say it feels more like what it must be like to be a vampire or something! An eternal who watches their friends kind of die! You move through one phase of production, you make friends with all these people, and then you move onto the next thing and they’re gone. And you’re still moving with the movie, but the people who worked on story are no longer part of the production. It’s lonely.

There’s two things isn’t there. This is a Disney animated production that hasn’t changed director from day one, and that’s not been that common over the past decade or so. Number two, it’s one person directing. And you are that one constant.

But it’s fun. To me, it’s not pressure. To me, I like the feeling of the creative process here, and always have done. Here, as opposed to television, that’s a very different world. It’s creatively crazy [in television], you have to be really at the top of your game, and your first decision has to be very good. If it’s not, the second one better be it. With this, I have time. It’s a slower process. It’s designed to make sure that what we’re creating is it. It’s a process that encourages the product to be profound. It’s not surface, that it has depth to it. 

This is a gleeful movie to someone like me, and I’ve seen around half an hour of the film. My question, though, is how do you find the middle of a film like this? The first act, while it doesn’t coast on novelty, the concept is enough to get us through the door. And the resolution presumably ties up. But what about the second act?

This one, we always knew where we wanted it to land at the end. We knew the beginning. We knew that we had something really strong with the characters of Ralph and Penelope as the major relationship in the movie. Him being this big brother to her. It was always the kind of machinery around it. The machinations of how it would line up.

Surprisingly, if I think back to the first time we put it up on reels, which was almost two years ago, a lot of the same emotional beats are there. We were lucky that we landed what the emotional story was very quickly.

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Finding the middle of it? the middle changed a lot. It was finding what is this world about? What do Ralph and Penelope do, how do they occupy their time to create a bond together? That was a challenge. We wanted the audience to feel that these were two people who meet each other, we know they’re similar, but they don’t like each other, but somewhere in that second act they identify with one another. Which leads to a moment where Ralph has to do what he thinks is right, but emotionally is not. But then be in a place where we can put that relationship back together.

It was always tricky. It was trying lots of different things. The way we make the movie is that we remake it over and over again. We get it up on reels and watch it, and it’s dissected and critiqued by our fellows. It’s all for the purpose of making something that resonates deeply with the audience. It’s trial and error, I think. Standing in front of your audience naked, and asking what they think. And knowing that it comes from a place of support, and then you try again. And again. By the end, knock on wood, it hopefully means something.

It was refreshing to hear that when it came to the voice recording for this one, you got actors in the same room, which always used to be the way. We saw the benefit of it most recently in Rango, where you could tell that stuff had been recorded together.

Yeah, it has a different energy.

Now you’ve got a film here with over 150 characters, but from where I sit, it seems to hinge on two. And John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman seem pivotal to that.

Very much. 

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Was recording them together, in the same room, something you insisted on, or was it circumstances worked out well?

That was something that I insisted on. Because John’s an actor’s actor. John loved the project, he was the first person that we approached to play Ralph because we knew he’d be perfect. John liked it, and was sceptical of doing animation, because he had heard that acting in animation involved getting a bunch of pages and going into a room, reading it, and then leaving.

I think it was Woody Allen who described it as one of the most boring jobs he’d done when he did Antz.

Yeah. Chris Rock had said that it’s easy, you just go on… John had heard that. He heard it from Jack Black, too. You’ll love it – just go in, and talk, and they’ll record you, and that’s it. And to John that’s not acting. Early on he said, “I don’t think I can do that. I wish I could, I just don’t think you’d get my best”. To which I was like, I want your best, because you will bring things to this character that none of us are thinking about. And I want that. I want it to feel like one of your characters, to have depth and volume.

So I asked him what would make him comfortable, because I don’t have a set way for him to read his lines. I’m adaptable. I’ve worked on lots of different things with lots of different people where you have to change how you do things. That’s fine, and I like that. It makes it interesting. And I like working with actors. Part of the fun is working out how to get their best. To me it’s not about ego, that you’re going to do it my way. I’m not a dictator. I’m not going to tell everyone how to do things. I like exploring.

So we figured out how we could make that work, and I’m glad we did. The stuff that John and Sarah did together is beautiful work. It was impressive to watch as a director. It felt like we were creating our own method, to get the best of everyone. It was a very democratic room of people. We would record what was on the page, and then say what’s missing here? What can we do? And really great stuff came from those sessions. Those days were magic. I’m the type who gets sentimental over the process, and I hope the movie does well for no other reason than I like working with those people. 

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You’ve mixed many visual styles in the film, but one thing I wondered: were you ever tempted to put any live action into the film?

There was a point where we though maybe the arcade world should be live action. We thought that for about a week, and then we talked with John Lasseter. And he said no, it’s an animated film. This is not a live action film, this is animation. Let’s just do great humans for the arcade scenes. And you know what? I went to school for animation, I didn’t go to school for live action. I love this medium. So I’m glad we went this way.

You know you’re missing a golden opportunity if you don’t do a DVD extra or spin-off called High Score Musical don’t you?

Ha, that’s really good. High Score Musical. I love that.

Wreck-It Ralph 2, then?

It would be a lot of fun…!

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