SAN DIEGO - The final movie that Disney did a full presentation for during their Hall H panel at this year's San Diego Comic-Con is one of the most ambitious films they have on their schedule for this year, and based on the material they showed here, they should feel good about what they're trying.
Chris Hardwick, aka The Nerdist, seemed completely comfortable moderating the panel, and at the start of this final stage of the event, he mentioned that he had recently been talking to some friends about "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and how that film could never happen today because of corporate lawyers and IP battles. Almost as soon as he had that conversation, he saw the first trailer for "Wreck-It Ralph" and realized that he was, in fact, completely wrong.
Director Rich Moore walked out to join Hardwick onstage, kidding as he walked out. "You said it was just going to be you and me."
As he settled in, he talked a bit about the premise of the film. "Ralph thinks there is more to life than wrecking, and he sets out on a journey to become more than just an 8-bit bad guy." When Hardwick pointed out that Moore was a director of "The Simpsons" for five years, Moore was quick to point out "That was 22 years ago."
As Hardwick groaned at the realization of just how long "The Simpsons" has been an institution, Moore told him that he wanted to bring a real look at the film. "I've brought ten minutes of the movie to show today."
Hardwick seemed surprised. "Really? That seems like more than I expected. That's a lot of the movie. How long is the whole thing?"
Totally deadpan, Moore answered, "Eleven minutes. So you'll see everything but the ending today."
I saw the D23 presentation for this last year, and at that point, they had just a few roughly animated minutes to show and a whole lot of story reel. I like seeing something like this develop from event to event, each time bringing a little more finished footage, or rendering what they'd already done with a great polish. It's a very revealing look at the way a Disney animated film comes together.
Here's how I described the opening scene of the film as shown in rough form on August 21, 2011:
John C. Reilly is the voice of Wreck-It Ralph, and he narrates the film's opening moments, starting with a quarter being dropped into an arcade game. "Where I come from, there are only two types of guys." We see the hero of the game show up. "That's Fix-It Felix. He's the good guy. That's easy, though, especially if you've got a magic hammer from your father." The game is set in a building that Ralph is tearing down while Felix works to repair the damage. "Are there medals for the sweet science of wrecking? No. No, there are not." Ralph talks about how other games have come and gone, and how lucky he is to be in a game that is still being played. "Centipede… what's that guy doing these days?" The arcade closes for the night, and everyone goes home from their games. Ralph lives in a dump under a bridge, while Felix goes into that building he's spent the whole day rebuilding, and everyone gives him pie and thanks him all night long. And Ralph just watches, wishing he could be that person. "Sure would be nice to be a good guy."
Finally we see that the entire opening narration has actually been Ralph at a meeting of Bad-Anon, a support group led by one of the ghosts from Pac-Man. All the bad guys talk about their feelings and end with the affirmation, "I'm bad, and that's good. I'm not good, and that's not bad."
You know what? That's almost exactly what I wrote in my notes today, too, in terms of summary and dialogue. But the difference between what we saw in August and what we saw today was amazing, night and day, and at this point, "Wreck-It Ralph" seems incredibly polished and visually exciting. What really sold it today was the accumulation of the fine detail work that went into making the movie work.
There's a lovely shot in the new finished footage as the arcade outside goes dark, everyone gone home now, and it starts in close on the screen for the game, then rotates around so that we're inside the gaming cabinet now, looking up at the back of the screen, and the building that is the battleground each day between Fix-It Felix Jr. and Wreck-It Ralph is a real, tangible 3D building that Felix and the other characters live in. It's an amazing visual cue as to what reality this is set in, and it really works to establish what sort of ideas they'll be playing with in the film.
Another detail made me cackle. When Ralph's support group finishes the meeting, everyone files out, on their way back to their own games, and we pull back to reveal that the therapy session took place in the center box of a "Pac-Man" screen. Ralph runs down to the bonus space right under the box to retrieve a couple of cherries, which he carries out as a snack. It's such a funny, knowing "Pac-Man" joke, and considering how well my own kids already know "Pac-Man" as an icon and a game, I'll bet this is the sort of thing that's going to get big responses when people see it.
The next scene we saw was at the Game Central Station, the traveling hub for all the video game characters, and as Ralph tries to clear the video game world's version of the TSA ("Did you bring any fruits or vegetables with you today?" *Hides the cherries* "Uhhhhhh, no."), we also pick up some important story points. I'm going to guess there's a reason they tell us, "If you die outside your own game, you don't regenerate. Ever." At one point, Ralph runs into Q-Bert begging for food, and Ralph gives him one of the cherries. As he tries to cross into his own game, another little TSA guy comes running up to stop and question Ralph to his great chagrin.
We saw a few minutes from what happens when Ralph enters the world of "Hero's Duty," a first-person shooter that looks like it's taken both "Halo" and "Gears Of War" as strong design influences. In the clip they showed us, Fix-It Felix follows Ralph into the world and almost gets shot. As he lays on the ground quivering, Jane Lynch's character, Sgt. Calhoun, shows up to help, and 8-bit Felix can't help but marvel at how rendered she is.
In the last clip, Ralph escapes once more to a game called "Sugar Rush," a cart-racing super-cute game, and when the clip begins, a bunch of the little racer characters are picking on a little girl character, Penelope. They make fun of how she's a "glitch," and they start to really take it out on her physically. Ralph, who's watching from a distance, can't stand it and he roars, charging in at the cute little racers. They all hop in their cars and take off, leaving Ralph with Penelope. Instead of helping her up, though, he accuses her of being a thief.
At some point during "Hero's Duty," Ralph wins some sort of medal, and if I understand what that means from today's footage, if he gets a certain number of those medals, he may get his wish to be a good guy in a game. He demands that Penelope return the one she stole from him. She snaps at him, denying that she stole it. "I just borrowed your stupid coin."
He corrects her by saying, "It's not a coin, It's a medal, and I won it in 'Hero's Duty,'" which sets Penelope off in a laughing jag. She keeps making fun of how "duty" and "doody" are homophones. And as she cackles and Ralph offers to help her, that last clip ended and the lights came up again in Hall H.
"And that's the whole movie," Moore began, earning another big laugh. They showed us character slides for everyone, including Alan Tudyk as "King Candy," and he also revealed that Skrillex will be scoring the "Hero's Duty" portions of the games.
"That kid's talented," Hardwick pointed out. "Once he hits puberty, he's going to be huge." As the laughs died down, Hardwick brought out both John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman so they could join in for the Q&A.
The first question was for Moore, and a fair one considering how many game characters we saw in just that brief batch of clips. "Were there any video game characters you couldn't get the rights to?"
Reilly, Silverman, and Moore all exchanged glances at that point, so this must be a subject they've discussed before. "Why would I name them?" Moore asked. "Why would I talk about that highfalutin' little mustachioed plumber? He and his brother wanted too much money. I'm not going to talk about him."
Loud as she could and feigning ignorance, Silverman asked, "Wait, do you mean 'Super Mario'?"
The crowd started laughing, even as Reilly pointed out that they've already had their own movie. Reilly stopped laughing, though, during the next question. "What kind of acting do you prefer? Voice acting or real acting?"
Ouch. I'm sure it was meant nicely, but that's got to sting for anyone who does a lot of vocal performance work. Reilly rolled with it, though, and his smile never faltered. "I prefer being employed. Basically. It's been an amazingly creative process. I learned a lot about how animated films work. Despite Chris Rock's great run on how easy it is, it's a really engaging process, and I've enjoyed it. You don't' have to worry about how you look, so that's cool."
The next guy up at the mic seemed to be a functionally autistic young man, and no, I'm not using that to mean something else. I think this guy had a pretty severe case of something that made him sound very disconnected and odd when asking his question. "Is it hard balancing two different personalities?"
Hardwick couldn't resist asking, "Is it hard for you, sir?" Many of the people onstage made jokes about the kid, and they couldn't really see him the same way we could in the audience, so they were mainly just reacting to his strange halting delivery when he spoke.
Finally, Reilly answered, "No, I'm a Gemini, so it's easy. I feel like your question was beamed into your earpiece. Do you have a question you want to ask and not your superiors?"
The next guy asked a variation on an earlier question when he said, "How hard was it to get the licensing for all the characters?"
Moore answered, and again, it was obvious this is something they've been dealing with for a while now. "It seemed difficult at first, but we figured if we're doing this, we need the actual game characters from actual games in the movie, so we just went for it. We met with people from the different companies, started relationships, and little by little, they agreed."
Reilly broke out smiling and said, "Just imagine you're the Frogger guy. You made a game where this frog has to hop across the road and not get hit by anything. And now imagine a phone call comes in from Rich Moore. Suddenly, someone wants to use it in something again. "Can Frogger be in it? I think if that happens, that's a pretty quick answer, no offense to Frogger."
Finally, the last question was for Silverman, who showed a lot of leg in her shorts today, and who seemed to be bristling a bit against the constraints of being on a Disney panel with kids in the room. The person who stood up asked, "What can you tell us about your character, Sarah?"
It's very strange listening to Sarah Silverman be sincere, but of course she can be. She explained "Penelope Von Schweetz is a glitch, and like Ralph, she lives on the outskirts of her game as an outcast. They learn they're not so different. I think it kind of teaches you that her glitch, her greatest flaw, becomes her greatest asset."
In his best lecherous drawl, Reilly said, "You've got a great asset, Sarah," and just like that, the panel was over, with only "The Lone Ranger" footage to follow.
"Wreck-It Ralph" will be busting up theaters November 2, 2012.
Everything: Comic-Con 2013
Latest news, photos, reviews, interviews, videos and more.