Entertainment & Arts

How Wreck-It Ralph recruited Sonic, Pac-Man and Bowser

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Media captionStars John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman discuss creating their characters on Wreck-It Ralph

Imagine the logistics of bringing together a group of Hollywood's greatest '80s action characters in a single film.

You'd need Indiana Jones, Mad Max, John Rambo, Dutch from Predator, Die Hard's John McClane and the entire A-Team (if you found them, maybe you could hire them).

Then try casting those beloved characters as (8) bit parts in the tale of a brand new "hero", who no-one has heard of.

Then imagine being quietly escorted out of the room, the sound of their creators and their creators' lawyers laughter ringing in your ears as you try to explain that the new guy was actually a "baddie"...

Image caption Q*Bert from the 80s arcade game is homeless in the film, his game having been unplugged

If the mere concept sounds confusing, one can only guess how difficult it was for filmmaker Rich Moore to persuade some of the world's largest gaming companies to let him use a bunch of beloved video game mascots for the new Disney animated film Wreck-It Ralph.

"We put the daunting aspect on the back burner and I said to my crew, 'it's too early to talk to them, so let's proceed as though we have the rights to anyone we want and go from there'," says Moore.

"And we went that way for about a year."

The film tells the story of Ralph, a lonely, hulking video game baddie who grows tired of playing second fiddle to the game's good guy after three decades, and tries to figure out how he can become a hero himself.

He enlists the support of his fellow characters who, at night, when the arcade shuts down, travel to Game Central Station for post-work drinks and group therapy sessions.

Sonic the Hedgehog, Bowser from the Mario series, Street Fighter's Ken, Ryu and M. Bison, Q*Bert and Pac-Man all make fleeting appearances.

Moore is an award-winning animator and director who worked on The Simpsons and Futurama. He says the seeds of Wreck-It Ralph's story were sown during childhood.

"To my parents chagrin, a lot of time was spent in arcades and in front of televisions playing home systems," he says. "I'd say it broke down to about 10% of my time. The other 90% was spent in the cinema watching Star Wars."

Image caption The film's characters reflect 8 bit console graphics

It was playing games like Ms. Pac-Man that he began to think about the back stories of characters in the fast-developing gaming world.

"I thought who are these characters? Why are there ghosts chasing a little yellow man through a maze? And my mind would fill in the blanks."

However, rather than write for an established character, Moore and his script team Clare Spencer and Phil Johnston set about creating a fictional game in the 1980s' 8-bit universe, with an all-new cast.

"I didn't want to start with a known character that might have baggage attached to it or have aspects to their back story that could get in the way of the audience enjoying the story," he explains.

"That way we had the freedom to create our own history and start from square one."

But there was still the small matter of getting permission to use more recognisable faces in the film as well.

"Once we had the story in some shape, we didn't want the Disney lawyers meeting the Nintendo lawyers, so we decided to do it face-to-face and explain that we loved video games and were doing this from the heart and, inevitably, they were open to the prospect of a movie."

But the gaming firms insisted on approving all the character animations. "How Bowser would hold a coffee cup, how he would laugh and spit out coffee," chuckles Moore.

Image caption The video game bad guys attend a nightly support group in which they discuss their feelings

In the end, the only major sticking point was the scale of each character.

"Nintendo would say Bowser is much bigger than M. Bison. Then, Capcom would say, 'M. Bison and Zangief - they're much bigger than Dr Robotnik,' and Sega would say, 'Well, Robotnik is a very tall gentleman'.

"We thought we would have a room of giants. But we worked it out in the end."

Providing the voices are Step Brothers star and Oscar-nominee John C Reilly, in the title role, with comedienne Sarah Silverman as his sidekick, Vanellope von Schweetz.

Glee's Jane Lynch, 30 Rock star Jack McBrayer and Modern Family's Ed O'Neill are also involved.

John Lasseter, the chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios is the executive producer of Wreck-It Ralph - which has been nominated for an Oscar at the 2013 Academy Awards and earlier this week picked up five "Annie" awards from the International Animated Film Society.

Moore insists the Toy Story creator and director's input was key to getting the film made.

Image caption Comedienne Sarah Silverman voices one of the film's young characters

"I'm really fortunate that what I do, and the experience that I have from shows like Futurama and Simpsons was embraced by the people at Disney and John Lasseter.

"He took me aside on the first day and said, 'I want you to promise me that you're not going to try and second guess what you do and how it fits in here.

"'Don't try and make a quote, unquote, 'Disney' film'."

Reviews have been positive and with games, dolls, watches, clocks and clothes all ready - Disney's merchandise juggernaut is at full throttle.

With the Toy Story cash-cow apparently at an end after three films, will Wreck-It Ralph fill the void for a company hungry for a new franchise and still stinging after last year's £200m flop John Carter?

"I think we've barely scratched the surface of what the video gaming universe is," says Moore. "We've only been talking about arcade cabinets, there's so much more to explore so our fingers are crossed."

Wreck-It Ralph is released in UK cinemas on Friday.

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