Ink & Pixel: Wreck-It Ralph

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. If you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature animated films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

Back in my day there used to be a place the kids loved to go called an arcade. The games were cheap, the floors were sticky, and it always smelled a little bit like pee, but damn it, we loved it that way! It was the place to be if you wanted to gobble up some ghosts as Pac Man, jump barrels as Mario, or experience a classic showdown between Ken and Ryu via Street Fighter II. But we’ve come a long way since the days of Root Beer Tapper, Neo-Geo Multiple Video Systems, and L.A. Machine Guns. Each of these titles and many more hold a very dear place in someone’s heart, and it was only a matter of time before an animation company decided to tap into that brand of nostalgia. That company was Disney when they made WRECK-IT RALPH.

WRECK-IT RALPH, which stormed into theaters in 2012, is a computer animated family-comedy film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Released by Walt Disney Pictures, this nostalgic gem stands as the 52nd animated feature in the Walt Disney Classics series. Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), is the villain of his own video game entitled Fix-It Felix Jr. In this game, Ralph is programmed to climb to the very top of a busy apartment building, and cause unprovoked destruction to the homes of those who live inside. Understandably irritated by this routine, the tenants then call upon the game’s resident “hero”, a character by the name of Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer), to not only repair the damage incurred by Ralph’s freakishly huge fists, but to humiliate him each round – by throwing him off the roof of the tall building, leaving him to retreat into a trash heap where everyone thinks Ralph belongs.

Every day is the same as it ever was, and Ralph, looking to escape his life of repetition and social exile, has decided that it’s time to leave his own video game world. This defiant act then disrupts the natural order of a digital microcosm, shared all throughout the arcade where the Fix -It Felix Jr. machine is kept. In his search for an identity outside of his own villainous existence, Ralph befriends the outrageously annoying Vanellope Von Schweets (voiced by Sarah Silverman), a glitchy race car driver from a video game world which resembles the popular Kart Racing genre with a touch of Candy Land for visual flavor. Before long, these two unlikely heroes of the arcade team up to uncover a great mystery, the likes upon which will change the video game universe forever.

Okay, so check this out. WRECK-IT RALPH has actually been in the “conception” stage of development since the late 1980s! Yeah, I know, crazy, right? It first blipped into existence under the working title High Score, but then went through many stages of reconstruction and consideration. All through the 1990s the film went by the working title Joe Jump, then in the mid-2000s was re-titled Reboot Ralph. I think we can all agree that WRECK-IT RALPH is by far the best of the bunch, yeah?

Man, I remember when the first trailer for WRECK-IT RALPH hit the internet and every fan boy and girl in the world let out a collective “Squee!” at the sight of it. Much of this excitement was due to the confirmation that any number of licensed video game characters would be making cameos throughout the film. The notion of seeing characters like Sonic the Hedgehog, Bowser, and Q*bert was enough to make anyone’s head explode with joy. However, this level of authenticity posed quite a challenge for Disney. Because even though WRECK-IT RALPH was a new and original property, it also included a cast of characters very near and dear to many people around the world. There was simply no option for failure. The director of the film, Rich Moore, went on record as saying that balancing the character appearances was vital to the film’s success. He and his team were insistent on using real characters from real games because they wanted the movie to feel authentic. The last thing Moore wanted to create within his film was an atmosphere where the viewer felt that their dedication to these characters and brands were being neglected, or that their audience were perhaps being talked down to.

You’d think that putting a movie together like this would become a licensing nightmare, but Moore had found that companies like Sega and Nintendo were more than willing to lend their characters to the film. In fact, the doors had swung so wide in regard to which characters were up for grabs that Moore and his team found that it was impossible to include them all. For example, Nintendo allowed Disney full reign over their most iconic character ever, Mario (of Super Mario Brothers fame, duh!) However, writers Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, and Jim Reardon chose to forgo giving the popular plumber a place in the film. At the end of the day all three men had agreed that it was simply too daunting to write Mario into the film without losing the audience’s focus on Ralph and his self appointed mission.

Earlier on in the film’s scripting process, the writers of WRECK-IT RALPH included Ralph, Vanellope, and Felix taking a trip to a rather “hedonistic” game world called Extreme Easy Living 2. This world was modeled very much after the popular strategic life simulation video game franchise The Sims, first introduced by the Electronic Arts publishing company in February of the year 2000. The world was also reported to have borrowed heavily from the mature Grand Theft Auto franchise – first established in 1997 by the Rockstar gaming label. The gritty, open-world atmosphere of Extreme Easy Living 2 was meant to bolster the darker themes of self doubt, depression, and introspection of Ralph’s character.

Despite the fact that Moore and his team had devoted so much time in creating the Extreme Easy Living 2 world, the decision was made to scrap the entire act and take the film in a new direction. Ultimately, the Extreme Easy Living 2 world would have caused a dramatic shift in tone to the film, thereby casting a dark shadow over the otherwise colorful and upbeat nature of the previously visited environments. Unfortunately, there are times when placing a character’s emotions under a microscope isn’t the best way to tell a story inside of a Disney animated feature film. For those of you who have seen the film, could you imagine if in the second act of the film suddenly got really dark? Yeah, it would have been weird. At the end of the day it was all just too convoluted to take Ralph down that somber path.

WRECK-IT RALPH was also responsible for yet another Disney first, by being the first animated film to usher in the use of the Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Functions system. The BRDF system is a four-dimensional function that defines how light is reflected at opaque surfaces. This new system made the visuals of the film pop, adding to its already polished beauty. This new system was particularly useful when creating the Sugar Rush world, to which Vanellope hails from. This world, built entirely out of candy and various sweets, provided the perfect playground in which to not only test the new system, but also to show it off to audiences the world over. While fine tuning the program, artists were careful to study the reflective surfaces, imperfections, and beveled edges of each candy found throughout the Sugar Rush world. The result was a world that looked so good you could eat it. Yup, I went there.

It should come as no surprise that upon its release, WRECK-IT RALPH was a tremendous hit – both at the box office and with video game aficionados everywhere. The film managed a high score of $471,222,889 as its worldwide total, and was the fourteenth highest-grossing film of 2012. It stands to reason that a sequel to the film is inevitable and I’m happy to report that many of the film’s voice cast have already confirmed their interest in returning for another round. With plenty of worlds to visit and a seemingly endless amount of classic video game characters to include, the possibilities are only limited by our imaginations.

In the most recent of WRECK-IT RALPH related news, the character of Ralph is set to appear in the brand new video game entitled Disney Infinity – due to arrive on August 18th of this year for the PS3, Wii U, and Xbox 360 home consoles. The game features Ralph alongside many other characters from various Disney films, interacting with one another in an open-world, dungeon crawling experience. Those looking to have more Ralph in their lives should be on the lookout for it because it looks totally awesome.

Rest assured that whether or not you grew up playing video games that there is something for everyone in Disney’s WRECK-IT RALPH. It’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane that has heart, action, adventure, laughs, and enough pop culture references to fill the entire Mushroom Kingdom several times over. So save your quarters and go hunt this movie down to be added to your Disney collection. Game over.


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.