Wreck-It Ralph's animated antics

John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman in Sydney last week for the premiere of Wreck-It Ralph.
John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman in Sydney last week for the premiere of Wreck-It Ralph.

These days most big budget Hollywood animated movies boast big-name stars voicing the characters. But in most situations those that do the voices aren't in the same studio. Many are recorded individually and never meet their co-stars until they are all waving on the red carpet.

But that didn't happen with the new Disney animated feature Wreck-It Ralph, where video game characters come to life and have their own lives outside the games.

American actor John C Reilly, best known for his comic roles including Step Brothers and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, voices the mega muscular Ralph, a character in an early 80s-style arcade video game. Ralph gets tired of wrecking buildings every day and escapes into other video games within the arcade, including a Halo-style sci-fi action game commandeered by a space marine voiced by Jane Lynch from Glee.

Sarah Silverman voices Vanellope von Schweetz, who convinces Ralph to help her race a car in Wreck-It Ralph.
Sarah Silverman voices Vanellope von Schweetz, who convinces Ralph to help her race a car in Wreck-It Ralph.

While chased by the Wreck-It Ralph game's hero Fix-It Felix Jr - voiced by 30 Rock actor Jack McBrayer - Ralph enters a sugary sweet girly car racing game Sugar Rush where he meets the rebellious Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by iconoclastic American comedian Sarah Silverman.

Much of Wreck-It Ralph is the interplay between Ralph and Vanellope. But Reilly and Silverman say the beauty of Wreck-It Ralph was that they not only recorded together, along with the other cast, but the two improvised material that ended up being in the film.

''We were in the same room - looking right into each other's eyes,'' jokes Silverman, who, like her Vanellope character, teases Reilly throughout the interview.

''When you have someone in front of you there are these kinds of little things that you do with your voice where you communicate your differences, even beyond [how we talk] on the phone, or pretending when someone's there,''  Reilly says.

Reilly and Silverman were able to get a rough picture of how director Rich Moore envisaged scenes in the film from being show ''animatics'' - a moving story board.

''They would show us, bit by bit, progress [on the film] and we would record and video tape us and then they would use that to sketch and start making animatics. It was a creative process, like [the video game] Pong  - back and forth until we became these three dimensional characters,''  Silverman says.

Wreck-It Ralph is Moore's debut feature after working on shows including Futurama and The Simpsons. Silverman says Moore and his team used the videos of the actors to pick up their body language and mannerisms and bringing them out in the animated Ralph and Vanellope, despite the visible differences from the characters.

''There's a crazy osmosis thing that happens over time,'' says Reilly. ''It's funny how even just the smallest details of behaviour - if you add them into the animation, how they signal the actual person.''

Reilly and Silverman had done a small amount of voicing of animated characters before - Reilly on 9 and Silverman for television show Crank Yackers. But nothing could be compared to what they were asked to do for Wreck-It Ralph.

''It was more like doing a live action film in some ways,'' says Reilly, who garnered a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for Chicago.

''The process of improvising and going in each day and finding something new was so much like some of the comedy movies I've worked on.''

''The voice always came before the animation,'' says Silverman. ''There would be story boards, but they would be altered, tweaked and adjusted by our recording.''

The two say having the freedom to improvise was part of the plan for the film from the beginning. ''When I was meeting with Rich Moore I said 'look, we are going to have Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer - some of the most nimble minds in comedy and some of the greatest improvisers. Why wouldn't we want to maximise that?','' says Reilly.

''We could always do what was scripted, but if we had time - and we did have time because of the slow pace of animation - we could discover all kinds of stuff. A lot of what Sarah and I came up with in a moment ended up in our scenes in the movie.''

Says Silverman: ''It was such a fun and fulfilling creative process, not just by us but all the people around us and all the people doing so many different jobs to create these three dimensional characters.''

Wreck-It Ralph, with a budget of about US$165 million (NZ$196m), has done well at the United States box office since its release last month and there's already talk of a sequel. Reilly and Silverman say that based on their experiences of creating Ralph and Vanellope, they'd happily return.

''Some of the people at the studio mentioned it the other night when I was at this cocktail party for the movie,'' says Reilly. ''[They said] 'We're talking about a sequel.' I was like 'Good, my character's last line to the camera is 'to be continued'. I have my fingers crossed on that one.''


Wreck-It Ralph opens in New Zealand on Boxing Day.

The Dominion Post