Originally, Fix-It Felix himself was going to be the film's protagonist, while Ralph (first conceived as “part boar, part dog, part baboon and pure failure,” according to co-writer Phil Johnson) was his enemy. But the filmmakers came to see Ralph as an outsider in the video game's small town to whom audiences would relate. “Early on we realized that we like the guy who lives in garbage and throws things at people,” Johnson said.
Other metaphors that play off of video game tropes followed. For instance, Vanellope von Schweetz, a tart-tongued aspiring “Sugar Rush” racer voiced by Sarah Silverman, has a technological malfunction that occasionally makes her disappear. “The glitch is a physical manifestation of the insecurity she and Ralph both feel,” said co-writer Jennifer Lee.
With huge box-office ambitions for the picture, Disney has spent aggressively on its marketing campaign, including commercials during the Summer Olympics. It has gone after men with ads during sporting events and girls with ones that feature Vanellope.
Some material is aimed squarely at young male gamers, who are usually the least likely demographic to attend a Disney animated film.
A trio of viral videos feature fake ads for Litwak's Arcade, where the movie takes place, from 1982, 1997 and 2012, the years when “Felix,” “Sugar Rush” and “Hero's Duty” are said to have debuted. And Disney has been courting video game bloggers beginning with a “Fix-It Felix” arcade cabinet at E3 in June and ending with an Oct. 17 screening for them in San Francisco.
“I love that video games are used as a vivid backdrop rather than a centerpiece,” said Ludwig Kietzmann, editor in chief of the blog Joystiq, who attended the screening. “The only thing that's hard to believe is it takes place in an arcade that's still open.”
Mainstream ads don't hide the film's gaming roots. The “Wreck-It Ralph” logo is made from 8-bit graphics, and billboards show Ralph surrounded not by his freshly created supporting characters but by Sonic, Clyde and Q*bert.
“We didn't know until about six months ago when the first trailer came out that people were very receptive to the nostalgia of old-school games,” Moore said. “It awoke the sleeping gamer in everyone.”
Several of the creative team's favorite ideas didn't make the 93-minute final cut, including a fourth game world called “Extreme Easy Living 2” that Moore described as a cross between “The Sims” and “Grand Theft Auto.”
But just as video games spawn endless sequels set in new venues — can anyone even count how many times Mario has rescued the princess? — Ralph might travel to more destinations in Litwak's Arcade.
“John Lasseter told us that in ‘Toy Story' they had so many ideas from the first one they had to shelve, but they all came back for ‘2' and ‘3,'” Moore said. “So if we're lucky and able to do a sequel with more stories in this universe, we can just pull those ideas back out."