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Hero worship no game
Hero worship no game

Insert two coins and prepare to go to pixel heaven, video-game fans. Disney's Boxing Day blockbuster Wreck-It Ralph - the only animated film released on the biggest movie day of the year - is taking you inside the game world and having you relive childhood memories of your favourite games and characters.

The brightly coloured 3-D adventure is set largely within the game world and follows Wreck-It Ralph, the villain of a Donkey Kong-style arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr. Bored of his existential lot in life and dying to play the hero for once, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) escapes to other game worlds to win that elusive gold coin and prove himself a hero.

Playing like a loving ode to video games of all styles and eras, the imaginative adventure is the brainchild of writer-director Rich Moore, who has worked extensively on The Simpsons and Futurama. While it has shades of Scott Pilgrim and Tron, gamers will spot hundreds of video-game characters, references, inspirations and in-jokes.

While five writers are listed in the credits (including Wall-E scribe Jim Reardon), Moore says no one game or character inspired the film.

"It wasn't one particular game," he said during a recent promotional trip to Melbourne. "It was the story of this very simple Donkey Kong-esque character in the game world that is struggling with this dilemma about his life and if this was all he was going to do for his life.

"I also wanted to have several game worlds in the one movie."

Under the guidance of Pixar executive producer John Lasseter, Wreck-It Ralph bounces between four unique game worlds, each from a different era. Ralph lives in the original 1980s-style arcade game of Fix-It Felix Jr., with its blocky, jerky, two-dimensional eight-bit world. He escapes to the ultra-modern Call of Duty-style game called Hero's Duty and lands in the cute Japanese anime-style girly game Sugar Rush.

"We wanted to speak to the history of video games," Moore explained. "To represent those old games in the beginning, and to compare and contrast them to the games of today. We wanted all those different genres represented, not just one."

Disney's animation arm created nearly 190 unique characters for the film (three times that of any other Disney film), with Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Ed O'Neill and many more providing voice talents. Gamers may even spot the actual voice talents behind the likes of Assassin's Creed and Street Fighter.

"I was that first test generation for that new thing called video games in the late 1970s," said Reilly, who lends much of his put-upon, hangdog charm to voicing Ralph. "So Space Invaders was the first big one for me, then Pac-Man and Asteroids. For the first 10 years or so, from like 78 to 88, there seemed like a new game every year that pushed the envelope a bit further and was the 'in' game.

"After that I lost interest. But you know what, the struggle to stay alive in those games was way more intense than it is now, because back then, a quarter meant a lot to me. So it was a real adrenaline rush."

"I loved Donkey Kong and Pac-Man and Dig Dug," Moore added. "I liked the games about little people or cartoon characters."

"And look - you turned it into your life's work," joked Reilly, the sought-after character actor from Chicago, Boogie Nights and Walk Hard. "Who would have thought?"

Unlike most animated films, where the voices are recorded by actors alone in a recording booth, Moore got his team together in a studio to act the parts while recording the voices.

"By allowing them to work together - to look each other in the eye and act and react while recording their voice track - we got a certain spontaneity in the actors," Moore explained. "It worked really well. It became a very collaborative room; me, the writers, the actors. It got crazy at times but that's when we knew we were getting close to finding gold."

There's also plenty of Reilly in Ralph - a lumbering, goofy but good-natured everyman - and the Oscar-nominated actor played up to it.

"I didn't feel all that different from Ralph, even though he's this video-game character. I grapple with the realities of the world like him. So I decided not to do some crazy voice. I decided to be as honest and real as possible."

As real as a video-game character allows, at least.