John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman are visibly wilting in their seats. “We need a nap!” Silverman confides, apologetically.
“If I start talking nonsense,” Reilly says, “I’m either having a stroke, or it’s the jetlag…”
The two have arrived in Sydney to spruik Disney Animated Studios’ new movie. Back in 1982, Disney tried to show us what life might be like inside an arcade game with TRON. The result was eye-popping but also dull (same goes for belated sequel TRON: Legacy.) Thirty years on, the idea is used instead for cute comedic effect with Wreck-It Ralph.
The film has a Donkey Kong-like game villain (voiced by Reilly) who’s tired of being a bad guy and sets out to win himself a medal. Along the way he meets the rambunctious Vannelope (Sarah Silverman), a “glitch” character from a Mario-Kart-style game called Sugar Rush, who just wants to be accepted by her fellow game characters.
As they journey to win glory and approval, the two learn about friendship and self-esteem and bump into a who’s who of classic video game characters. Wreck-It Ralph hits the sweet spot of fast-moving slapstick for the kids and clever gags for their parents.
Reilly and Silverman were both keen gamers in their youth. "Video games started when I was around 10 or eleven," says Silverman. "There was Atari and there were arcades and everything. My sisters and I played a lot."
“I played Space Invaders and Pac Man and Galaga,” says Reilly. “I was really into Centipede. Big Centipede guy. It’s the one I’m best at.”
The cast recorded together and improvised, a rare practice for animated films that makes for a lively finished product. “We were able to take lots of left turns,” recounts Silverman. “It meant, we could get those moments that you really wouldn’t in a booth by yourself.”
“With animation like this, everyone works together, and you’re influencing the animators while they’re influencing you,” notes Reilly. “Everyone moves towards the same point.”
Both actors are well known for their adult sense of humour: Reilly for off-the-wall comedies like Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, and Silverman for her famously vulgar stand-up act and self-titled sitcom. Nevertheless, they had no problem transitioning to these family-friendly roles.
“The guy is a video game character who has been trapped in one world his whole life, so there’s a natural innocence to him," says Reilly.
“We were playing the characters honestly, and by virtue of that there wasn’t a reason to be dirty or blue,” says Silverman. “There was no real inkling to go in that direction.” She pauses. “Except for sometimes!”
So… we can expect some R-rated DVD outtakes? Reilly laughs. “Disney’s not known for that…” he laughs. “Disney After Dark?”
Despite spectacular visuals, it’s the characters and their personal struggles that give the film heart.
“I think the struggles of Vannelope and Ralph are so human and so real that no matter how larger than life the situation is, people can relate,” says Silverman. “Everyone knows what it's like to be an outcast; to feel lonely and want more.”
“I can relate to Ralph, definitely,” quips Reilly. “We’ve both been doing the same job for 30 years.”
Wreck-It Ralph screens from Wed Dec 26.