UW-Madison grad Phil Johnston wrote Oscar-nominated “Wreck-It Ralph”


I wrote a short story for the Capital Times about Phil Johnston, a native of Neenah and a UW-Madison graduate, who has quickly become a successful screenwriter. His first film, “Cedar Rapids,” was a very funny film that gave Midwestern rubes a certain nobility, almost.

It didn’t do much at the box office, but his second film was “Wreck-It Ralph,” which has been a big animated hit for Disney and, not entirely expectedly, a big critical hit as well. It’s up for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and what’s kind of funny is that Johnston seems fairly blase about it. There are five slots for animated film, which basically means if your film makes any kind of splash, it’s going to get nominated.

Also, whether the writer of an animated film actually gets an Oscar if it wins, or if its the producers and director who collect the statuary, isn’t clear to me. Which may contribute to Johnston’s sanguine outlook.

I actually think “Ralph” has a pretty good shot at winning; the perennial favorite Pixar’s “Brave” was underwhelming to some (although I thought it was both vastly entertaining and a surprisingly nuanced look at mother-daughter relations), and some critics really liked the unpredictability and poignancy of “Ralph.”

I was a little disappointed, honestly; I thought the film went to painstaking lengths to establish its video game universe, only to basically abandon it halfway through in favor of the geopolitics of the “Sugar Rush” world. I may need to see it again before fully passing judgment, and, having two young daughters, I’m sure I’ll get the chance.

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