"Wreck-It Ralph" has quickly gone from Oscar dark horse to front runner since the nominations: an acknowledgment that it not only thwarts our expectations of what a Disney movie should be but also that it's much more than a nostalgic video game romp. Indeed, it has struck an emotional chord in the unlikely friendship between its principal outsiders, the hulking Ralph (John C. Reilly) and the snarky Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). And if "Ralph" wins the Oscar, it would signal that Disney's not only back but that John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have also successfully co-mingled two distinct cultures at Pixar and Disney.

"What I hear a lot is people saying, ''Ralph' is like Pixar film,' which is the highest compliment," admits "Ralph" director Rich Moore about his first experience at Disney after a successful career on TV's "The Simpsons" and "Futurama."

"We're sibling studios, we work closely together and the two cultures are crossing the streams at this point and exploring what makes each other unique but still being true to the studio from which it comes. And coming to Disney means a lot to me. Personally, it was a Disney film, 'The Jungle Book,' that lit the fire and pushed me to where I am today."

But coming to Disney as an outsider gave Moore the opportunity to both embrace and subvert the animation legacy. It wasn't enough that "Ralph" was like making three movies in one with its three retro video game worlds (the 8-bit "Niceland," the "Halo"-like "Hero's Duty," and the candy-coated "Sugar Rush"), Moore had to pull it all together with Ralph and Vanellope.

"My experience with 'The Simpsons' is that if you're going to be subversive you have to be heartfelt," Moore suggests. "It has to feel humane and that's what I wanted with this movie. And my job as a director has always been the same: to tell a story worth telling in a world we believe with characters we love and care about."

Of the three video game worlds, "Sugar Rush" proved the most fun and daunting and most Disney-like in its charm and whimsy, a tasty place where there are plenty of visual puns but it's not all Laughy Taffy thrills.

"This was the area where the animators could go all out with the style of the animation that harkens back to the Disney of the golden age with 'Peter Pan' and 'Alice in Wonderland,'" Moore recalls. "And with the technology we continued with the success of 'Tangled' by taking the spirit of the 2D animation and bringing it into the medium of computer animation in a way that feels new and relevant."