The Ratchet & Clank franchise has been a staple of Sony’s PlayStation brand since it made its debut on the PS2 in 2002. 14 games and numerous cameo appearances later and the latest Ratchet & Clank has become the fastest selling game of the entire franchise and was one of April’s best selling titles on the PS4. Also released in April was a film adaptation of Ratchet & Clank, although it was met with much less fanfare, debuting in just 7th place at the box office. Shakefire spoke with the titular duo of the film and video games, James Arnold Taylor who voices Ratchet and David Kaye who voices Clank, to discuss revisiting the origin story of these characters, working simultaneously on both the film and video game, as well as the state of video game films in general.
James Arnold Taylor has made 17 appearances as Ratchet but there’s one instance where it wasn’t him providing the voice of the ratchet-wielding Lombax; the original 2002 Ratchet & Clank. Mikey Kelley provided the original voice of Ratchet in the game and according to Taylor the studio simply wanted to move on in a different direction, and he’s been the voice ever since. 2016’s Ratchet & Clank is a re-imagining of the original game and has allowed Taylor to revisit the beginning of the franchise.
“It was really exciting when we heard about the movie, and that was about three years ago really when all of that started,” Taylor tells Shakefire. “Then there was talk of redoing the game because we know this is going to be an origin story. I was always going, ‘Well, but I’m not in the first one.’ You know? It was really cool that they decided to reboot the game and freshen it up and retell it. It looks absolutely stunning on the PS4. We just had a blast doing it. It was just fun. I think knowing that we were redoing it all created a fun energy, too.”
“I’m very comfortable of with this character now after 14 years of doing this, and so I did have to get into this headspace of learning about him for the first time. It worked in my advantage to be so comfortable with him in that, and the same with David [Kaye] I think. We all kinda talked about how it’s great to be comfortable with it enough to explore how they would be different in the beginning. While we kept them pretty much the same, we just had in our heads that this is cool and this is the first time we’re meeting these characters. I think it comes through in the film, certainly, and in the game as well. You feel like it’s a new story, and for the people that don’t know it they were given a cool world to venture into.”
Of course you can’t have Ratchet without his trusty robotic sidekick, Clank. Unlike Taylor, David Kaye has always been the voice of Clank. “I was really happy about that when I found out that was where they were going with [the film]. It’s nice to see the upgrade and to be able to have 14 years of doing the character and be able to put that into the first movie,” Kaye says. “It just feel like you’ve done 14 years of research to go back to the beginning and start again. That was fun.”
What’s surprising is that in more than a decade of their characters appearing alongside each other in the games, the film marks the first time the two actually worked together in studio.
“Normally in video games you come in one after another and they book you for four hours or two hours or whatever it is,” Kaye explains. “You do your stuff and you leave. Sometimes you cross paths if somebody’s waiting in the waiting room or waiting to go in. But most of the time you don’t see anyone. I think it’s really the first time we worked together ever in the studio. In cartoons we’ve worked, but for Ratchet & Clank we hadn’t done anything together. We showed up and it was like, “Hey, you’re here!”
“That made it just fun because it allowed for us to adlib and play around and have a good time with it,” Taylor says. “That’s very different from when you record a game. When you do a game you’re always alone because there’s so much detail in a game. As opposed to a movie you could watch for 90 minutes, two hours, a game you could play for 25 hours or more depending on the games. Some even longer. So they track you separately just for time because they know there’s so much to do. It’s a different experience but on this one it was always the same crew.”
That crew consisted of Ratchet & Clank writer T.J. Fixman who wrote the first draft of the film’s script. In addition, both Jim Ward and Armin Shimerman reprised their roles from the games as the bumbling hero Captain Quark and the evil mastermind Dr. Nefarious. All four of them were able to work together in the studio, which no doubt helped with the dynamic of their performance.
“Usually you’re working off a director so you have to create the fact that you’re talking to your character friend,” Kaye says. “It’s just one of those things where you expect no one to be there, and you go in a do your thing, but it sure is nice because there is an extra little bit of dynamic that happens when you’re in the same room. The relationship is really important for the two of us, especially on the first movie.”
While the four of them were reunited, they didn’t get to work alongside the other cast members including Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, or John Goodman, although Taylor says that’s pretty normal for a production such as this. “They had animated so much of the film and then they go to get it sold and show it to people to see who they can get involved and such. They had all signed on much later than us so all of our work was already done by that time.”
Unfortunately like many video game film adaptations, Ratchet & Clank didn’t do all that well in theaters, earning a less than stellar $12.8 million on a $20 million budget. Film adaptations of video games are tough says Kaye. “It really has a lot to do with there’s so much stuff,” he says. “What do you put in? What do you leave out? What we took away from it was the fans of the franchise loved it. They had a great time watching it. When you have a smaller budget, too. I think the Angry Birds had like $400 million they could spend on just advertising alone, and our movie cost $20 million. The budget just couldn’t reach. And the gamers certainly love it because they know the characters as well. To try and translate that and to cross over to people who don’t know the franchise it’s a little tougher.”
“Your average movie going audience is used to going into the theater for 90 minutes to maybe three hours depending on the film,” Taylor adds. “An average video game player is like, ‘Okay, I’m going to live with this game for the next week or more, and I’m going to immerse myself in this and learn everything I can.’ There are two different worlds, while at the same time they’re still both storytelling. It’s hard to make that connection. How do you take a game that you can play for 10’s of hours and cram it into 90 minutes and get all the same information in that same deal? It’s a tricky process.”
While it struggled to reach a wider audience, fans appeared to enjoy the film. “That was really important to Insomniac,” says Taylor. “My thanks to the fans because David, Jim, Armin, and I, all four of us got to keep our jobs voicing the characters because of that, too. I think if we had all been replaced by celebrities people would have been like, ‘Hey, wait a second.’”
And it’s in the home release where Taylor, Kaye and no doubt the studio hope to find success for Ratchet & Clank. “What I found to be the case is I do all these comic conventions and such, and I’m signing all these pictures of Ratchet for people and signing their games for them. I’m like, ‘Have you played the game?’ ‘Yeah, I’ve played the game. I love the game!’ ‘Have you seen the movie?’ ‘No, I haven’t had a chance yet. I’m waiting for it to come out.’ I think that because most of the fanbase is gamers that are used to doing these things in their home. They’re used to playing the game in their home. They want it for home, so I think we’ll probably see a nice boost because that’s what this audience is.”
While there hasn’t been any official talk of a sequel just yet, both James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye hope to see the story continue. “I do hope they do make a second movie because I personally want to see what happens next, Kaye says. “One of my favorite characters is Armin Shimerman, who plays Dr. Nefarious. I want to see what happens next.”
“As of August 23rd when it all comes out hopefully everybody will realize they need to go out and support it, Taylor says. “It’s not like I’m just trying to say ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ The truth is, unless you support these things they won’t make sequels. They won’t make more things because that’s how they judge whether something is successful and rightly so. I say to everybody just support the film as much as you support the game and we should be in good shape.”
Ratchet & Clank is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.