Rick Morales has worked on a number of high profile projects throughout his career at Warner Bros. Animation, most notably the LEGO DC series of films aimed towards younger audiences. His most recent projects however, animated film adaptations of the ultra violent Mortal Kombat video game franchise, are a stark departure.
As a lifelong fan and gamer, there was no one better suited than Morales. Ahead of the release of the new Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms animated film, The Beat had a chance to chat with Morales about his prior Mortal Kombat fandom, the working relationship with NetherRealm Studios, as well as how the popular Shaggy internet meme made its way into the film.
Taimur Dar: I know there’s an overlap between animation/comics/video game fandoms so before going into these Mortal Kombat projects, what was your familiarity with or attachment to the franchise? Had you played the most recent Mortal Kombat games?
Rick Morales: Absolutely. I own a good number of them. I spend a lot of time getting my ass handed to me by my nephews. [Laughs]. I was very familiar. There’s a lot that I learned too. I had a lot of familiarity with the games and the live-action films that came out in the ’90s. I was a fan back then at least the first one. The lore is so deep in these games that there were a lot of things that I didn’t know. It’s nice to work directly with NetherRealm and of course Ed Boon because what better source?
Dar: Fans were a bit taken aback that Scorpion was the primary character of the previous film, but they understood why since Scorpion has become the face of the franchise. Liu Kang is generally seen as the main hero of Mortal Kombat, and you even hint at his larger destiny in Scorpion’s Revenge. Obviously, you couldn’t tell fans at the time that there was going to be a sequel where Liu Kang would shine but was there any hesitancy not to put the spotlight on Liu Kang first?
Morales: When we first started pitching ideas for what became Scorpion’s Revenge, we had all kinds of things we were proposing to get into the story. Liu Kang figured into all of them of course. In my mind he’s the main character. At this point, Scorpion may be the face of the franchise and he’s got a great story too. But at the end of the day Liu Kang is the chosen one. If Scorpion’s Revenge was Scorpion’s film then this movie is Liu Kang’s. That’s the way it was planned and exactly what I ended with it. There was no hesitancy to make Liu Kang the main character in this film. In my mind that just felt right and the way it should be.
Dar: Earlier this year a new Mortal Kombat film was released. I know sometimes comic book live-action films can affect productions for other media like animation. So I’m curious if the live-action Mortal Kombat film affected what you were doing with the animated movies?
Morales: I’ve been on shows that have been affected by live-action films before like some of the Batman stuff I worked on. So I know how that goes. This was not that at all. I had no idea what they were doing with the live-action films. We shared at a certain point. I think I was asked to send over Scorpion’s Revenge before that came out so they could get a look at it. We weren’t going back and forth and sharing between us. We were left to do what we were going to do. I thought that was really cool because we could make things that were wildly different.
Dar: I know fans LOVED the Daffy Duck/Scorpion gag as part of the Warner Bros. Animation logo intro. For Battle of the Realms, you do something similar with another beloved cartoon character and even go as far as to get the actor to record one line for it. So I gotta know how the gag came about.
Morales: It was funny, I think when we got toward the end of making this film one of the executives was like, “We gotta use that Scorpion/Daffy opening again.” And I was like, “No! We can’t use that!” I didn’t want to slap that thing on the next movie. It needed to be something special. It got me thinking what we could do here. It didn’t take long to realize the answer to that. It was around that time the Shaggy meme was going around. I think even Ed Boon responded to a question saying, “Nope. Not happening.” I just thought it would be a fun Easter Egg to people who knew that meme was going around and understood it. We had the capability of doing it because we have the Scooby characters. And then to bring in Matthew Lillard for one line. It’s a great line, it was fun!
Hack and Slash Shaggy variation 🤣pic.twitter.com/TGFhfwAVkX
— Ed Boon (@noobde) February 1, 2019
— matthew lillard —Will block. 0-F’s-given (@MatthewLillard) January 27, 2019
Dar: I know the next project from you is the Injustice animated adaptation, which incidentally came from a video game also produced by NetherRealm Studios. Did Injustice come about based on your experience working with NetherRealm or was it just a weird coincidence?
Morales: I don’t think that was the deciding factor but in my mind, it made sense to do Injustice. I’ve got experience with the DC characters and with the NeatherRealm stuff it made sense. It’s a game that I played, perhaps a little too much. [Laughs]. Also, there’s a comic book series that was based on the games that was a really good source too. It made sense for me and I was really excited to be a part of that.
Dar: Battle of the Realms gives a nice closure to this story. So are there plans for any more animated Mortal Kombat projects that you can tease or it wait and see at this point?
Morales: It’s a wait and see at this point. We definitely left that door open for sure as it always should stay open. I think this franchise is capable of going really far and continuing for a long time. Clearly, there’s been interest for 30 years in this game franchise. I think there’s a lot of stories that haven’t fully been told in this world that I think would be a lot of fun to tell. My hope is that we do continue with this but we’ll wait and see and go forward from there.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is available now on Digital, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD