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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Film Review - Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph (2012; Walt Disney
Animation Studios)
Video games are now part of mainstream pop culture.  Well, they have been for more than two decades but if Hollywood's viewpoint really mattered at all you would think gamers were a frindge group.  Hollywood's treatment (fear) of video games and gamers has been visceral, with countless stabs in the form of nerdy gamer characters in lazy comedies and many, often-intentional film butcherings of beloved video game franchises.  Hollywood has a problem now, however, in the fact that the Nintendo Generation has grown up, many with children of their own, and with Wreck-It-Ralph it seems that a major studio has put aside its ire in lieu of an attempt to bridge a generational gap.  Is it perfect?  No.  Is it a step in the right diection?  Yes.

Wreck-It Ralph has been compared to Toy Story.  I see it, because that is pretty much what it is.  The premise is that in an arcade, all of those cabinets are actually self-contained worlds, connected by power cables to Game Central Station, which inhabits a power strip, the worlds' single common connection.   When the arcade closes, the characters in the cabinets live a life of their own, still holding to the rules and ideals set fourth in their games.  Wreck-It Ralph has spent decades in his world as a Donkey Kong-esque villain constatnly overshadowed by his game's hero, Fix-It Felix, Jr.  He struggles with lonliness as the denizens of his world fear and hate him for his constant destruction of their apartment building.  He looks up in jelousy as Felix is praised and parties are thrown in his honor.  Finally having enough, Ralph takes a step towards trying to make friends with the people in his world but is strongly rejected because he is not a hero.  Now, desperate to become a hero, Ralph begins to travel to other worlds to get that elusive title and earn the affections and friendships of his fellow game world inhabitants.

Now, I say "other worlds" but I really mean two.  The first is a shooter game world he initially enters, meeting up with Jane Lynch's Calhoun, a gung-ho military babe with a tortured past. Next he travels to the game that will become the central setting for a majority of the story, Sugar Rush, a cutsey racing title with freakish sprites disguised as little girls (and one gender-confused boy) as the racers.  If you need an idea of what this world is like, imagine Dr. Doom used some sort of power to mutate a copy of the Candy Land board game to a sentient giant and said board game monster went to the hills of Ireland and puked out the Chocolate Room from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory all over the landscape, that's pretty much what it looks like.  This world annoyed me from the start, but I forced myself to get used to it.  It is not as though I had a choice in the matter.

This leads to my major complaint about Wreck-It Ralph, the ads lied to me.  I went in expecting a movie filled with lots of old-school gaming in-jokes and got a by-the-numbers romp instead.  Now, the video game references are there, they are there in spades, but they are sparse in comparison to the main premise, which could have taken place in any type of world outside of video games and would have more or less worked. This is a shame because there were so many directions they could have taken here, and they decided to make it an underdog sports story, a rag Disney wrung dry about twenty years ago.

On the technical side of things, Wreck-It Ralph is top-notch.  I did not see it in 3D because that crap gives me a headache but the film looks really good.  The characters are expressive and well-designed and the worlds are expansive and full.  The movie uses scale well too, as in the shots of the giant arcade machine screen looking out into the world from Fix-It Felix's apartment building inside the game. As far as characters and acting goes everyone is good except for one person.  Can you guess who that is?  In all honesty, I expected to absolutely hate Sarah Silverman's character Vanellope.  I didn't.  At least not nearly as much as I expected to.  I will say that her voice wears very thin on the nerves after a while but the writers did a good job of making her character sympethic enough that you kind of start to care about her, I do not think I will ever forgive the writers for this offense.  I have heard her compared to Jar-Jar Binks.  No.  She is nowhere near that annoying.  Still, she is what she is, a character designed to hook the kids in the audience who do not know who the hell Q*bert is.  Her story is pretty tragic too, and the my reactions to her childish antics often mirrored Ralph's, which I suppose was the idea.  As far as the rest of the cast goes, John C. Reily, an actor I normally dislike, is occasionally one-note as Ralph, but the character is written and animated well-enough that I can give him a pass.  Jack MacBrayer, Jane Lynch and Alan Tudyk are all fantastic, no complaints there.  Most everybody is more or less very good here, Silverman is just a little too much for me through most of the movie.

Now for the ultimate question:  Was Wreck-It Ralph any good?  Yes.  My complaints about a large chunk of the film aside, this is a solid movie.  Parents will like it as will their kids.  There are lots of nice references here and there that will make NES owners feel at home and the tragic ebb and flow of arcade gaming in America has left a grave need for loving nostaliga, which this film brings.  Putting aside the paint-by-numbers Disney-default story, the twist ending I saw coming from a mile away and the numerous eye-rollingly bad puns and there is still a lot here to take home.  I do not see myself rushing out to grab the Blu-Ray when it releases, but this is still the best animated film I have seen in 2012, and certainly the best family movie of the year.  Do as I did, forgoing aprehension and ignoring one's better judgement, and enter and just enjoy what you are given and you may find that Wreck-It-Ralph is a lot of fun.

1 comment:

  1. I've yet to see this one, waiting for it to hit the 2 dollar theater to take my kid, but I can say from what I've read this is a pretty solid review. I will add that Rise of the Guardians (which my kid chose to see over Wreck-It Ralph) was also pretty solid, it had a few very well placed layers inside a canned "color by numbers" story, as you describe it:-), and achieved what the creators intended: to entertain.