Wreck-It Ralph

PhotobucketColorful computer animated fantasy concerns Wreck-It Ralph, the heavy in a video game called Fix-It Felix Jr. The fictional game is similar to Donkey Kong. His job is to smash buildings while Felix, the protagonist, is entrusted with the task of repairing what he damages. After years of losing to this beloved adversary, Wreck-It Ralph aspires to be a hero.

When I first saw the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph, I got excited. The vision of the various villains from Pac Man, Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter, etc. sitting around in an AA type circle lamenting their lesser status was an appealingly original concept. The incongruous vibe masterfully balanced adult angst with a visually appealing (and humorous) presentation for kids. What Who Framed Roger Rabbit was to classic cartoons, this would be to video games. I appreciated the humor and thought the story appeared to cross adult intellectualism with joyful cuteness to appeal to literally every segment of the population. Oh how wrong I was.  While the animation of Wreck-It Ralph is certainly dazzling with a smattering of belly laughs for all ages, the overall cutesy tone is clearly directed at youngsters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s absolutely a fun time at the movies, it’s just that this could’ve been so much more.

The family friendly comedy’s biggest asset is the inventive mix of video game history. Wreck-It Ralph the game appears to be a simple 8 bit game for the user. However when the camera shifts into their world, the pixilated cast become three-dimensional . Experiencing their environment was a giddy delight for this reviewer. The detail is incredible.  Even the method in which the characters are brought to life with the sharp jerky motions that mimic the movement of an old arcade game. The aesthetics are vivid and lively. They’re even able to leave the confines of their arcade boxes and journey to other games via electrical cords. Of course this all happens when the lights go out and no one is around. Shades of Toy Story (minus the emotional depth).  John C. Reilly does excellent work voicing “bad guy” Ralph and articulating his depression. He‘s incredibly likable and that goes a long way into making the audience care about his plight.  Ralph’s desire to earn a medal initially leads him into another game, Hero’s Duty. A violent, bug-infested nightmare, seemingly based on Call of Duty, Halo, and possibly others. The captivating exercise that follows is an unholy mashup up of 8 bit video games and first person shooters. But this is merely the beginning.

The screenwriters have stuffed the script with a dizzying amount of plot threads. Too numerous to detail, it can get a little unfocused. Ralph’s mission ultimately takes us into another video game called Sugar Rush where most of the action takes place. Think Mario Kart goes to Candy Land. It’s here where the chronicle takes a somewhat unexpected turn into kid oriented shenanigans. Actor Alan Tudyk (TV’s Firefly) who does a spot on impression of Ed Wynn, is quite memorable as King Candy, the kingdom’s ruler.  We’re also introduced to a so-called “glitch” named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a sassy imp that has become a sarcastic and insolent child after years of rejection from her fellow racers. Even after Ralph scares some bullies away, she remains ungrateful.  Naturally this changes as the two work together to achieve a common goal that will mean happiness and joy for everyone.  The saccharine trope of “It’s OK to Be Yourself” is hammered into our heads to the point where it gets a bit tedious. Even the youngest moviegoer will surely remember Shrek taught them this first. It all climaxes in, what else, a chase sequence that is as vibrant as it is predictable.

Wreck-It Ralph is the 52nd film in the Disney animated features canon. It follows other such recent titles as Tangled and Bolt. Like those films, the subject matter doesn’t get very deep.  “Be Yourself” is a moral as established as Disney itself, but it’s agreeable fun. The tale is sort of an enjoyable amalgamation of video games like Donkey Kong, Call of Duty and Mario Kart with assorted allusions that most aging gamers will recognize. If just the sight of characters like Q*bert and Pac Man send your geek impulses racing, then you’ll be handsomely rewarded. There’s a lot of bright eye popping animation and the absurdity of it all will entertain the kiddies. While there are cursory computer game references and sight gags only an adult would truly understand, the silliness of the adventure is aimed at young kids.   The story doesn’t offer anything profound.  This “fun for all ages” is like the hyperactive sugar buzz you get from eating too many bowls of Cap’n Crunch on a Saturday morning.

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38 Responses to “Wreck-It Ralph”

  1. Why do I have to wait so long for this!

  2. a great blend for all ages. agreed. Man I was geeking out at all the little things they included in here. from the pipes from Marioworld to the Big Donut level from MarioKart64 and more. It’s only too bad that kids nowadays will know very little of the eastereggs! Great review man.

  3. The trailers for this one looked so weird to me, but there’s been a lot of hype going around. The way you describe it, it seems to me like Disney’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World–a game-centric film that anyone can easily enjoy. I’m very curious to check it out Mark. Great review.

  4. Just finished writing my review before reading yours. I think I may just be more of a videogame goofball, but my rating is a bit higher than yours 🙂

    Good review all the same my friend! Freaking loved this movie.

    • I grew up playing Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Defender, Centipede, Frogger etc, so no one was more excited to see this than I.

      I really loved everything up until Sugar Rush. Once we arrive in that game, the action becomes alternately childish and lazy. Case in point: when Vanellope learns to drive we get a generic training montage with Rihanna’s “Shut Up and Drive” blasting in the background. It’s a time filler. That’s one example, but there are others. The whole movie climaxes in a standard issue chase sequence that was a rather uncreative way to end the film.

      Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, but the script wasn’t as clever as I had hoped.

  5. This is one I’ve got to see. Based on the trailer it reminded me of Who Framed Roger Rabbit too. Plus it makes me want to play my old video games again. Nice review.

    • It was a bit of a letdown that the film’s humor is decidedly more kid oriented than the adult humor of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Still if you’re looking for something very cutesy with a few classic video game sight gags, this should fit the bill.

  6. Definitely a bit too cutesy at points and its message is a well-traveled one, but there wee enough cool visuals and video game references to delight my inner geek. Loved how they made the characters move in jerky 8-bit ways and really thought they did an amazing job creating an immersive world.I couldn’t believe how hilarious Alan Tudyk is in the film.

    • I fondly recall Ed Wynn (he died in 1966) from his work with Disney. Remember the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland? That was him. But most people today probably remember him as Uncle “I Love to Laugh” Albert in Mary Poppins (1964).

      When King Candy shows up, Alan Tudyk’s voice work was clearly a loving homage to the legacy of this great comedian. He sounded just like him. I thought he was hilarious too.

  7. Though it falls for the conventions we hate to see in these types of movies, it still has plenty of heart and fun that it definitely makes the final-product all the more better. Good review Mark.

  8. Just like most people, I wanted more retro game characters and more adult references, however, I was satisfied with this. It was very creative and fun. It became very “kid” focused when they got to Sugar Rush, but I really liked it. 3 1/2 stars.

  9. Nice review. A lot of the humour did feel a little childish, but then I might as well be called one since I really enjoyed some of it. Granted, some did get tedious and obnoxious. Great film either way, though. I didn’t understand a lot of the video game references adults would find hilarious, both because I’m nearly 18 and I was never a very huge gamer growing up.

    • The video game references were like virtual Easter eggs, not essential to enjoy the film, but little in-jokes for those in the know. I got some, missed others, but none of them were important to the plot.

    • I will definitely see it, but DreamWorks Animation is all over the place. It could be great (Antz, How to Train Your Dragon) or it could be awful (Shark Tale, Shrek the Third) I am keeping my expectations low.

      • Very true! I’ll try to lower my expectations… I’m definitely not as excited as I was for Wreck-It Ralph. I still have to watch ‘How to Train Your Dragon 😦 Yeah, they really are all over the board. I really don’t enjoy Antz, I’m much more a fan of A Bug’s Life.

  10. Just finished reviewing this. I had lots of fun at the theater.

  11. moviewriting Says:

    I really can’t wait for this one! I think it’s coming out over here in February, and Rob is already incredibly excited about it.

  12. Wordschat Says:

    Hey don’t diss us Q-Bert geeks I’ll get the Dig Dug miners after you

  13. Wordschat Says:

    Mark it was sugary enough to induce a diabetic coma but the memories of playing those games on the real consoles in high school, college and now as Sims on Xbox make Wreck It Ralph a must have. I also have an N64. Some games like Q-Bert and Lock N Chase ice yet to find. The purposeful jitteriness in WIR is spot on. The Blu-ray has Oscar Winning short Paperman as well. Swell review.

    • I am a Q*bert Geek!

      I loved seeing the various characters from classic games. I would’ve enjoyed it even more if they were given something more interesting to do à la the cartoon cameos in Roger Rabbit. The first part is really great so the saccharine, kid oriented 2nd half wasn’t quite as strong.

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