Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Rilley), a video game Baddie turning 30 in an arcade full of games much younger, is tired of his programmed roots and the treatment it brings. He wants to become a hero and get a medal like his ‘nemesis’ Fix It Felix Jr (Jack McBrayer), namesake of the game. He flukes his way to a medal in first person shooter ‘Hero’s Duty’ and loses it in driving game ‘Sugar Rush’, where he meets someone who changes his perspective on what a hero really is.
Disney Animation Studios’ CG department has kind of been treated as a red headed step child of the organisation since Bob Iger was able to lure Pixar back and acquire them in 2006. It may still make films of somewhat improving quality that turn a profit but it always has that shadow of Pixar looming over it as though their efforts in comparison are going to be laughed at, particularly taking into consideration that they were always the project of a Michael Eisner ‘Anything you can do, we can do better’ power trip.
In 2012, Pixar had a slip up. Brave was still a success, but not as much as expected and the critics were more mixed than usual. Whilst it shouldn’t be called a major blow by any stretch, the chance was taken and in stepped Wreck It Ralph, a movie that people thought would be a catastrophe but went on to be one of the biggest animation successes of the year.
Before the main feature, Paperman has to be discussed, in the same way any Pixar short would be discussed before the main feature. Paperman is a simple love story with a magical Disney trademark twist that in itself is a pleasure but what makes it stand out is the animation style that combines both hand drawn animation with CGI, the fusion of Disney’s prestigious past and its present successes. Simply put, it looks stunning and there has never been anything like it. It’s on YouTube right now if you can’t wait to see it (or if you have, just watch it again).
Wreck It Ralph though, had been a project that was announced and almost forgotten about until one preview photo in Disney fan club magazine D23 got people speculating. We start the movie in this exact scene, a therapy session where Zangief (Street Fighter series), Dr. Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog series), Bowser (Mario series) and others sit with Pac-Man’s Clyde counselling them on how they are as bad guys. For the first half of the movie, it accomplishes this aim referencing everything that you possibly could reference outside of a full on Mario cameo. The best touch being the stilted, retro movement of the characters in Fix It Felix Jr, a sequence which demonstrates the extreme effort and painstaking time it must have taken to produce. Yes, it does the Toy Story cliche of ‘things coming to life when people aren’t around’ but really, if there is one concept that needed that to be used, it was always an amusement arcade full of iconic video game characters.
The cast assembled is interesting in that it doesn’t stretch itself too far from what they are known for, John C. Rilley is John C. Rilley, Jane Lynch is playing Jane Lynch and so on, but that is by no means a bad thing. Everyone clearly has an emotional investment and draws enjoyment in how their lines are read, which serves to put focus onto the actions of the respective characters. Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope von Schweetz shines as a particularly enjoyable character and is slightly out of Silverman’s wheelhouse. Of course, the real exception to this rule is Alan Tudyk, who voices King Candy. An actor who seems to get himself fun and interesting bit parts (the big highlights of both Dodgeball and A Knights Tale being good examples of this), he somehow manages to outperform everyone else in his role, conveying an almost Ed Wynn-esque mix of the whimsical and the sinister.
So this is the part of the review where I talk about the biggest criticism people have about the movie. This isn’t really a spoiler but there is a clear transition from what is primarily a video game movie into a mix of references to video games and sugary tweets. Sure, it may seem like a bit of a cop out but the beauty of the movie is that despite that change in focus, it all feels natural in the same way the video game references avoid feeling forced. Indeed some of the references in the latter half of the film are even as hilarious as those in the opening exchanges. Even what some people have called the most glaring reference (that being a nod to Subway near the beginning) I managed to totally miss during every viewing, even after being shown a screenshot of the scene!
The fact of the matter is that video games alone aren’t on a level where they are able to carry a whole movie narrative despite the billion dollar rise of the industry in the last decade. Sure, Scott Pilgrim pulled it off successfully but it lacked any cross-market appeal, only selling to those it was directly promoted to and thus had a much more sluggish box office performance than was hoped for. Balancing it out as they have in Wreck-It Ralph and managing to avoid the feeling that the references have been forced really is something of an achievement. Bond movies, for example, have never been able to strike the balance between ‘advermovie’ and culturally appropriate references in the way this film does.
You could make a case that the sequel will be more friendly to that audience because of the first film’s success and considering that rumours have been flying around regarding a potential reference to Tron and, more importantly, a full blown Mario cameo, there is definitely weight behind that train of thought.
It’s always hard to find a flaw though, in a film like this. At the end of the day, it is made to appeal to a wide audience so you’re never going to experience some kind of epic, broad plot, full of twists and turns. Indeed, all you’re looking for is that ticks all the boxes a movie like this should. The test of a good family movie is if the children in the cinema are able to be invested and not bother anyone else around them. Wreck-It Ralph does that, something that their noisy neighbours Pixar are almost masters of.
Wreck-It Ralph is, quite simply, a joy. Disney Animation stepped up their game and produced something that is enjoyable, funny and surprisingly engrossing. It may not be original in terms of plot and direction but, as with all good to great family movies, you simply don’t care and nor should you.
Wreck-It Ralph is out now in UK cinemas and out on DVD and Blu-Ray in the US on March 5th.