From Walt Disney Animation Studios and Emmy-winning director Rich Moore comes Wreck-It Ralph
, a hilarious, arcade-game-hopping adventure. For decades, Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) has been overshadowed by Fix-It Felix, Jr. (voice of Jack McBrayer), the good-guy star of their game who always gets to save the day. Tired of playing the role of a bad guy, Ralph takes matters into his own massive hands and sets off on a journey across the arcade through multiple generations of video games to prove he's got what it takes to be a hero.
Winner of the 2013 Annie Award
for Best Animated Picture of the year.
Games like Q*Bert, Pac-Man, and Asteroids have all been important landmarks in the arcade circuit, but as the video game industry continued to grow in popularity, so too did the need for new and exciting games. Tastes and audiences changed, and by extension the games needed to change to fit those needs. That's the landscape introduced in Wreck-It Ralph, the newest film from Disney Animation Studios, which features the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Alan Tudyk, and Jack McBrayer.
Though games like Q*Bert and Asteroids have been put to pasture, one game that has stood the test of time - at least in the imaginary Litwik's Arcade - is Fix-It Felix Jr. In the game, it is the player's job, as Felix, to repair damage to the apartment complex of the Nicelanders, damage done by the meddling Wreck-It Ralph. If victorious in his endeavor, Felix is awarded with a medal and the praise of his fellow citizens, while Ralph is sent tumbling into a pile of mud. If it wasn't evident already, Felix is the good guy and Ralph is the bad guy. But Ralph doesn't want to be the bad guy anymore.
See, the arcade cabinets in Wreck-It Ralph exist in two forms, dependent on if human eyes are watching. During operating hours, all parties involved must perform their assigned duties, Felix must fix things and Ralph must wreck them. However, when Litwik's is closed, the inhabitants of each arcade machine are free to travel between games, throw parties, and even partake of a little root beer at Tapper's. This connection between machines allows for Ralph (Reilly) to attend Bad-Anon meetings, and discuss his displeasure with his role as the "bad guy." And it is through these meetings, and a few self-realizations, that Ralph comes up with a plan to acquire his own medal, and establish himself as more than just the villain. So, with a half-baked plan, he sets out on a quest to invade the world of other arcade machines in the hopes of proving his self worth, even if that means his own game will be without an antagonist for the time being.
Over the course of the film, Ralph travels between two brilliantly realized and totally different game worlds - Hero's Duty, a riff on the popular Call of Duty series, and Sugar Rush, a mash-up of Mario Kart and Candyland - all the while causing some very entertaining havoc in those disparate universes. In Sugar Rush, the second game that Ralph travels to, the film finds its emotional center as he encounters the mischievous yet cute Vanellope, a video game character who, like Ralph, is unsatisfied with her pre-determined role. By the time we reach the film's visually engaging but somewhat hollow climax, the two begin to understand each other, he a lumbering ogre and her a sweet (literally) little girl, to help each find their place, and speak to the films larger themes. Wreck-It Ralph a story that will feel familiar to audiences, and doesn't venture too far outside tried and true story beats, but is still fun to follow from beginning to end.
Themes of self-discovery and acceptance are heavy subject material for an animated film, but Wreck-It Ralph handles them with confidence, and never becomes too preachy or saccharine. The decision to create such a detailed set of worlds helps the film explore the plight of the "bad guy" without making it too obvious. But beyond that Wreck-It Ralph is a film that is so mind-numbingly creative it will leave the parents, more so than kids, heads spinning. It lets the gamers revel in an examination of their subculture and how the industry has evolved over the years, and then switches gears into a playful Candy Land-esque aesthetic that appeals to a wider audience. Wreck-It Ralph is Toy Story for a new generation; a film about finding and accepting one's place in society, even if that society is all 1s and 0s.
Wreck-It Ralph's world wouldn't be as fun to discover if it weren't for the performances of its voice actors, namely John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. Once Ralph encounters Vanellope, the film almost completely switches gears and becomes equally about relationship building and world building. As we learn more about Sugar Rush and Vanellope, Reilly and Silverman get to show off their wonderful chemistry, and more importantly the film finds a nice rhythm. Up until that point, mainly in the Hero's Duty section, the film focuses on impressing with visuals (granted, the animation in the film is gorgeous) and uses Ralph as nothing more than a source of comedy. But by the film's climax he becomes a fully realized character, worthy of carrying the film home.
Nevertheless, even in the spectacle-filled sections of the film, John C. Reilly is great as Ralph. But he's made exponentially more entertaining when acting against Silverman. Additionally, the film's secondary characters, like McBrayer as Felix Jr. or Jane Lynch as Hero's Duty's hard-boiled Sergeant Calhoun, are equally as entertaining when called upon. Disney has always excelled when it comes to picking voice talent, and Wreck-It Ralph is no different.
The entire concept at play in Wreck-It Ralph
, while obviously influenced by Toy Story
, has so many creative nooks and crannies that one single viewing may not be enough to comprehend it all. From the design of each game's universe, to the cast of characters created to inhabit each game, there's not a single frame in the film that doesn't seek to introduce something new and awe-inspiring. Details like the reflection of the arcade glass and the way the characters use power cords as a means of travel help establish a world with its own rules, clearly defined but rarely outright explained. But more than that, the film makes great use of the video game genre - tossing in cameos from iconic characters like Pac Man and Sonic - and even makes it palatable to a wide selection of audiences.
Obviously gamers will derive the most entertainment from the film - the references do get pretty obscure at times - but even those with a passing knowledge of video games will get a lot of the subtle details. And thankfully, for those who could care less about the Starship Troopers-esque bug battling of Hero's Duty or have no idea who Zangief is, the world of Sugar Rush - which dominates the film's second half - is more akin to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
is worth seeing, if only to discover what Director Rich Moore and writers Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston have further up their sleeve.
A lot of Wreck-It Ralph's humor, as mentioned earlier, comes from creative uses of video game or candy elements, which makes it a venerable feast for the eyes. Clever elements like casting Sugar Rush's police force as donuts or swapping quick sand for Nesquik sand are funny little touches that will have eyes darting around every inch of the screen, seeking out the next pun or reference. Most of these jokes and details will fly by children's heads, but the overall visual entertainment is enough to keep them smiling, even if they don't understand why a Diet Coke and Mentos hot spring is funny.
Don't misunderstand, though, the film is still intended for children, and its situational humor reflects that. Exaggerated movements, giggle-worthy predicaments, and jokes about "duty" will have kids bursting with laughter, even if that type of humor won't satisfy older audiences. At times it does feel like Wreck-It Ralph goes for the obvious or base level joke, which is disappointing considering how creative nearly every element of the film's design is. Fortunately, the film revels in a smarter and inventive sense of humor more often the not, and strikes a balance that will have kids and adults chuckling the whole way through.
Children and Family, Comedy, Fantasy
November 2, 2012