Disney hasn’t made many movies recently that interested me in the least. They tend to focus on obvious children’s movies now-a-days and leave the family genre to Pixar. Which for the company is viable strategy since it owns Pixar and allows it to hit multiple demographics. This makes Wreck-It Ralph an exception. Wreck-It Ralph is the video game/non video game film from Disney Studios that is sure to appeal to adults who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s with its many references to classic games. The film was unveiled in great detail at this year’s E3 and was one of the highlights of the show. And even though I loved the film’s premise, I was concerned it would be a mostly shallow experience where most of the enjoyment for older viewers would come from cheap cameos of popular video game characters. I’m happy to report that after seeing the film I was pleasantly surprised.
Perhaps I should have had more faith. After all, John Lasseter is the one spear-heading Disney Studios these days and his track record from Pixar is stellar. Directing the film is Rich Moore who is mostly known for his work with the Futurama franchise, a show that I adore (at least the first four seasons). And the voice cast for Wreck-It Ralph is pretty good too with John C. Reilly as the voice of Ralph, Jane Lynch as Calhoun, and Jack McBrayer as Fix-It Felix Jr. Other notable cast members include Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz and Ed O’Neill as Mr. Litwak, the arcade owner. I guess the only reason I was down on the film is because the trailers were pretty poor. Outside of the group therapy session that everyone has probably seen by now, it looked like any old kid’s movie. Instead though I found the writing to be clever, the video game references well placed, and a lot of the humor was derived from situations and expressions as opposed to simple jokes. There are some corny jokes, such as the many that are derived from the name for one of the games, Hero’s Duty, but they’re seldom annoying.
The film opens with narration from the protagonist (antagonist?) of the film, Ralph himself. We’re given the backstory to his game about how he’s the bad guy who smashes a building in a Donkey Kong fashion and it’s Fix-It Felix who, as the player, has to set everything right. When he does, the tenants of the building Ralph was smashing bestow him with a medal and toss Ralph off the building into a pile of mud. When the day is done and the arcade is closed, Ralph is left alone to live in the dump while Felix and the rest stay in the building and the other characters shower him with praise and pie. Ralph isn’t just narrating this sequence, as it’s soon revealed he’s at a group meeting for video game bad guys. Here is where we get our first round of cameos with notable characters being Zangief, Clyde, Bowser, and Kano, among others. Ralph is tired of being a bad guy, while the group is designed to make bad guys feel good about being bad guys. Ralph gets little out of confessing his desires to be the good guy and as everyone exits the meeting it’s revealed it was taking place in the center of a map from Pac-Man and everyone is animated with pixels, Pac-Man style.
After the meeting, we’re shown how this whole video game world works. The characters inhabit their own arcade cabinets and while people are playing them they’re expected to perform. When the arcade is closed they’re free to come and go as they please. They leave their games by traveling through the power chord into the surge protector, which is kind of like a giant train station. It’s in these scenes where more on-screen cameos take place. I don’t want to spoil anything so look for yourself and see who you can spot. Sonic the Hedgehog makes an appearance as a public service announcement and it’s him that lets us know that if characters die while outside of their game they won’t re-spawn. After the meeting, Ralph passes through the surge protector and back to his game, depressed. The inhabitants of the apartment building are throwing a party celebrating the 30th anniversary of Fix-It Felix Jr. and Ralph, awkwardly, gets himself invited where everything goes wrong. An exchange takes place between Ralph and Gene, one of the other characters, that results in Ralph decrying that he’ll prove he’s a good guy by winning a medal somehow. If he does, Gene promises to let him move out of the dump and into the penthouse .
The rest of the film involves Ralph going off in search of a medal. He ends up in a shooter game where Lynch’s Calhoun comes from and then gets dumped into a candy-themed kart-racer where he meets Silverman’s Vanellope. The movie turns into a tale of friendship, redemption, and corruption as everything is not what it seems in this candy land. Vanellope ends up being a fun addition to the cast and Silverman seems to really enjoy voicing her. She’s likely to be the favorite of many movie-goers. Felix has to go out looking for Ralph when he doesn’t show for his game, which threatens to get it unplugged for good, and Calhoun has to follow him to the racer in chase of an alien bug that followed Ralph and threatens to ruin the game. Other video game lyngo is introduced that should be fun for fans and there’s lots visual delights involving licensed candy and treats.
The film is likely to entertain mostly in its visuals. It looks great and the video game centric stuff is a lot of fun. The older games tend to have a pixellated quality to the animation while the modern games are super slick. A lot of the characters from the older games animate in a jerky fashion too which helps set the older games apart from the newer ones. Ralph and Felix are immune to this for some reason, though I suppose it has more to do with the designers thinking viewers would get sick of the quirk if the title character was animated in such a fashion. There’s plenty of in jokes for gamers too, ranging from ones that almost everyone will get to more nuanced ones (a very famous “code” makes an appearance) that will alienate some, but not to their detriment. I was really impressed with the lore crafted by the writers in setting the rules for this video game universe. It’s so much fun that I would love to see more films set in it, but I’m not sure if this one would benefit from a direct sequel.
The film is fairly long for an animated one, coming up roughly 15 minutes shy of two hours , but it’s well-paced. The plot stays interesting and the animation is top notch. Above all, the writing is solid and it should keep kids and adults alike entertained. Wreck-It Ralph is a winner and it’s easily the best video game movie ever made, even if it’s not based on an actual game.