Wreck-It Ralph – ★★★½ out of 5
Voices: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch
Director: Rich Moore (debut)
I remember when I grew up in my suburban house and a video game system was introduced. My first system was an N64, and it still remains a great console to this very day. This ability to control a character that was not you is a fantasy I think every person has experienced at least once in their lives. Video games are a relatively new visual medium for people to connect. Yet, their artistry has taken a quantum leap in recent years. It is as if video games are striving to be more cinematic and visceral. They are beginning to impact culture, and I believe they have an importance artistically.
Wreck-It Ralph approaches its subject matter with a passion for the old and new. Where nostalgia meets reinvention. Where the retro arcade is more modern than ever. Right away we see such a giddy joy to play these games as the kids rush into the arcade to play their favorites. They throw quarters down like they are nothing. Probably their allowance. Director Rich Moore and the creative team at Disney give the main characters a reason to actually exist. This is not just a video game movie. It is a movie about their importance in and out of game.
The titular character Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) has a problem. In fact, he goes to a recovery program for bad guys. “Just because you are a bad guy does not mean you are bad guy” quips one of his villainous colleagues. Ralph is tired of being the bad guy. His destruction is instantly fixed by the hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) and then Ralph gets thrown off the roof by the apartment citizens that he disturbed. Bad guys have a heart too. In turn, he goes game jumping, both dangerous and reckless (no pun intended) because of the fact that if you die outside your game, you do not regenerate.
What worried me about Wreck-It Ralph initially was how it was going to only play to the gamer crowd. I feared for all the in-jokes and obscure reference that only gamers, nerds and geeks would understand. I say those terms without prejudice. It does help to be a gamer for a film like this. But by no means does this cater to them. The story, with advisement from Pixar’s John Lasseter, is fleshed out in terms of its world rules. It explains everything quite well without holding your hand through the film.
But with all this creativity, all this world building and character creating the story itself is very mechanical. It is the same formula you have seen in many animated/family films Disney or otherwise. The intro, the problem, the excitement, the fall, the redemption, the climax and the end. They all appear right on cue as narrated by Ralph and it really diminishes all the ingenuity in the film. It makes Wreck-It Ralph seem less like the original work it is and more like another child-friendly fable going through the motions.
But where Wreck-It Ralph succeeds is in its ability to convey nostalgia and joy without being overly-saccharine. Normally an annoying, needy, mischievous little girl like Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) would get on my nerves. But here, everyone has a goal, and even try to give everyone depth. Some of the backstory comes off as comic relief. But mostly, the stakes are created genuinely. This is not about finding your place in a game. This is about an imagination brought to animated life. If the characters you controlled had their own goals. It is as if Wreck-It Ralph is a dreamscape for non-stop dazzlement.
I would dare you to not feel a massive sense of delight watching Wreck-It Ralph. The animators do a splendid job of playing to the geek crowd, while still giving those out of the loop the Konami Code for some serious fun. It is surprisingly controlled, very exciting and adorable in the best way. Wreck-It Ralph earns its medal that its character tries to hard to achieve. But the medal is not the real goal of a video game. It is a chance to make a journey your own. The warm, inviting attitude of Wreck-It Ralph makes sure that your adventure is your own to create.
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