Friday, November 2, 2012

Review: Wreck-It Ralph

 Wreck-It Ralph has a rather thankless job.  As the villain of the classic arcade game "Fix-It Felix Jr."  it's Ralph's job to destroy an apartment building day in and day out, just so Fix-It Felix Jr. can show up with his magic hammer and save the day.  Over and over and over again.  For 30 years.  After all this time, Ralph is starting to question his profession a bit.  Just once, he'd like to be the one who nabs the shiny gold medal, the praise, the adoration, and the pie that Felix enjoys on a daily basis.  Just because he's the bad guy doesn't mean he's a bad guy, right?

But when Wreck-It Ralph abandons his game in search of his hero's welcome, he accidentally sets off a chain reaction of chaotic events that may ultimately threaten all the games in the arcade...

Well, obviously the first things I must discuss about this movie are the video game references.  Prior to its release, Wreck-It Ralph was frequently described as the "Who Framed Roger Rabbit? of video games."  Does it live up to that lofty goal?  Not quite, but that's not really a bad thing because that really isn't the type of film Wreck-It Ralph sets out to be.  Wreck-It Ralph primarily spends its time within the realms of three arcade video games purpose-made for this film which evoke lots of other games but are completely unique to the film's world.

That said, the first third of the film is absolutely crawling with cameos.  The oft-promoted bad guy support group scene is just the tip of the iceberg.  I suspect viewers will need to go frame-by-frame on the DVD for nearly the entire first act of the film to catch all the easter eggs.  There are all sorts of great little references to a remarkably large assortment of video games in this film.  Even a certain portly plumber, whose paycheck was apparently too high for even Disney to pay, gets his due early in the film in a couple of clever ways.  Once the main plot picks up the cameos take a backseat for the rest of the film, but there are still a handful of clever nods here and there if you're paying attention!

The character of Ralph really carries this film quite well.  Voiced by John C. Reilly, Ralph is lovable and endearing from the first moment he appears on-screen.  He's a very easy character to root for during his quest for acceptance.  The second primary character is Vanellope von Schweetz, a game glitch voiced by Sarah Silverman.  Vanellope takes a little while to warm up to at first, but the character is surprisingly complex and as the film progresses, Vanellope's character arc almost eclipses Ralph's as the primary focus of the film.  As unlikely as it seems at first, Ralph and Vanellope's friendship is actually the source of most of the film's heart and is quite well done.

Secondary characters Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sergeant Calhoun, voiced by Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch respectively, also consistently entertain whenever they appear on screen.  Felix serves as an obvious stand-in for Mario and Calhoun is essentially a mash-up of every first person shooter protagonist ever.  The bizarre romance that occurs between the two characters is a lot of fun to watch unfold.

The biggest thing that surprised me about Wreck-It Ralph, however, is the film's scope.  Despite having a relatively simple story, the scale of this film is huge.  A rule established early in the film is that characters who die outside of their own games can never regenerate, which add some higher stakes to the events of the film.  The various subplots and story arcs are cleverly woven together so that when all the puzzle pieces do finally come together in the end, the climax that unfolds in the third act is a massive, frantic, and epic sight to behold!  This a big movie!

Wreck-It Ralph comes after a wave of previous animated films that featured villains put in the protagonist role, but it manages to use clever story telling to set it apart from those earlier movies.  Thankfully, Wreck-It Ralph also resists the temptation of casting Fix-It Felix as the villain of the film.  Instead, it features a much more creative antagonist that is neither too obvious and predictable but also isn't completely out of left field when he is finally revealed.

If there are any complaints to be made about Wreck-It Ralph, they are fairly minor.  The kart-racing candy world of Sugar Rush is perhaps featured a bit too heavily in the film.  Several other game worlds are seen early on, but once the story enters Sugar Rush, that's primarily where the story stays from then on out.  The video game references and cameos pretty much stop here.  The resulting onslaught of candy puns and subtle product placements (Nesquik-sand!) are witty and clever, but seem a bit out of place within the video game focused context of the film.  Why would a kart racing feature all these brand names and candy characters that have little to do with the actual racing going on?

Beyond that, though, there is little bad to be found in Wreck-It Ralph.  The humor does stray a bit farther into potty humor territory than one might expect from a Disney film, but the lovable characters and compelling plot more than make up for it.  In the end, Wreck-It Ralph is one of Disney's best films to come out in years, and it doesn't rely too heavily on video game in-jokes to tell it's story.  The characters are very appealing and the frantic energy and huge scope of the story make it great fun all the way through.

The fact that Bowser appears in this film is just icing on the cake!

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