Review: Wreck-It Ralph
by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
Ladies and gentlemen who play or have played video games through their lives, Walt Disney Animation Studios has something new for you! With Wreck-It Ralph, the video game/movie synergy is complete. Here’s a movie that isn’t based on a video game; it literally takes place within the world of video games. It’s very much like Toy Story in that the Wreck-It Ralph video game characters have existences of their own. Once the arcade is closed, they can roam around, even crossing over into other games. Wreck-It Ralph never does anything groundbreaking with this idea, but it’s cute and clever and evokes nostalgia for gamers of the ’80s and ’90s (you know who you are). The story is typical animated fare about a character discovering his inner hero, but all the references to video game titles from twenty (or more) years ago provides a strong layer of appeal to older viewers.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Relly) is the antagonist of a simple, early-’80s style game that bears a resemblance to Donkey Kong and Rampage. In this scenario, Ralph is Donkey Kong (before he became the hero in Nintendo’s 1990s’ franchise) and Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) is a Mario clone. The game’s straightforward goal is for Felix to make it to the top of the building, fixing Ralph’s destruction along the way without getting knocked off by objects tossed at him by Ralph. For thirty years, these characters have been at it day-in and day-out, while many of the games surrounding them have come and gone. Now, after all this time, Ralph has begun questioning his role in the order of things. He no longer wants to be the bad guy who gets thrown off the roof at the end of every loss. He wants to taste the good life. So he heads off into another game, Hero’s Duty, to win a medal. But things get complicated when he takes an inadvertent detour into Sugar Rush on his way home, where he meets an annoying little girl named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman).
The production design alone betrays familiarity with the simple 8-bit arcade hits of the ’80s and their slightly more sophisticated home console descendants of the ’90s. Fix-It Felix is a dead-on imitation of many of the most popular arcade games of the early ’80s. First-person shooters are represented by Hero’s Duty. Sugar Rush is a mash-up of console platformers and cart racing games. There are “cameos” by the likes of Pac-Man, Bowser, Qbert, and Sonic the Hedgehog. Terms like “power ups,” “boss battle,” and “hidden bonus level” are in the movie’s vocabulary. For anyone who has played a video game in their life, you’ll notice the references and definitely have a few nostalgia moments.
Wreck-It Ralph can be watched like most animated films as it has the necessary structure and narrative drive. Ralph is a bad guy who ends up being heroic and it takes someone coming into his life to realize the need for that change. The film’s emotional core comes from his friendship with Vanellope. The settings are colorful and the pace brisk. But it feels like something is missing from the film. It had the opportunity to be great but there’s something… and I can’t put my finger on it… that doesn’t allow you to fully commit on an emotional level where other animated films such as Beauty and the Beast , The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, did.
Wreck-It Ralph is probably the most effective animated family offering thus far in 2012. Unlike several of the earlier big-budget productions, it remembers that there might be a few audience members over the age of nine that also enjoy animated films. There’s something very old-fashioned about the core ingredients of Wreck-It Ralph and these blend with the “hip” elements. Those alive in the ‘80s and ‘90s may get a little more out of this blend of movie and video game, and will be able to appreciate the nuances in the film, but everyone will enjoy it on a visual and storytelling level. Wreck-It-Ralph doesn’t really break any new ground and the story has been done before, but it’s told in a new way that’s as fun as a race in Sugar Rush!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars