Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph Review

Wreck-It Ralph is the best Pixar film they never made.  That is probably the highest compliment an animated film could be paid.  Seriously, everything about Ralph screams Pixar – top-notch animation, an emotional, heart-felt story, and interesting characters that you really feel for.  Not to mention that the film is steeped in video game culture of the past three decades.  All of these fantastic elements coalesce into one of my favorite films of the year.

From the opening moments of the film I was completely on board.  Ralph is set in an aging arcade (something that is virtually non-existent in today’s world) – more specifically inside one of the longest-standing cabinets in the arcade.  The game is “Fix-It Felix Jr.” and is immediately reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong cabinet that first featured Jump Man (who would go on to become Mario).  This is just one example of a reference to gaming culture that I just loved (sometimes quite obviously and others a tad more veiled).  Our protagonist is actually the antagonist of Fix-It Felix Jr.  Wreck-It Ralph is a bad guy who aspires to be more than that.

The narrative is beautifully simple; Ralph just wants to be the good guy for once.  This quest leads Ralph to accidentally cause havoc in two other arcade cabinets, “Hero’s Duty” and “Sugar Rush.”  Hero’s Duty is a riff on first-person shooters a la Call of Duty and Halo.  Sugar Rush is clearly an homage to Mario Kart – it features myriad racers (in karts), using power-ups to demolish one another.  There are references to other gaming franchises peppered throughout both games (Mario gets a name drop!) and the world in general.  Many times I wished that I could pause the film and try to pick out every character that I recognized from gaming history (Q*bert, Pac Man, Bowser, the little guy from Dig Dug and more make cameos).

***Spoiler Warning***

I adore just about every aspect of Ralph.  The voice acting is fantastic, the animation is superb, and the tone is just right, but what really stood out to be is the story.  I was blown away that Ralph is actually a Disney “princess” film.  Ralph is our protagonist, but Venellope Von Schweet’s (Sarah Silverman) story takes center stage for most of the film.  We’re lead to believe that she’s just a glitch in the programming of Sugar Rush, but in the film’s third act it is revealed that the evil King Candy (the superb Alan Tudyk) attempted to delete her code and lock up the memories of the inhabitants of the game to oust her as the princess of Sugar Rush.  This revelation, along with the fact that King Candy was actually a long-thought-dead character from a cabinet broken years ago were handled deftly and both legitimately surprised me.

***End Spoiler Warning***

Wreck-It Ralph just cannot be recommended highly enough.  Anyone who has grown up with gaming as a part of their lives will deeply appreciate the film and the world that’s built within it.  Civilian filmgoers will be able to appreciate it as well on a different level.  The animation, voice acting, and narrative coalesce into one special film.  Ralph will undoubtedly end up as one of my favorite films of the year.

Wreck-It Ralph is the best Pixar film they never made.

The Bearded Bullet.

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