– Summary –
Director : Rich Moore
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Raymond Perci, Rich Moore.
Approx Running Time : 108 Minutes
Synopsis: When an arcade game character decides he no longer wants to be this villain, he goes on a journey through a video arcade to prove himself a hero, and earn the respect of his fellow game characters. Thing take a turn for the worse, however, when he inadvertently sets off a virus inside another game, a virus which could destroy not only his own world, but those of every other game in the building.
What we think : Energetic, fast-paced animated feature from Disney is a gamers paradise of visual Easter eggs; it’s also a damn fine film in its own right. Part Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the arcade generation, part generic Disney-fied hero quest, Wreck-It Ralph delivers some decent entertainment regardless of your knowledge of gaming and the characters involved. Brilliantly conceived, really well written and featuring a dynamite vocal cast (especially from Jane Lynch, who steals this movie out from under the rest of them) Wreck-It Ralph is the best animated feature from 2012 – substantially better than Brave, which won the Oscar in that category.
In this brave new world of digital computer gaming, be it on console, PC or tablet device, there’s very little time left for the old Arcade Games of yesteryear. Those halcyon days of jockeying coins into a slot for a chance to top the high score on Frogger, Pac-man or – showing my age – Space Invaders have long since passed; it’s sad to think that kids won’t ever get the chance to get to the kill screen of Donkey Kong the old-fashioned way, or to have that gleeful “it’s my turn next” waiting for your brother, sister or friend to finish their game so you can start yours. Wreck-It Ralph lives those days. It’s a film designed to take my generation back to their youth, to the days before Microsoft and Apple became household names, back to when computer games were simple, oh so simple, and yet incredibly difficult to defeat. Graphics weren’t in high definition (can you believe the days of Pong and Space Invaders, when the most advanced computer games in the world had less technology behind it than a modern-day wristwatch, have now vanished?) and games existed in one of only two varieties – platforms or levels? Strange as it may seem, kids brought up on those games are now old enough to make films about them. Wreck-It Ralph is one such film.
Wreck-it Ralph (voice of John C Reilly) is the chief antagonist in the arcade game known as Fix-It Felix Jr. Ralph’s mission in the game is destroy a tower block, while the gamer controls Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) to repair the building and save the residents of Niceland. At the end of the game, the Nicelanders give Felix a medal, and a party in the top floor penthouse of the building, while Ralph lives a solitary life away in the garbage dump nearby (where all the wrecked building is taken by a loader). Ralph has become quite despondent at this way of life, and yearns to be the hero for once – after crashing Felix’s 30th anniversary party, Ralph decides to get a medal himself, and takes off into the wiring of the game to find another game to play. The arcade in which Fix-It Felix Jr is located contains a large number of other games, and the character have the ability to move between them via the wiring. Ralph ends up in FPS game Hero’s Duty, where he encounters Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a tough, no-nonsense soldier who “guides” the human player to the mission, which is to rid their world of an insectiod virus by way of lighting a beam of energy above an enormous tower. Ralph scales the tower and circumvents the gameplay to attain the game’s reward – a medal – but thanks to his blundering physique, ends up being thrown from the game and into a racing game known as Sugar Rush. Along for the ride is one of the insectoid virus creatures, who escape into Sugar Rush. Calhoun, along with a concerned Felix, journey after Ralph to try and bring him back to his own game. Ralph, meanwhile, meets Venellope, a supposed “glitch” in Sugar Rush who only wants to race her cart through the levels, but who is thwarted at every turn by Sugar Rush’s boss, King Candy (Alan Tudyk). The only way Vanellope can reset the game and no longer become a glitch, is to complete the game itself, something King Candy is vehemently opposed to.
As a child of the 80’s, I grew up on games like Pac-man, Frogger, Balderdash and Pong. Our first ever computer was a set of Pong paddles, which would amuse us for about an hour before mum told us to go outside and get some fresh air. Pong was followed by the classic 80’s computer, the Commodore 64, and a year or so later by the Commodore 128. After that, my memory gets hazy, because I think our family ended up with a pretty basic PC from the early days, one which had about 40M of memory total. Now I get more memory on my phone. The classic 8-bit games of the 80’s have been stunningly recreated in Wreck-It Ralph, which is as loving an homage to the arcade industry as you’re likely to ever see. Stuffed full of licensed characters from a myriad of games, ranging from Pac-man to Sonic The Hedgehog and everything else of the era, Wreck-It Ralph manages to balance great storytelling, a keen eye for detail and a sense of aching reminiscence for the “Good Old Days” of gaming, before it became all about warfare and zombie plagues and colonisation. While I don’t profess to be the worlds biggest gamer, I know enough to get me through Wreck-It Ralph without complete befuddlement, and even if you don’t know a thing about games and computers, the film’s story and characters still have enough workable material to ensure you’re entertained.
Key to the story is the title character, Wreck-It Ralph, voiced by John C Reilly. Reilly’s strong vocal performance is natural, layered and emotive, bringing to life the character designed to be hated, but who only wants to be loved. He’s helped by the solid scripting of Rich Moore, Phil Johnston and Jim Reardon, all of whom have an obvious love for the gaming genre and have stuffed the film full of little nods, winks and nudges to the styles and charm of old-school technology. Ralph’s journey isn’t particularly revolutionary, nor are the tenets by which he lives his byte-sized existence, but the script injects some kind of goofy charm to his blundering persona with a sense of heart; he’s the films most accessible character. Sarah Silverman has her work cut out trying to give Vanellope more than a single dimension, however, and she succeeds only in part – not the least thanks to Silverman’s often abrasive and annoying vocals, which try for coquettish and impish, but just come across as smart-ass most of the time. What more I can expect from an animated creation I’m not sure, but Silverman’s work here is a little hit-and-miss – with more hits, thankfully, but only just.
Providing the chief villain of the piece is Alan Tudyk, as King Candy. Tudyk gives his character the voice of Ed Wynn, which is distracting at first but eventually provides a smug smarm to the role; yes, he’s buffoonish at first, but in the end, there’s a neat little twist to the story that makes his character all that more devious and evil. Glee actress Jane Lynch provides the film’s most outlandishly wonderful character, Sergeant Tamora Calhoun, a rough-and-ready, take no prisoners soldier from the game Hero’s Duty. Calhoun seems to have been based a little on Vasquez from Aliens, with that brash, testosterone-femme vibe covering up a delicate, gooey center – Lynch aces the role, and is easily the funniest thing about the entire movie. Jack McBrayer has the unenviable task of trying to bring some kind of goodness to Felix, Ralph’s opponent in their game, and he does a solid job without being a particular standout.
While the vocals are excellent, the script is where the film flies. Comedy, pathos, a sense of fun and fantasy all bloom across the screen as Ralph journeys through various games and into Sugar Rush, eliciting many a guffaw from your truly, and even my wife, who hates computer games with a passion. The primary receptor for this film being as good as it is, is that the characters feel real. I know, sounds dumb to talk about animated computer characters (in an animated film, no less) as being real, but there it is. You believe they exist – for a moment I was thinking about The Sims, which was weird – and the film’s dynamite script ensures the journey they (and you) take is more than worthwhile. Another plus to Wreck-It Ralph is in the delightfully surprising twist towards the end. I wasn’t expecting it, and never considered the twist to be even a possibility, but when it came it brought a huge smile to my face and a whack of the forehead in amazement. Bravo for that, guys. Bravo.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the amazing animation and visual tone of the film. It’s brilliant; it’s the kind of film an animator would live for, I suspect. Colors and images leap off the screen, filled with a dazzling energy of classic 8-bit movement (effortlessly cool in the Fix-It Felix Jr game, where all the characters move at 90 degree angles) and stunning high resolution (note Felix’s meeting with Calhoun, exclaiming the beauty of her high definition features, one of the best lines in the film), giving the film a pleasantly fast-paced feel that never gets old. This is a film where it’s the little things that make it as wonderful as it is – the subtle winks to dodgy arcade animation of old, and I had a ball picking them all out. I can only imagine how fun it might be for somebody who actually knows what to look for. Thankfully, these little tips of the hat never get in the way of the characters or story, content to remain in the background or as a sidebar to the film proper. Wreck-It Ralph is a delight to watch from an animation standpoint.
I’m just kicking myself that I know so little of the gaming world this film represents, because I think were I to be more knowledgeable, I might have got even more humor and fun out of it. Wreck-It Ralph is a Disney delight, a well written, well animated, entirely enthralling and entertaining animated feature that is at least three giant strides ahead of Pixar’s 2012 release, Brave. How Ralph didn’t score the Best Animated Feature Oscar I’ll never entirely understand – the character in Ralph are better, the action is better, the scripting is a lot better, and the film pleases the body and soul with a lot more emotive output. For lovers of gaming, the film is a must see. For casual viewers, don’t think you’ll dislike it, because that would be a disservice to both yourselves and this film. See it. You won’t be disappointed.