Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

Wreck-It Ralph feels like it should have been a Pixar Animation Studios project. The premise is exactly the kind of clever idea they latch onto and develop into viable material for an animated feature film. The screenplay by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee is from a story by Johnston, Rich Moore, and Jim Reardon. Moore, who learned his animation directing chops on “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” – where he likely learned a great deal about handling culturally relevant material – directed. It concerns a video game villain, the titular Ralph, who has grown weary of destroying a building, doing it well, and then looking on as the game’s hero is rewarded with medal upon medal. Thirty years of the same actions over and over will do that to a guy. He desires the chance to be the hero for once, but his Bad-Anon support group (featuring one of the Pac Man ghosts and King Kroopa from Mario Bros.) tell him he can’t change who he is. You see one of the film’s object lessons in the works from here.

At night, after the arcade closes, the video game characters can leave their restrictive boxes, travel through the electrical cords into Game Central Station (otherwise known as a surge protector) and can even move freely from game to game. There are rules, of course. A persnickety customs agent prevents characters (albeit ineffectively) from doing things like carry cherries from the Pac Man game into another game. Also, if a character dies in another game, he cannot come back to life through a reset. Enter at your own peril, I guess. The whole idea of video game characters coming to life and moving freely outside the confines of their game actions and personas reminded me of Toy Story. On top of that you have the subplots involving games that go unplugged, leaving their characters adrift and penniless in the station. Isn’t that a little like Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3 for that matter?

Somehow, impossibly, Ralph’s game and several other older 8-bit graphics games survive in the arcade alongside modern first-person-shooter games. I’m not sure retro sheik can help 30 year old arcade games survive into the present day, but the brisk storytelling and compelling voice performances help you get past that. One of Ralph’s first attempts at being the hero is to venture into a first-person-shooter alongside a tough-as-nails commander, voiced by Jane Lynch, leading an attack on a bug kingdom, which allows for extended references to both Starship Troopers with its military jingoism and Alien with eggs that hatch creatures that attach themselves to your face. However, Ralph is more than retro, he’s practically pre-historic when it comes to the modern iterations of video game excitement and he can barely keep up.

He later winds up in the more laid back environment of Sugar Rush, a go-cart racing game that takes place in a world of chocolates and sweets. Here is where the majority of the film’s action takes place. Ralph meets a young wannabe go-cart racer named Vanellope Von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), who has a programming glitch that causes her to occasional fade in and out of pixilated code. The other racers and the ruler of Sugar Rush, King Candy (Alan Tudyk), vehemently oppose her entrance in the next race. Vanellope, like Ralph, is on the lonely side of gaming, shunned by those around her and desperate for acceptance.

John C. Reilly voices Ralph and when you hear that “aw, shucks” tone you immediately picture Reilly’s lovably dopey characters he’s played in live action films. And you have no choice but to immediately side with poor Ralph. The hero of his game is Fix-It Felix, voiced by Jack McBrayer, making him sound more or less like an animated doppelganger of Kenneth on “30 Rock.” I’m beginning to believe McBrayer isn’t acting in these roles.

The animation style is in what can now, I think, be considered the classic computer animation style, but Moore employs several techniques to never let us forget we’re ensconced within the world of video games. Ralph is not animated in 8-bits, although reportedly that idea was considered and discarded for the lesser graphics inability to create sympathetic characters an audience can identify with. But the majority of the characters feature movements that are in line with the programming of their original games. Children won’t get it, but anyone in their mid-30s or older will immediately recognize the jerky motions of those older games.

Like the best aspects of Pixar films, Wreck-It Ralph is suitable for small children while including enough retro material and references to keep their adult companions satisfied. It’s admirable for being one of the few Disney animated features that doesn’t rely on traditional and outmoded gender roles. It’s a story based on the idea that no one should feel confined to their box. Leaving your comfort zone can be a good thing that encourages personal growth and empathy. Through his actions, not only Ralph, but his fellow game companions, learns a few lessons about their programmed behavior.

1 comment:

  1. It is an interesting commentary on how video games have changed over the years and what that says about us.