The Monocle – “Wreck-It Ralph”

Directed by: Rich Moore
Written by: Phil Johnston & Jennifer Lee
Released: November 2nd, 2012
Theatre watched at: AMC Century City, West Hollywood

If Disney wants, Disney gets. At least most of the time. So if Disney wants to make an animated film centered around video games with numerous cameo appearances by some of the most iconic/popular video game characters ever made, then by golly they’ll get it with a bag of chips! Disney has always been the expert in appealing to both children and adults, mixing flamboyant and cartoonish art direction with smart and witty scripts to take us on ridiculous adventures that capture both heart and imagination. So, does their Wreck-It Ralph live up to established expectations?

Although I feel it relies a bit too much on its video game gimmick to achieve the majority of its appeal, Wreck-It Ralph is still an enjoyable Disney film bursting with creativity, taking some of pop culture’s most popular trends and contextualizing them in inventive and humorous ways that people particularly from the 80’s and 90’s will surely get a kick out of and appreciate. The basic story is about a video game character by the name of Ralph (John C. Reilly) who feels under appreciated and shunned by his fellow game characters because of the fact he plays the role of the “bad guy” in their game ‘Fix-It Felix, Jr.’ Meanwhile, Felix (Jack McBrayer), the “good guy” and playable character who fixes Ralph’s wrecks, gets all the attention and love from everybody else in the game for his deeds. Desperate to prove to them he is worthy of their admiration as well as that he can be a good guy, Ralph leaves his game and enters into another in order to achieve a Hero’s Medal as authentication of his heroism. However, his actions have severe consequences for his game, for without a villain means there is no wreckage, no wreckage means Felix has nothing to fix, and with nothing to fix, the children who play the game simply believe that the game needs to be put out of order and unplugged, in which case everyone in the game “dies.” Oh my god, I said the D-word, I’m sorry, I meant they “cease to exist.”

The first thing I need to talk about are the obvious but pleasant video game references and cameos. They go all over the place here with references coming from Nintendo, Sega, Atari, Playstation, etc. You’ll see some favorites like Sonic, Bowser, Q*bert, Ryu and Ken, and tons more who actually “speak” and share some long awaited casual dialogue. I don’t know what sort of deals Disney had to go through to acquire the usage of these characters but you can tell they did the best they could to fit as many favored ones as they could. Ironically though the game worlds we actually get to enter and explore aren’t branded ones, they’re purely from the Disney team, but they borrow inspiration heavily from existing games, which is definitely on purpose and makes for some great indirect references to real games. Even more of a blast, they went as far as to reference some of the most popular children’s food items and utilized them as parts of the landscape and nature for the game worlds. I mean can you imagine the pre-production meetings they must of had for this film? A long table landfilled with candy, food, toys, and figurines of which they got to do what all children always want to do with their toys-make a mash-up of their favorite fantasy characters and pretend like they all have come together through a time portal to fight one ultimate villain! It’s kind of like fantasy football but for 3-7 year old boys without having to sneak out of the house and tell your wife or husband you ran out of the toilet paper you threw into the garbage five minutes ago.

The artistic design and concept of the film is just fantastic and so clever that it makes me gitty just thinking about it. The entire story basically takes place in an arcade where there are rows and rows of video game machines, some old, some new, and inside the machines the characters all have personalities beyond that of what the players see in the screen. When we enter one of them, the perspective turns from blocky 16-bit to 3D, at which point you can’t help but say, “Wow, now that’s something I thought I’d never get to see although I’ve always thought about it.” The characters treat each machine like it’s another town and they even have a way of getting to them through public transportation known as the “Central Station,” which the creators at Disney ingeniously made the power strip that connects all the machines plugged into it. Ugh! So genius! Other than that the creators are mindful of other small details such as the way the characters speak or move depending on which games they come from-those hailing from 16-bit move like they’re a part of a tutting dance crew and those from more modern games move fluidly. One last thing about design I have to mention is how I love that the four main characters all actually resemble their voice actors, it adds this subconscious flirting in your brain between trying to think of the characters as their own personalities but then again you see the actors’ face so much in them that you end up thinking, “Okay, these are exact digital replicas of the actors, who are then playing these video game characters…right?” In terms of making this a video game-based movie, they did an excellently thorough job at providing us with a colorful and varied experience.

Now, what makes this film not so amazing is that there is a lot of fluff that comes out mostly from the middle. The beginning starts off extremely strong, so strong in fact that I feel they used up most of their juice in the first 15-20 mins. The final third picks it up again with intensity and emotion, but the middle suffers from a severe pace change that is influenced by stretched out dialogue and plot that tries to set the film up to be more epic than it really has to be. Also, despite the awesome voice acting from all of the cast, especially Sarah Silverman and Alan Tudyk (Love this guy btw!) who play the annoying yet entertaining Vanellope von Schweetz and King Candy respectively, I am underwhelmed by Ralph himself and not necessarily because of John C. Reilly. Ralph is just not very interesting, in fact he’s a bit of an awkward guy who isn’t that funny and is extremely selfish for his motives. For about 70% of the film I had the hardest time relating to him because of the fact I feel like if he is really trying to prove he is a better person, leaving his game and putting everyone’s life at risk with no premeditated precaution in the event that he fails is not the best way to start. “Well, it is a kid’s movie, man! Come on.” I know, I know, but still! It is harder to like the guy and want to go through this story with him because of those things is all I’m saying. I also need to give one last shout out to the awesome Jane Lynch who provides the voice for Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun who is from a first-person-shooter game, she just rounds out this character so well that made my experience watching her all the more absorbing.

Regardless of its faults, Wreck-It Ralph is going to be some fun times at the theatre for kids as well as adults, but mostly only for those who will get the references. It has an amazing, creative vision, solid voice acting and some strong emotional moments at the end that really make it all worth while. I actually hope there is a sequel for this one just because I want more of Vanellope and Felix interacting with real video game characters. If you ever read this, Disney and need some suggestions: Mega Man, Crash Bandicoot, Link, Yoshi, maybe a Chocobo or two, and now that you’ve bought Star Wars you don’t have an excuse if you fail to put in R2D2 or C-3PO.

Bow Tie Score - 3.5