Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review
Disney has given us the best animated film of the year, and the greatest video game movie ever made.
2012 has been one of the biggest years thus far for animation- virtually every single major animation studio working today has released a film. Even better, most of these animated films have been successful, with Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman and The Secret World of Arrietty being some major standouts. However, as I was looking through all of the major animated films released this year (I have seen all of them), I noticed something. Though the majority of them were well-done, none of them stood out as serious Oscar contenders for Best Animated Feature.
But then, Disney threw us for a loop with their 52nd animated film: Wreck-It Ralph. Promising a ton of cameos and references to games of all generations, with a solid story to boot, it was easy for the gaming community to get excited. Is Wreck-It Ralph the movie that we gamers have been waiting for?
Every night, after the closing of Litwak’s Arcade, the characters of each video game revert back to their lives outside their respective games, in a manner similar to the characters of the Toy Story trilogy. In the 8-bit classic Fix-It Felix, Jr., the characters rejoice with the eponymous hero (Jack McBrayer). Conversely, the villain Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is utterly rejected by the game’s supporting cast. His role is to destroy a brick tower the characters all live in while Felix repairs the damage, and when the players succeed Felix is awarded with a medal while Ralph is thrown over the edge and falls into a pile of mud. He then is forced to return to his home of bricks in a dump near the tower. Ralph is truly a nice guy aside from his job as a professional villain, so after 30 years of putting up with such poor treatment, he attends a support group for video game villains and reveals that he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore. The other villains in the group warn him of the dangers of messing with his program – especially of the prospect of going “turbo,” which is the act of causing enough problems to lead to Litwak unplugging a game and rendering video game characters homeless. Nonetheless, he remains undaunted in his mission to prove his worth as a hero. And so on the night of his game’s 30th anniversary, he sets off a journey that takes him across multiple games, and learns of a threat that could endanger the entire arcade.
Disney’s gamble has paid off wonderfully, and I’m happy to say that Wreck-It Ralph is the best video game movie ever made- not that the bar was set very high in the first place. Wreck-It Ralph has a huge nostalgia factor for those who grew up on video games (especially in the 80s and 90s), and the writers were able to balance the in-jokes and references with clever humor for everyone, and a story with a surprisingly emotional kick. Video game enthusiasts will definitely enjoy Wreck-It Ralph; the cameos and references are reason enough for gamers to go. There were plenty of moments in which my friends and I busted our guts from how funny the gags were. Also, it was fascinating to see how the geniuses at Disney imagined video game characters co-existing with each other, in a realm completely different realm from our own. The attention paid to character depth makes Wreck-It Ralph feel like Toy Story for a digital generation.
In any great film – animated ones in particular – characters are essential. Thankfully, the ones featured in Wreck-It Ralph are now some of my favorites out of any other animated film released this year. This is Ralph’s story, and I was fully invested into his plight throughout the entirety of this film; he is relatable despite his larger-than-life nature. Sure, the idea of a bad guy going on a journey to prove his goodness has been done in animated efforts like Megamind and Despicable Me, but Wreck-It Ralph is the best out of the three films. It’s also great that the story explores the dark and light sides of his personality, which helps establish the eventually high stakes. I wish that his dynamic with Fix-It Felix could have been better explored, but I was able to forgive the writers for this since he is relevant to the story in many other ways.
In short, every character in the story works – not to mention the cameos and video game references are comedic gold – but one character in particular triggered emotions that I didn’t quite expect. Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) is a character that originally comes off as absurdly annoying. But once the story unfolds, her motives and backstory are unveiled, painting her as a relatable and surprisingly likeable character, and she served as an almost-too-perfect companion for Ralph. Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship greatly upped the emotional impact of the story, almost bringing me to tears at one point. Any movie that can pay homage to video games while delivering a solid, heartfelt story is a winner in my book. The only real flaw I could really point out in the film is that perhaps it spends too much time in Sugar Rush – the game that is like a cross between Candy Land and Mario Kart. However, it still manages to be immensely entertaining in those long segments, so for me it did not hurt the experience. Just like Bolt, The Princess and the Frog and best of all Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph is another sign that Disney has returned to its former glory- this time Wreck-It Ralph is much closer to the quality and style of a Pixar production. With that, I applaud Disney, writers Phil Johnston and Jim Reardon along with writer-director Rich Moore for creating such a pleasantly surprising story.
Another reason why 2012 has been such a great year for animation is because many voice actors have thrown themselves into their roles. The same goes for the hilarious cast in Wreck-It Ralph; I’m being completely honest when I say that every role was perfectly cast. John C. Reilly is truly perfect as the enormous wrecker. He gives personality and honesty to his character, so Reilly’s distinctive voice actually convinced me of Ralph’s desire to renounce his life as a villain. However, it remains interesting that through his voice performance, Reilly was able to keep me guessing as to whether his character has good or villainous motives for what he was doing in the story. I would have loved to hear more of Jack McBrayer as Fix-It Felix, Jr., because he is flat-out hysterical. He seemed to have a lot of fun with this role because he sounds exactly like he should – a gleeful, innocent and vulnerable hero that one would expect from a 40’s cartoon.
It should come as no real surprise that Jane Lynch is fantastic as Sgt. Calhoun from faux-first-person shooter game Hero’s Duty. Once you hear her voice coming from the character’s mouth, I guarantee you that the image of her as the gym teacher in Glee will pop up in your head. Alan Tudyk is also great in his role as King Candy, but Sarah Silverman impressed me the most by pulling off the very difficult act of attaching me to an initially annoying character. If there was an Oscar for best voice performance, she would definitely deserve a nomination.
I will always revere Disney for the fantastic work they did with the animation of Tangled, especially with the attention that was paid to Glen Keane’s Rapunzel and her enormous hair. However, overall I think Wreck-It Ralph has surpassed anything Disney has ever done with CGI. Naturally, this should make sense since there are advances in technology each and every year, but this film was certainly an impressive leap. Every detail is fine-tuned, character models are fleshed-out, and the worlds are simply staggering in how beautiful they look. It was also great to see how much attention was paid to establishing the living and breathing nature of Wreck-It Ralph’s digital world in terms of its visuals. The way that the animators visually describe cyberspace makes complete sense in the context of a cartoon, and the various characters – some classic, some original – act as realistically as one could imagine. The characters that were programmed for older games have more robotic movements, while others like Sgt. Calhoun move smoothly like most characters in a modern, high-definition game would (Fix-It Felix actually points this out).
The cinematography also complements the animation since Rich Moore’s direction provides for wide shots that give some great viewpoints into the gleefully realized worlds of the film. Henry Jackman of X-Men: First Class fame returns to Disney after scoring their previous film Winnie the Pooh, and once again he has delivered one excellent musical score. It’s varied, perfectly reflects the emotions that should be felt in different parts in the story, and it is certainly exciting and entertaining to listen to. Plus, I must give Jackman props for tugging my heartstrings in the end when the final chord of the last piece of music in the film choked me up.
Wreck-It Ralph is officially the greatest video game movie of all-time. Not only that, Disney Animation Studios’ latest can also be considered the best animated film of 2012 – a feat I don’t think the studio has been able to accomplish since the 1990s. A meaningful story of self-discovery, sacrifice and the importance of friendship, Wreck-It Ralph surprisingly managed to balance its all-reaching humor with a timeless story. Wreck-It Ralph is an endearing tale for casual and gamer audiences alike, and will surely be revered for years to come.