Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph poster

Movies based on video-games tend to induce a collective groan from audiences, simply because Hollywood has a record of producing one awful adaptation after another. That makes this gaming-themed foray unique, for it is one of the most pleasant animated films to be released in the last decade.

To the outside world, Litwak’s Family Arcade is an amusement centre like any other; but once the building is closed for the evening, characters from all manner of arcade games begin interacting with each other via “Game Central Station”, a power board that all of the machines are connected to. One of these machines is Fix-It Felix Jr., an 8-bit platformer that has been a mainstay of the Arcade for thirty years.

Said machine is home to this film’s title character, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) who is programmed to be the arcade game’s foe. He gets little recognition or support from his fellow non-playable characters and feels equally prejudiced outside of it; for this reason, Ralph has felt compelled to join a support service for video-game villains, which includes the likes of Zangief from Street Fighter and Bowser from the Super Mario series.

On the very occasion of his thirtieth anniversary, Ralph reveals he doesn’t want to be a “Bad Guy” anymore, and expresses his desire to be a hero, much like his counterpart Felix (Jack McBrayer). What follows is a well-intentioned, but calamitous, journey that sees Ralph venture into the modern First-Person Shooter Hero’s Duty, and the kart-racing game Sugar Rush, where he meets with a “glitch” named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman).

Unlike most other films based on video-games, Wreck-It Ralph is not based on an existing intellectual-property – the game which Ralph hails from, Fix-It Felix Jr. has been created specifically for this movie, though it does share an uncanny, if not intentional, similarity to the original Donkey Kong. Two of the other games are also works of fiction, with Hero’s Duty being evocative of sci-fi adventures like Halo or Metroid, and Sugar Rush a rather obvious riff of Mario Kart.

Additionally, direct references to real video-games are placed in Wreck-It Ralph, with appearances made by Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac-Man, among others, most amounting to little more than cameos. This goes against the film’s marketing material, which suggests that a team-up or crossover of franchises is central to the conflict – it’s an assumption this reviewer made upon first seeing the movie, only for him to be disappointed when such a scenario never arose.

Wreck-It Ralph - Vanellope
The titular character with Vanellope in Wreck-It Ralph

While Ralph doesn’t get to interact with any famous characters for prolonged periods, their absence is made bearable by his fellow protagonists, like the energetic Vanellope, the genteel Felix, or the face of Hero’s Duty, Sergeant Tamora Calhoun, who’s voiced by Jane Lynch. A macho, no-nonsense heroine, Calhoun combines the coldness of an archetypal FPS character with the fiery personality of Lynch’s most celebrated persona, Sue Sylvester, easily making her the funniest character in the film.

Wreck-It Ralph’s release came at a time when Walt Disney Animation studios was better known for its 2D offerings, with Disney’s affiliate Pixar being responsible for 3D productions. With this picture, Disney proved that its technology could match that of its sister studio – like the games that appear within, the renderings are bright, colourful and bursting with personality. The creativity of the animators is most noticeable in Sugar Rush, where one could become lost in its sweet-themed surrounds.

The screenplay would have to be the biggest surprise of all. As promised in the trailers, Wreck-It Ralph­ is filled with puns and references – no doubt due to the involvement of Simpsons and Futurama veteran Rich Moore – but it also contains a story that is detailed, heart-warming and at times even complex! In an industry that often panders to younger viewers by dumbing-down its material, there’s something ever so gratifying about seeing a film that presents them with thorny moral dilemmas.

Even if one has little to no interest in gaming culture, Wreck-It Ralph is appreciable and enjoyable offering. The characters, story, animation and humour are all of such a high-quality that the film can be forgiven for its deceptive marketing tactics; once that fact is ignored, the feature becomes immensely entertaining – or even timeless.

4.5-stars

 

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