I’m starting to get worried. 2013 is starting to treat me too well. All the films I’ve seen at the cinema this year have been great. Now, granted I haven’t seen Movie 43 or the latest Die Hard yet, but all the films I choose to watch in the company of a couple of dozen other mouthbreathers have been of high quality. I’m wary of the streak building. It’s bound to come crashing down at some point. Luckily, Ralph doesn’t wreck it.
Wreck-It Ralph (2013)
Those of you with fully-functional eyes might notice that the release date above this very sentence is a lot earlier than the UK release date of February 8th. For some arbitrary reason, both Wreck-It Ralph and Cloud Atlas were out in the U.S. months before they finally crawled over here. There’s probably some infuriating financial reason or bullshit market research behind all this, but to me it’s just another instance of the U.K. getting screwed. We pay more for our tickets than the U.S. does on average, yet we get films incredibly late and sometimes even get them delivered to us all chopped up to fuck. Still, that’s a gripe and nothing really to do with the film. It’s another example of me loving the product but hating the business behind it.
“I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be then me.”
Wreck-It Ralph is basically a gaming version of Toy Story. After their arcade is closed for the night, the characters from various games come to life. Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain of Fix-It Felix Jr, a classic arcade title, who is sick of being maligned and underappreciated whilst the eponymous Felix (Jack McBrayer) gets rewarded and adored. Ralph leaves his game in search of a medal of his own and ends up “game-jumping” through various game worlds including the violent first person shooter Hero’s Duty, where he meets the tough-as-nails Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and the saccharine racing game Sugar Rush, where he encounters annoying pipsqueak Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). As soon as I saw the trailer for this film, I knew it’d be for me. Having been a gamer for a long time, the whole concept of a video game twist on the Toy Story conceit, with Ralph encountering some real game characters like Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog excited me. I was preparing myself for a shallow, but enjoyable 90 minute fluff piece containing in-jokes and kiddie humour. Whilst both those elements are present, what blindsided me about Wreck-It Ralph was how much heart it has. The film manages to tug at the heartstrings without being mawkish or hackneyed. As with all animated features, the voice acting is flawless. Reilly makes a fantastic lead and people like McBrayer, Silverman and Lynch consistently bring the funny. Especially Lynch, who gets to spit out some amazing military one-liners. She’s like a family friendly version of R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket. I loved Alan Tudyk’s King Candy as well. He nearly steals the show.
Despite it being a pure Disney production without any input from everyone’s favourite animation studio, Wreck-It Ralph takes its cue from Pixar and it shows. The film doesn’t get hung up on the superficial stuff and concentrates on the characters. Ralph is completely relatable. He’s an outsider who just wants a little recognition. You can’t help but feel sorry for him when Felix gets to go into a penthouse full of people congratulating him on a good day of fixing, whereas Ralph sleeps in a dump with bricks as his duvet. It’d have been so easy to turn Felix into a massive douche, but the film resists that and actually makes him a compelling character too. You can ape and imitate the way Pixar goes about approaching a story and characters, but at the end of the day, you can’t fake heart, something which most of the entries in Pixar’s library have in abundance. Wreck-It Ralph has plenty of heart to spare and manages to really be touching at times.
I’m going to stick with the Pixar thing for a bit . Apart from the obvious Toy Story parallels, I was reminded of The Incredibles, where an obvious love of comics and the superhero genre permeated every aspect of the film. In much the same way, Wreck-It Ralph has gaming in its veins. It’s very hard to fake this passion and enthusiasm for the medium. Sure, it could be said that Wreck-It Ralph is a video game company’s wet dream from a marketing standpoint as for the right amount of dollar, the latest Disney characters can be sharing the screen with characters like Zangief from the Street Fighter series or Bowser from the Super Mario games. I’d like to think it’s not quite as cynical as all that. All the little nods to games I grew up with just added an extra layer of brilliance on top of an already solid story with compelling characters and an overall decent moral. A love or understanding of games isn’t necessary to full appreciate Wreck-It Ralph as it works perfectly well without all the intertextuality. Having spent over half my life feeding unforgiving machines endless 50 p coins, I loved the extra layer of gaming stuff. I practically squealed with delight at a bit where Ralph goes through a Lost and Found box and pulls out all manner of game hallmarks.
I felt that the film didn’t quite take full advantage of the world it created. We’re stuck in Sugar Rush for a long time and once you’ve heard a couple of sweet puns, you’ve heard them all (having said that, a famous biscuit take on the classic Wizard of Oz guard chant had me chuckling). I would have liked to have seen Ralph visit a few more game worlds, but would much rather have the level of characterisation on display here in lieu of a few more gaming nods and a forced and hurried dynamic between Ralph and Vanellope.
“Doomsday and Armageddon just had a baby and it… is… ugly!”
So, as you may have guessed, I loved Wreck-It Ralph. It’s bright, colourful and really enjoyable. To me, Disney out Pixared Pixar with this one, especially considering Pixar’s last effort was the deeply flawed Brave. When even the credits are entertaining, you know something’s gone right. Catch it if you can.