Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph
Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph has reportedly been in some stage of development since the late 1980s, which is something I can’t help but marvel at. Video games and their effect on popular culture have changed so much in the past few decades that it’s clear Wreck-It Ralph has been a number of films, and it’s interesting to imagine how different it would’ve been had it come out ten or even five years ago. But that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that Wreck-It Ralph is a clever, stylish love letter to video games that both longtime fans and casual audiences can enjoy.
Wreck-It Ralph follows the titular antagonist of an 80s video game, a large fellow who’s become disenchanted with his lot in life (John C. Reilly). Despite the support of a number of cameo characters, Ralph decides to prove his worth by traveling to other games in the arcade and becoming a hero there. His first stop is Hero’s Duty, a space marine shooter filled with grizzled vets and robot bugs. From there, he crashes in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed kart racing game where he meets glitch character Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), and is forced to help her win a race. Hot on his trail are his “nemesis” Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and Hero’s Duty character Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch).
The story is actually a pretty compelling one, which deals with themes of purpose and belonging in a couple of different ways. John C. Reilly continues to impress with the variety of roles he can pull off. McBrayer, Silverman and Lynch added a nice combination of zaniness and humanity, and Alan Tudyk chewed plenty of scenery as the film’s villain, doing King Candy as kind of an evil Jiminy Glick.
Wreck-It Ralph is gorgeous, design-wise. Characters have a shared visual style, but with varied levels of exaggeration. The various video game worlds have fantastically imaginative styles and color palettes. I have to make a special note of Vanellope’s character design, which is one of the most appealing, emotive cartoony designs I’ve ever seen, Pixar be damned. The film also makes good use of the cameo characters, giving them lines here and there but not making them the focus. There have been some comparisons to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which I think are pretty spot-on; the movie is less about the specific interactions of famous characters and more about creating a world in which those interactions could plausibly occur.
If I had one complaint, it would be that the movie doesn’t have quite as big a scope as it could. The beginning sets up a world with dozens of game worlds connected through a central hub, but only three of them are fully realized. Once Ralph reaches Sugar Rush, the video game gags slow down and are supplemented with more standard candy puns. The film’s final set piece is exciting, but there could have been so much more. Where was the chase through multiple game worlds? Where was the meta fight scene within the game’s code? While I would never begrudge Wreck-It Ralph the locale that gave us Vanellope, I feel like it could’ve used one more game to parody, like a puzzle game or a fighter.
But all in all, these are small potatoes. Wreck-It Ralph is a charming, funny film with great characters and great heart. It’s definitely worth seeing, and it pokes a hole in the increasingly tired “Pixar or bust” argument on animated films. Make sure to catch the extremely cute Paperman short beforehand as well; it’s a great example of utilizing traditional animation in an increasingly CGI-driven world.
RATING: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FOUR)