So I’ve been away from this whole review writing thing for a few weeks. It was a combination on working on videos for my Youtube gaming channel (Mellow gaming, check it out!) and being on holiday in Edinburgh. But I’m back now and I really will try to get these film reviews posting a little more frequently. I mean, I at least have to post one towards the end of the month when we hit The Film Dump’s 4th birthday. What fresh horror of a film will I choose for that? Who knows? I kinda know. Like, I have a pick that will likely be the film. Anyway, this is a review of Wreck-It Ralph… I should probably get on with that.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C Reilly) follows the villain of a game called Fix-It Felix that’s tired of just being the bad guy. To be fair, he has it kinda rough. Despite being a huge part of the game and clearly not a bad guy… well, he’s a bad guy, but not a bad guy… he’s made to live on a dump with a tree stump for a pillow. Kinda harsh. That would be like Bowser not having a castle but being made to live in one of those single screen sewer bonus rooms. Ralph has a plan to prove that he can be a hero by winning a medal. Trouble is, his game only awards medals to Felix (Jack McBrayer). Ralph figures his only chance is to head into another game, where if he were to die he wouldn’t get another life, to win a medal and prove that he’s more than just the bad guy.
So yeah, the premise is a little Toy Story in that it involves playthings coming to life and having adventures. It’s really a different story though. This is no more Toy Story than Small Soldiers or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Ralph is looking for his own acceptance and to prove he can do more than just be thrown off a building multiple times a day whilst all the townsfolk in his game shun him. It’s a good job they got someone as endlessly cheery as Jack McBrayer to provide the voice of Felix or he’d probably have come across as a villain. There is a proper villain though. Later Ralph ends up in a Mario Kart-esque racing game called Sugar Rush where he helps a glitched out character called Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) win a race to earn back his medal, which she kinda took from him. She is opposed by the Candy King (Alan Tudyk) who insists that if Vanellope were to win the game would be abandoned and switched off making everyone in the Candy World homeless, but also trapping Vanellope there.
King Candy goes from delightfully delirious, to comically evil to full blown Pennywise the Clown insane and psychotic over the course of the film. There’s more too him than first appears and, by the films end, he kinda comes across as a pretty brilliant villain. Tudyk’s cartoonishly insane performance helps that along no end. King Candy represents a line of unforgivable villainy. Whilst Ralph is a asset in his game’s code base King Candy is the one executing the command thread. When those commands ain’t executing the way he likes he just enters the Konami code and rewrites those commands. That’s some M.Bison level evil there.
Wreck-It Ralph is surprisingly well written and crafted for a film that has to get a lot of the rules of its world across to the viewer as quickly as possible. I mentioned dying outside your game results in no extra lives but there’s also how the characters travel to different games. Travel is accomplished via the arcade’s surge protector which acts as a sort of grand game central station. It’s a nice concept and could easily lend itself to bigger ideas if ever that arcade got equipped with a modem. Certain games are used as bars, such as Tapper’s, and Ralph and a group of other game villains meet up n the Pac-Man ghost trap room for Bad-Anon meetings, a support group for bad guys struggling with their role in life. That little support group is a great way of conferring sympathy to Ralph very early on allowing you to see him as more than the one dimensional character a villain is often portrayed as in games.
The film’s story does follow a very well trodden structure, it would be fair to say. It is, after all, a classic redemption arc. But the setting is quite unique with only Tron and a few 90s VR movies coming close to having a similar locale. Even then, this is one of the few films to actually feature video game characters that we know, rather than inventing everything in that slightly embarrassing way films like to do when they tackle gaming. Remember when Wolfenstein 3D was used to hack The Net? The film is smart enough to make sure that that all the main cast are original, seeing as recognisable characters would have brought with them familiarity that much of the audience wouldn’t have. The characters, including Ralph, have just enough referential elements to fit into the roles they need to whilst being original enough to be their own. Ralph, for example, is pretty much Donkey Kong in initial character role, but is fleshed out to be his own person by Reilly’s performance and the script’s smartly plotted arc. The plot really does bring the characters through peaks and lows at just the right pace. And some of those lows go real low.
In the end Wreck-It Ralph is the closest Disney itself has come to mimicking the style of Pixar’s own films, possibly helped by John Lasseter being involved in the film’s production. I mean this in the sense of their computer animated movies rarely coming close to that upper level of quality you’d expect from Pixar firing at their best. Tangled was great but that was very much a Disney Princess film. Rich Moore has directed a strong kid’s film that doesn’t treat its audience like fools and genuinely crafts its own world. Rich More could easily become quite a big name in animated films, you just need to look at the classic episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama he directed to see that. Wreck-It Ralph is a fine film. It’s maybe not quite a life long classic, but it’s close enough.