Last night, The Wife and I caught Disney’s (and not Pixar’s) newest animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph. And following the encouragement of some, I’ve decided to review it here, even though I don’t know the first thing about film critique and my taste in movies would no doubt be called “dire” by those who survived reading a list of the movies I’ve enjoyed.
With that flattering appraisal of my film chops out of the way, allow me to just come out right up front and say it: This is the best movie that has ever been made in the history of cinema, and nothing will ever top it in a million, zillion, quadrillion years.
Okay, maybe it’s not that good… maybe. The fact is, I’ve only seen it once and it’s already one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s at least tied with The Avengers for my favorite movie this year, and while comparing the two is like apples and oranges, I think this one simply resonated with me more. I love comic books a lot, but video games… well, they’re on another personal level entirely. I don’t want to say they’re my life, as there are things I hold more dear, but those notwithstanding…
Anyway, one thing to get out of the way is the whole video game references thing. People are expecting Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with video game characters, and truth be told, this is nothing like that. Some have said Toy Story as well, and maybe that’s a little more reasonable, but this one really does its own thing apart from those, and it just works.
In fact, some of the promotion for this film is simply laughable after seeing it. For example, take these posters from the official site, which have also been seen elsewhere (bus stops, etc.):
The only one of these which feels remotely accurate for the movie they’re advertising is the first one, which features all of the main/original characters for the movie. Ralph isn’t even on any of the others, while the remaining characters are pushed aside in favor of the likes of M. Bison, Sonic the Hedgehog, and even Neff from Altered Beast, but none of them have huge roles (though Sonic has multiple recurring appearances as a background character).
Some worried that the movie would just be a continuous chain of dropping fanservice at every turn, but the fact is that the real-world references are used wisely. One might even argue that it’s how they are used which strikes the greatest resemblance to the aforementioned Toy Story and Roger Rabbit, as they are used at the outset to basically establish this world as a believable one.
Rather than filling out the cast with generic nobodies, the use of real games and their characters serves to make the original characters feel more legitimate. Beyond those opening scenes, save for Q*Bert, they don’t tend to receive a lot of great parts with but a few exceptions (which I can’t go into due to spoilers). And that’s okay, because by the time they go off on their own, you’re caught up in this world that’s like our own, but with a few added games we’ve never heard of– and beyond that, given that everyone undoubtedly has a few games they haven’t heard of, it feels natural.
In fact, I felt that I wanted to see more of these new games and their characters and worlds by the end of it; I want to play a real Hero’s Duty or a Sugar Rush outside of their browser-based versions, and I don’t simply mean the games which inspired them, either.
One thing which will probably throw a lot of people off is what they see in the trailers and commercials versus how the film goes. You probably know the basic set-up by now: Tired of being the bad guy after 30 years, Wreck-It Ralph decides to leave his game, Fix-It Felix, Jr., and go into another one to prove he can be a good guy.
The way one might expect this to play out is that he deals with his Fix-It Felix, Jr. colleagues and leaves to go to Hero’s Duty, and gets sidetracked in Sugar Rush along the way, all with a pretty even split. At least, that’s how I thought it would go down, sort of following a timeline of how games from the early days, the middle, and the now of the medium (“when did games get so violent?!“).
The reality is something else entirely. Basically, the Fix-It Felix, Jr. and Hero’s Duty parts come first, and really front-load the whole thing. The Bad-Anon meeting, Game Central Station, and the part you think will be the climax or the end of the movie– that scene in Hero’s Duty with Ralph surrounded by holographic army men saluting him– that comes very early on. I apologize if that sounds like a spoiler, but it really needs to be said before anyone gets the wrong idea before going into this thing.
Some people were hoping the Sugar Rush thing might be a distraction at best, but the fact of the matter is that it is most of the movie. I know some people are grated by it, particularly Sarah Silverman’s character. And if you thought she wouldn’t be there for long… wrong. Fortunately, while I found her character annoying at first as well, I personally thought she became more tolerable as the movie progressed and liked her by the end. Of course, not everyone would agree.
To the confusion of some, the movie is being titled Sugar Rush in Japan, and after seeing the movie, it’s become abundantly clear why. In his review, Brad “The Cinema Snob” Jones (NSFW) points out that after she is introduced, it feels like Ralph ceases to be the main character, and she takes over as the protagonist. And while I don’t feel that’s entirely true, I can most definitely see where he’s coming from with that.
In fact, the concept really brings part of the movie and its Japanese title together. When viewed from that angle, it feels almost as though Sugar Rush was made for a Japanese audience (complete with a theme song for the game by Japanese idol group AKB48), and Wreck-It Ralph is like the dub with a new name and change of perceived focus so as to appeal more to American sensibilities.
That said, it may very well be a brilliant move to allow the film to appeal strongly in both markets. We’ll see how that plays out.
There are a lot of great little bits and moments spread throughout the movie. One plus is that while it plays with video game characters in video game worlds, it didn’t feel to me like it played with the normal tropes you might expect out of a ReBoot, a Captain N: The Game Master, or Tron. It instead feels like it’s doing its own thing, and it does it well.
A lot still makes sense, though, such as the player character for Hero’s Duty being a robot of sorts with a monitor for its head, allowing Sergeant Calhoun to play her “part” to the player outside. Meanwhile, in Sugar Rush– without getting into too many details– a lot of what’s there just feels like it makes sense from a gaming standpoint.
And speaking of Sergeant Calhoun, MovieBob has it right when he says that this, a movie about games, seems to hit the nail on the head what actual video games have been trying to do with female characters for so long. Yet at the same time, it’s funny that they explain that she is the way she is due to being given “the most tragic backstory of all.” A bit of black humor, if you will.
As an aside, Disney also made an interesting choice by making the “lead” human character (so to speak) a girl.
There are plenty of funny bits, too, for various reasons. I recognized the voice of Mr. Litwak, the arcade’s owner, and got a big kick out of it when I learned it was none other than Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill from Married… with Children. During the credits, The Wife couldn’t figure out why I was snickering when a song started up; the Wreck-It Ralph theme song sounded just like the stuff Buckner & Garcia made for Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and more back in the 80’s. I gave props to Disney for that much attention to detail, on top of everything else.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that it actually was Buckner & Garcia. Or at least, that’s who they were credited as, despite Garcia passing away; apparently, he was in on it early on, but other band members helped finish it. I think it’s a fitting and lasting testament to their place in video game history.
Finally, I won’t spoil it, but be sure to stay to the very end of the credits… particularly if you’re a fan of a certain meme begun by The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.
I don’t know what else I can say here: I love the movie, from top to bottom and beginning to end. It made me laugh, and it tugged at my heartstrings, too. This is a movie I feel like I can watch over and over again whenever it might be on.
And while I’m not necessarily an advocate for rampant sequelization, there are times when I just want more, and this is one of those times. I love this world of worlds they’ve created behind the arcade screens and in the power bars, and want to see more of it.
So, unless the thought of hearing Sarah Silverman for more than five minutes drives you into a frothing rage, I highly recommend seeing Wreck-It Ralph… multiple times. You’ll probably need to in order to catch all the references (here’s hoping a DVD bonus feature will be there to help).
Oh, and I should also mention that there is a neat little Disney animated short prior to the film called Paperman. It’s short, simple, and sweet, but also really seems to hark back to Disney’s earlier days of animation, though with modern technology.