Stars: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Joe Lo Truglio, Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Edie McClurg, Adam Carolla | Written by Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee | Directed by Rich Moore
Video games have had a tough time translating their success to the big screen. Even games that appear to have a logical narrative that should fit perfectly into film format tend to falter when the final product is released. Games like Super Mario Bros., Doom, Resident Evil, and Prince of Persia have failed to win over critics and their own core fan bases. Those failures make us wonder if it is at all possible to make a proper video game adaptation. Enter Wreck-It Ralph, which comes at this idea at an entirely different angle. This isn’t an adaptation of a classic video game from our childhood, instead of being beholden to a certain franchise it takes inspiration from a multitude of different sources. Everything from today’s first person shooters to classic 8 bit arcade classics are touched upon in one way or another. There was a fear that it would become a cameo-fest, where the film relies too heavily on the good will of our own nostalgia. Luckily that was not the case at all. The cameos, flashy animation, and energetic colors are just the service level of a deeper story about people and their struggle to rebuke and understand their own role in life. Wreck-It Ralph puts itself on a higher platform by getting us to care about these characters and their fate. Everything else is just a bonus level of excitement.
John C. Reilly provides the voice for Ralph, who has become fed up with being the ‘bad guy’ in his own game. It’s been thirty years since his game was first plugged in, and it’s been thirty years of being ostracized, shunned, and exiled to live in a dump. All he wants is to be treated like a hero, like Fix-It Felix. Felix was given the duty to fix everything he wrecks and is adored by his fellow game members. When an animated film is voiced by high profile celebrities, like this one, you run the risk of the audience being unable to see the character and only able to hear the celebrity. This completely evades that issue by precisely casting the right fit for each role. Jack McBrayer’s personality falls perfectly in line with his character Felix, and John C. Reilly sensibilities lend themselves flawlessly to Ralph. Standing out above all others is unquestionably Sara Silverman, who voices Vanellope, a young rambunctious avatar of Sugar Rush. Sugar Rush is a Mario Kart like racing game full of candy, sweets, and avatars that look like a cross between Strawberry Shortcake and those annoying Bratz dolls. Knowing Sara Silverman’s comedic style I assumed the character of Vanellope would be far more brash and cynical. Silverman leaves that at the door to provide a voice that was earnest and tender with a sweet sarcastic twist. She provided a lot of the movie’s heart as well. Watching the relationship of Vanellope and Ralph develop was a huge highlight of the movie for me. It knew when a joke was appropriate and when it earned the right to tug at your heart strings. Keeping that balance is a big reason why this movie is so successful.
When you look at the conception of the movie you immediately think it is basically the video game version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. That comparison is a fair one since Wreck-It Ralph did with video games what Who Framed Roger Rabbit did with cartoons. Watching Sonic the Hedgehog characters mingle with Pac-Man and Street Fighter characters would blow my young adolescent mind I’m sure. Well to be honest it kind of blows my adult mind just as much. One difference from Who Framed Roger Rabbit is that film placed its characters into a noir crime thriller. Wreck-It Ralph is far more straightforward. It is not placing its characters in any sort of genre flick. As an alternative it creates its own world with its own rules and regulations. They did come up with a lot of creative tidbits in the construction of this world. Watching how all these games connect and how the actual arcade affects the game characters went further beyond what I was expecting. The three main worlds the film takes place in are all distinctly different and equally remarkable. You have the immense world of Hero’s Duty that has an atmosphere of dread and despair. The world of Sugar Rush punches you with its vibrant colors and cheer. There were smaller touches, like how it played with the different movement of the characters, which were just as brilliant.
Creating all this did cause some issues. In the manufacturing of this universe a number of different rules and regulations were established to show us how everything functions. Often this was done rather clumsily and it became immediately apparent certain rules would come into play later on. We are told things like what ‘death’ really means to these characters, and given a lot of back story about different characters and settings. Nearly every twenty minutes another rule was added to give us another wrinkle to think about. There were occasions where the rules were established organically, but more often than not if felt like we were in the tutorial level of a needlessly complicated video game. Just let us play and we’ll figure things out as we go. The pace really suffered in these moments and each rule felt like a story cheat code designed to provide a short cut to an emotional payoff. Not only was it obvious what they were doing it was also superfluous. When it was focusing on telling its own current story it was at its best. The messages and themes aren’t that ground breaking or subtle, but that didn’t lessen their emotional impact. It deals with universal issues that almost everyone can relate with in any way. If it focused on that more the final score would have been a lot higher.
Wreck-It Ralph knows just because it’s animated does not mean and cannot be smart and insightful. Poignant moments can come from anywhere and this is a perfect example. They also made sure to bring the funny with clever visual gags and witty dialogue. If you are a fan of puns you will be overjoyed, because this is not afraid to pun it up again and again. Family films have had a large reassurance over the last few years. A big reason why has to be the success of Pixar. They showed you can make a family film that genuinely appeals to the entire family not just the kids. While this isn’t a Pixar movie you can see its influence all over it. It is not quite to that level because the story isn’t as encompassing or grandiose, but it is one fine attempt. As obvious as it may sound there is something for everyone. Even if you have never picked up a joy stick or placed a quarter in an arcade machine you will get lost in the wonderment and delightful world of Wreck-It Ralph.
Wreck It Ralph is released on DVD, Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray on June 3rd.