It has long been a dream of ours to see our favourite video-game characters together in a single movie, so it would be easy to see how our hopes were extremely high when the first Wreck-It Ralph trailer debuted earlier this year. The good news is that those expectations were well and truly met by Disney’s latest animated epic which, in truth, would have been much more at home in the Pixar stable thanks to its multilayered humour, continual nods to retro gaming and some genuinely fantastic vocal performances from the likes of John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch and, perhaps most surprisingly, Sarah Silverman.
Wreck it Ralph is one of those special movies that comes around every now and then that mixes corporate cooperation, imagination and genuine love to offer moviegoers a unique theatrical experience.
The plot revolves around videogame villain Wreck-It Ralph, whose job is to pretty much break everything in sight, while the game’s titular hero Fix it Felix Jr. repairs the damage. It’s safe to say that Ralph is not well liked in his home game, which owes more than little to the graphical stylings of the original Donkey Kong arcade title, and he meets with other infamous baddies including Zangief of Street Fighter fame, Mortal Kombat’s Kano and Mario’s nemesis Bowser, to name but a few, in order to deal with the trials and tribulations of being a bad guy.
After a breakdown at a party for the 25th anniversary of Fix-it Felix Jr., Ralph decides the only way to get some respect is to win a medal from another game – the catch being that if he dies outside of his own game, he won’t respawn.
The first half of the movie seems to have been written by hard-core gamers, so the more eagle-eyed among you can look forward to spotting things like “Jenkins” spray-painted on a wall, or Ryu from Street Fighter leaving a bar. It’s these touches that help the movie make a special connection with gamers in the audience without having younger viewers feeling left out.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that hits the mark all the time, particularly when it comes to some of the more key cameos. For example, it’s highly unlikely the many among the movie’s primary target demographic would be familiar with Q-Bert, despite his multiple appearances. Perhaps this could have been handled a touch better, rather than risking alienating the kids in the audience for several minutes at a time. Regardless though, kids being kids, his unique talking style did raise some laughs, despite a clear lack of comprehension of his relevance to the history of gaming.
Another misstep is the fact that none of the recognizable gaming characters held much sway in the overall story, despite pre-release posters and trailers presenting Wreck-It Ralph as a video-game version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit of sorts. Most were limited to short cameos or brief mentions which was a bit of a letdown.
The second half of the story follows a much more typical Disney approach; the references to established franchises are few and far between and the game jumping is essentially gone as the plot takes a more central focus. Thankfully, the story is capable of standing up by itself by this point, and the lead characters really start to come into their own.
Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by Sarah Silverman, is a “glitch” in the game Sugar Rush, but she wants to be a real character and is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Vanellope is actually a very cute character, the type we normally hate. However, Silverman puts in such a fine performance that she’s simply too cute to dislike, and we genuinely wanted her to succeed. It’s a very fine line between cuteness and annoyance, but it’s one that Disney has managed to traverse without much incident.
With that being said, Felix (voiced by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer) was irritating. His relationship with Jane Lynch’s ballsy action heroine from fictional game Hero’s Duty was fun, but Felix himself was too wholesome; too saccharine sweet. There’s one particular scene that sees him get punched repeatedly in the face, and we really didn’t want that it to end.
Despite its flaws though, Wreck-It Ralph hits the mark where it really matters, and offers a fantastically enjoyable hour and a bit of animated entertainment. Sure, some of the cameos were too fleeting, and perhaps the product placement was a touch too in your face to succeed, but Wreck-It Ralph will definitely go down in our book as a success thanks to a solid story, some superb voice acting and a fantastic feel good vibe. THIS is how it’s supposed to be done, Merida.