Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Movie Review - Wreck-It-Ralph

Over Thanksgiving weekend we took the kids to see Wreck-it-Ralph. With plenty of video game nostalgia and Disney and Pixar love, I think I was as excited to see this film as the kids were. From the trailers we knew the premise to be centered on the villain (Ralph) of an old ~80s era video game called Fix it Felix Jr. The game is similar to Donkey Kong with the single screen platforming action, the villain at the top causing destruction and the hero racing up the building to conquer him. Ralph is frustrated that he's always the "bad guy" and thus feels like a bit of an outsider and wants to do something heroic. He even goes to a "Bad Guys Anonymous" meeting to discuss his frustration. So he starts "game jumping" and chaos and hilarity ensue.

The high level premise seems kind of fun on the surface but a little trite. I was a little nervous that it would face-plant much in the way of other "video game movies" from the past (I'm looking at you Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Doom, Super Mario Bros., etc…they had twinges of fun but certainly weren't "all that"). Fortunately the execution was better than the sugary glaze promised by the trailers. I suspect part of the success lies in having John Lasseter on board as part of the production team. Lasseter headed up creative control for Pixar for many years and I'm glad to see his creative force and vision applied to the core Disney Animation concepts. Not that there have been "awful" Disney films in the past decades…but they've certainly been overshadowed by their siblings at Pixar (and even competitor studios like Dreamworks).

My other worry was that the movie might cater too much to gamers and be less interesting for the non-gaming crowd. While there was plenty of video game fun to draw in gamers old and new, I think the writing and plot holds the interest of non-gamers and will work to draw them in. The meta-setting for the movie is an arcade building with tons of great cabinet games. This in itself was great since I loved going down to the arcade to pump quarters into machines. Sadly, the nearest arcade to our house recently closed to make way for a pizza place (the third or fourth in that mall). Even recent movie theaters built in the area don't house arcade cabinets anymore. It makes me sad. I somehow doubt it, but it would be cool if this film generated a resurgence of the old arcade parlor. But I regress.

Within the arcade, each of the games are connected. At the end of each day, the characters (if they wish) can hop a train/shuttle transporting them (via power cables, plugs, outlets, etc) down to Game Central and from there they can visit other fun locations. I loved seeing the characters interact in other fun game worlds (I especially loved having them sit on barstools in Tapper…fabulous fun).

The impetus for Ralph's escapades comes not just from dissatisfaction but also from contention between him and the other characters. He feels awkward, out of place and snubbed. One of the other characters in his game says (somewhat sarcastically) that Ralph could hang out with them if he was able to win a medal like Felix has. With that goal in mind, Ralph sets off to get a medal from some other game.

Once Ralph starts "game jumping", the fun really begins. Up until this point, we had some fun basic characterizations and quippy comments along with some cameos by classic video game characters but once Ralph plunges into other games, the plot really takes off. Once he leaves his own game, the game won't work really well since there's no villain destroying things for Felix to fix. Soon after Ralph's departure, his game gets an "Out of Order" sign and a comment that someone will come to try and fix it tomorrow and if they can't, then it's off to storage.

Not knowing about the prospective demise of his own game, Ralph works his way into a futuristic alien shooter "Hero's Duty" (a kissing cousin of Halo, Gears of War and others). He's quickly overwhelmed and terrified by the game (as shown in the trailer he comments "when did video games get so violent?"). Still, he has his goal in sight so he pushes on in spite of causing one problem after another. Before long, he's caused plenty of problems in Hero's Duty and in Game Central, Ralph crash lands in a Kart racing game called Sugar Rush.

Inside Sugar Rush, the plot takes on yet another level as it introduces us to a "glitched" character named Vanellope. She's a young girl who wants to be a kart racer like the other characters in her game, but because she's "glitched", they all shun her. Her situational comparison to Ralph is pretty obvious though Ralph doesn't immediately see it. 

Vanellope takes Ralph's medal and uses it for her own motivations. As a result, Ralph ends up chasing her all over and eventually making a deal to help her in order to get his medal. Meanwhile Felix goes in search of Ralph and meets up with Callahan, the spunky lady lieutenant from Hero's Duty. Together they go in search of Ralph to try and fix the problems he's causing and get him back home.

And now I really need to stop outlining plot points to you. While most of the above info was covered in the trailers, I'm teetering on the edge of spoilers and I don't want to ruin any of the fun for you. Just the fact that my synopsis had to go in multiple different directions should emphasize to you that the plot does bounce around quite a bit and has multiple different layers of storyline working at once. It's certainly not convoluted or overly obtuse, but it's also not a fluffy boring plot.

I think they actually held a good balance of complexity and simplicity. I personally enjoyed the twists and turns in the plot because they kept the story from being too predictable. The overall theme and arc of the story was in itself fairly predictable (Ralph thinks he's stuck in a stereotypical role and tries to break out of it and manages to find his strength and personal identity) but the way the story twisted and turned to get to the end result was enjoyable. So while the general plot isn't super remarkable, the execution is a lot of fun.

The animation style was great. It's obviously CGI but there were plenty of nuances in art style ranging from the blocky 8-bit animation from the older games to the ultra high-def graphics of the newer games. I also loved the animation "outside" in the arcade itself. It just felt very real and vibrant.

The cameos of video game characters, environments, concepts and music was a lot of fun for an old-school video game lover. I'm curious to grab the DVD release and see if it helps identify and point out some of the background characters who were less than obvious but certainly there. I had a lot of fun panning the crowd in various sweeping shots and seeing cameos from a variety of characters.

The movie did get a PG rating so it may not be totally appropriate for super young viewers. Based on what I saw, I think the PG is due to "language" (there's quite the insult session between Vanellope and Ralph) or violence and/or scary scenes in Hero's Duty. In our group we had two adults, a 16 year old, a 12 year old, an 11 year old and an 8 year old and everybody really enjoyed the movie.

In case you hadn't guessed, I really did like this movie. Is it my favorite animated movie lately? Probably not. But it was definitely very well done and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing it again and I feel comfortable recommending it to families, gamers or anybody who loves fun animated flicks.

4 out of 5 stars

NOTE: As a P.S. for those of you who like to stay after the credits, there IS a very small stinger at the end of the reel. It is very small and might not be worth your while to stick around (especially if you've got kids itching to get to the restroom) but I just wanted to give a heads up to "completionists" out there. Really, some of the animation going on right at the start of the credits is more noteworthy than the post-credit stinger. :)

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

ha everyone is getting on the bandwagon with those after credit bits...

this looks cute...glad you enjoyed it...my boys really want to see it so we will probably over christmas....