Dir. Rich Moore
“If I don’t get all of the in-jokes in this film I’m going to hate myself”, giggled my excited friend, a button mashing veteran, as he sat down in a theatre full of loud children. This is the main dilemma of Wreck-It Ralph; it’s a film marketed towards retro gamers and also towards the uninitiated classic Disney crowd of under tens. Unfortunately, although it delivers for the kids, former 8-bit addicts expecting a nostalgia overload will leave somewhat disappointed.
The story follows Donkey Kong inspired arcade villain Ralph (John C. Reilly), a baddie in an existential crisis. Tired of the unfair contempt garnered from his pixelated peers, Ralph goes AWOL through the gaming world, attempting to become the hero and finally gain the respect that he deserves. This idea of video game villains struggling to take pride in a job for which they are constantly maligned is one that is interesting yet underused. The bad-guy support group led by Pac-Man’s orange ghost is quite brilliant; yet it’s a scene that’s completely covered by the trailer. The promotional use of this set-piece also seems to promise a film in which generations of video game characters interact behind the scenes of their consoles, but in reality Disney chooses to focus on creating its own set of fictional video game doppelgängers.
While it’s more ambitious to develop your own protagonists than use pre-made stock, and unlikely that Disney could have made a film of just Nintendo and Atari characters, it feels like this is what a large chunk of the audience wanted and expected to see. The film on the whole does not focus heavily on gaming culture in-jokes and this will be a tad disappointing for most adult viewers. There is no tossing of turtle shells from moving vehicles, no one shouts “Finish him!”, and there is a distinct lack of death from dysentery.
Additionally, seeing as this film is partly marketed towards the late 80s gaming generation, Wreck-It Ralph is considerably less entertaining for adults than many other recent children’s animations. Laughs from films such as Wall-E, Up, or Finding Nemo, as well as older animations such as Toy Story, show that animation can be far funnier for adults to watch. Wreck-It Ralph lacks some of the knowing sideways glances and age-transcending humour that make these other films so entertaining.
This isn’t to say that the story can’t verge on brilliance. Arcade game hero Fix-It Felix Jr. perfectly channels the hilarious southern drawl of Jack McBrayer (better known to many as Kenneth from 30 Rock) with his oblivious and unwavering politeness. Sarah Silverman’s improvisational skill is smartly given free rein in her turn as the sparky race car driver Vanellope, and dialogue in scenes such as the interrogation of a talking sour sweet by Ralph (“What’s goin’ on in this candy coated Heart of Darkness?!”) is excellently written. And although the film pulls the same trick as Toy Story 3 with its ill-advised dark finale in a film where you know there is no danger of death, Wreck-It Ralph establishes some great character relationships and a multi-layered story which you can’t help but care about.
It almost goes without saying these days that the animation is stunning; the textures of candy land look delicious, the pixelated architecture of Ralph’s game is stylishly art-deco, and the racing really gives a great impression of speed. The way in which characters move is fascinating, with the inhabitants of Ralph’s game navigating their world with the jerky movements characteristic of early low resolution games.
On the whole Wreck-It Ralph is a suitably stunning animation which suffers from its poor turn out on the gaming front. Kids won’t mind, but the generation of older geeks who have dragged themselves from their Nintendo dungeons to go and see this deceptive children’s farce will have the right to be miffed. Despite all of this, the great voice work and clever animation will keep many suitably entertained. Don’t wreck it ‘til you’ve tried it.