What a strange year for animation. Pixar made an underwhelming princess movie, Brave, while Disney took on the role of crafting a creative original story around non-traditional characters in the form of Wreck-It Ralph.
The role reversal makes one thing clear, even though they may be partners, Disney doesn’t need Pixar to make great films, and as we learned with Cars 2 and Brave, the latter studio is in fact fallible.
Wreck-It Ralph continues a trend of great new-school CG Disney animation that really began with Tangled a few years ago. But they’ve shown they have more in them than just princess movies, and Wreck-It Ralph is actually one of the better films of the year so far, intended audience age aside.
When a film makes Sarah Silverman likable, that’s no easy feat.
That might not have been the case if the movie had settled for the obvious jokes. It would have been easy to rely entirely on its arcade concept, and have real-game character cameos steal the limelight from their own leads to get some cheap laughs.
But not so. Wreck-It Ralph is a perfect blend of inside gamer jokes, beautifully animated worlds and a powerful story with odd characters that yes, you’d expect out of Pixar.
Wreck-It Ralph is a bad guy, but as his villain support group friend Zangief says, he’s not a bad…guy. He lives inside Fix It Felix Jr., an old-school arcade game inside an old school arcade. The titular hero, Felix (Jack McBrayer), jumps around an apartment building fixing the damage Ralph causes each and every day.
The Donkey Kong comparisons are clear.
But after years of mistreatment, Ralph (John C. Reilly) has had enough. He wants to be the hero, and goes off in search of a gold medal that will prove to the occupants of his game that he can be a good guy too. His journey leads him all over the arcade from FPS bug shooter “Hero’s Duty,” to the candy filled racer “Sugar Rush.” In the former he meets hardassed commander Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and in the latter pint-sized trouble maker Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). In Hero’s Duty his quest causes an accident that threatens the existence of the entire arcade, and in Sugar Rush, he has to help the glitching Vanellope find her place in her own games as the villainous King Candy (Alan Tudyk) tries to stop them.
When reflecting on the quality of the film, it’s hard to even know where to start. It’s hard to think of a more perfect voice cast for each and every one of the roles found here. Alan Tudyk’s Mad Hatter impression is particularly impressive for King Candy, and Sarah Silverman finally has an outlet for her nasally baby voice that won’t annoy people.
The film could probably be watched a dozen times, and you’d still be pulling out hidden video game references buried within it. Some are obvious, like the Konami Code being used to unlock a secret vault. Some you’ll blink and miss, like when you try to assess who all the game characters are inside Game Central Station.
Can you name the 80 video game characters in this scene?
The biggest challenge of the film was likely how they could create no less than five different and distinct worlds that the film takes place across. The best might be Ralph and Felix’s 8-bit game, where the bushes are square the citizens move at four frames per second. Also fantastic is the world of Sugar Rush, which easily could have been home to an entire movie by itself. Every surface, every landmark is made up of candy or sweets, and it’s the love child of Willy Wonka, Mario Kart and My Little Pony.
At its core however, what makes the film work are not the inside jokes or even the gorgeous animation, it’s the story. Ralph and Vanellope discover they’re both outsiders, and the question of a villain to prove himself is a noble one. There are some hugely emotional moments toward the end of the film, ones that rival similarly tear-jerking sequences from Toy Story 3 or The Iron Giant. There’s a real emotional weight here that’s the trademark of any good feature, animated or otherwise.
Wreck-It Ralph is for everyone. Kids will love it because well, kids love anything as proven by The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks. But any adult who grew up with an NES or Atari will as well, which is the vast majority of us. There’s something here for everyone, and it’s fantastic to see a movie this creatively bold be rewarded with massive ticket sales and critical reception.
4.5 out of 5 stars