Animation

Wreck-It Ralph (2013)

Synopsis: Video game bad guy Wreck-It Ralph is sick and tired of seeing the good guys get all the medals. So he decides to go on a mission into the arcade and make himself a hero, causing havoc as he goes

My Take

There is something quintessentially magical about the American arcade. Unlike the sticky floored, urine soaked, occasional homeless shelters known as arcades in the UK, movies have always portrayed American arcades as somewhere that kids on the outskirts social groups, the Geeks, the Nerds, could congregate and conquer worlds. Before the rise of the home console they gave the world characters that remain household names like Donkey Kong, Q-Bert and PacMan. Added to that list now is Wreck-It Ralph.

WreckItRalph_Logo

Who as a kid didn’t give their toys individual personalities? Now what if those toys came to life when you weren’t looking? The brilliance of Toy Story was to develop this incredibly simple idea and pitch it with enough slapstick for kids and enough pop culture references about toys from the 70s for the adults. It also dealt with universal themes of rejection and getting old. All layered with sharp observational wit. Wreck-It Ralph has used the same approach that Toy Story used to bring kids’ bedrooms alive to explore the life inside an arcade once the lights go out and the doors close.

The story here is really simple. Ralph lives in a game called Fix It Felix Jr. His sole purpose is to do one thing; wreck the apartment building before Felix can fix it with his magic hammer. Ralph is good at it. Perhaps the best ever at wrecking stuff. But at the end of each day when Felix gets his medal and everyone thinks he is a hero Ralph has to go sleep on his pile of bricks. So he decides to go out into the arcade, infiltrate another game and get himself a medal all of his own to show everyone he is a good guy. It’s essentially a “what if Donkey Kong” had a heart and wanted more from life situation.

I am a video game geek. I love them. I play them more than a man of my age with a wife, sensible job and mortgage should. This film was evidently developed, written and animated by a group of people with a greater love for them than even me. The attention to detail to bring their world to life is genius. Each arcade machine is a world in it’s own right, with it’s own rules and eco systems. The characters movements in their outside lives are determined by the game in which they live. For example Fix-It Felix Jr is an old pixelated game so everyone moves with blocky, jerky actions. When the characters want to go for a drink they go to the Tapper machine (an old bartending game). In the background you’ve got characters like Ken from Street Fighter nursing a beer. The opening story is told from Ralph’s perspective as he sits with the likes of Bowser, Wario and orange ghost from PacMan at a Bad Guys Anon meeting. For me though one of the best jokes was having a doughnut and an eclair as two cops. Genius.

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The way they move the characters from world to world is, for me, the most ingenious part. Many other films would have had them running around in the arcade between the machines or just glossed over how they move about. But the writers built a transport system where the characters travel along the electrical wiring like a train system which all links to a central station in a power extension unit. It’s that kind of imagination that set films like Wreck-It Ralph and Toy Story out from their rivals.

Often the key to animated films is their voice cast. John C Reilly (a shoving buddy fave) is a well cast as the depressed, loveable, want-to-do-right Ralph. The way he lollops and pouts is Reilly to a tee. Jack MacBrayer brings his creepily happy Kenneth from 30 Rock shtick to Fix It Felix Jr (which is funny but is starting to freak me out. I can only imagine MacBrayer has some dark sexual proclivities when he is away from the public eye that are going to surface to the public attention in about 15 years.) Jane Lynch is particularly fantastic though as the Space Marine with the “most tragic backstory ever programmed”. She has the same dry delivery she has built her career on and set her out as the only good thing in Glee.

There are some things that don’t work as well. Large sections of the film are set in a game called Candy Rush, which is like a Mario Kart style world where everything is made from sweets, and feels like it is padded out. There so many video games with which the writers could have played around with I felt they missed a trick setting so much of it in one place. Also, and this is going to make me sound really old but I’m not and it doesn’t normally bother me, but it was uncomfortably loud. Now whether that was out local cinema or the film print I don’t know but it actually gave me a headache when I left. Just one to bear in mind if taking small children or if you have a hangover. Or both. I guess the two are not likely to be mutually exclusive.

Lets be clear about one thing; this is no Toy Story. That’s no slight on Wreck-It Ralph, it’s that the Toy Story trilogy set a stratospheric high watermark in how animated films could play to the broadest range of audiences. That said Wreck-It Ralph is a lot of fun for kids and adults. Playing spot the video game character cameo and wondering how they are going to turn the next arcade machine into a fun new world was great. The headache at the end was less fun but I can forgive it that. Looking forward to Wreck-It Ralph 2 in the next couple of years. I hope they use to explore more of the arcade though.

Verdict: Highly Recommend

About

Taglines: A story for everyone who ever needed a restart on life.

Director: Rich Moore – deep history in quality animation. Director on The Simpsons in the 90’s and Futurama more recently. Also directed two episodes of the amazing Drawn Together in 2005/06. A man who knows how to balance puerile humour and genuine emotion.

Writers: Rich Moore (Story) and Phil Johnston (Story) plus 6 others who I can’t be bothered to list. Basically written by lots of people with fun ideas. Well done them. Probably why it didn’t win Best Animated Oscar as it would have been way to expensive to cast all the statues for everyone involved.

Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack MacBrayer and Alan Tudyk

Trivia:

  • Unlike most animated films, the principal actors regularly recorded audio sessions together in the same room, a situation which led to a lot of improvising.
  • Early in production it was considered to keep all characters in their native graphic quality, essentially making Ralph look 8-bit the entire time. This was deemed too difficult for making Ralph a sympathetic, lovable character.
  • During early production, Disney had Mario set to cameo in the film, but producer Clark Spencer claimed that they “couldn’t think of the right way to incorporate him into the film”.
  • The arcade owner character, Mr. Litwak, wears a referee’s shirt as a reference to real life personality Walter Day, owner of the Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa, IA. Day is best know for appearing in the arcade documentaries Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade and The King of Kong, a movie which Shoving Buddies can highly recommend.
  • King Candy’s safe is secured with a NES controller. The password he enters (UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START) is a common cheat code used by game developer Konami in most of their titles, most famously in the game Contra.
  • The cops’ badges, parodying real police mottoes like “To Protect and Serve”, read “To Heat and Serve”.

Currently on general wide cinema release

Dylan

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2 replies »

  1. Enjoyed this, but agree with you, they should of just gone nuts with the references to old games. loved the MGS “!” he pulled out the box ( complete with noise). I felt they could of put more subtle little callbacks to maintain interest in what ultimately was a fairy standard plot. that said , with these kind of films I’m usually eentertained for the first 45mins before the movie settle Down to restore the ” equilibrium”, but Wreck It Ralf kept my attention nearly all the way through.

    • Absolutely Kiks, I tend not to go and watch animated stuff at the cinema unless I think it is going to be special (particularly as you know, I don’t have kids) but I was intrigued by what they’d do with all the video game characters. I hope with the second one they take more time to play on some of the classics. I loved the Anon meeting being held in PacMan and when they left the room they were in the game. Stuff like that made it work for me

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