Animation For Adults: Wreck-It Ralph

Welcome to Animation For Adults, proving that cartoons ain’t just kids’ stuff. This weekend I went and saw Disney’s newest film, Wreck-It Ralph. This is how it went.

In an inexplicably still standing video arcade, the characters that inhabit its games like relax and hang out in each other’s games or in the neutral space in the arcade’s power supply after the arcade closes. One such character is Wreck-It Ralph, who, after 30 years of being his game’s designated villain, has decided that he’s had enough of getting pushed around for simply doing his job. In a desperate attempt to prove that he can be the hero, Ralph ditches his game and enters a new high tech first person shooter to try and win a medal, not realizing that his rogue antic will inadvertently put all of the arcade’s games and its inhabitants in danger.

I can’t be the only one who noticed that the decline of the Disney Renaissance dovetails with the rise of Pixar. Once Toy Story came and forever changed the rules of animated films, Disney only became a bigger parody of itself with each new release, eventually shutting down their animation studio to go the way of CG and churning out one embarrassing bomb after another. Thankfully they’re making 2-D animated films again, and they made a few decent ones that remind the public why they were once so adored. (Although I have a hunch that their recent buying out of Lucasfilms isn’t going to help that much.) Wreck-It Ralph, while not a 2-D animated film, does show Disney borrowing a couple notes from Pixar (John Lasseter produced it), but here it works.

A lot of the marketing hype for this movie has been centered around it being pegged as “Toy Story, but with video games.” While I’d argue that it has a lot more in common with The Nightmare Before Christmas and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I can definitely see that Toy Story was a big inspiration for Wreck-It Ralph. It has a lot of the same creativity as as those three aforementioned films, in that it explores a fairly simple premise that most people have thought of at one point or another, but doesn’t really explore it to the extent of its predecessors. All the characters are aware that they’re sentient and immortal, and there are rules that explain how this whole world works, but they’re only brought up and established when it becomes important or convenient.

But seeing that this is a movie about video games made by a company that can afford to borrow some of the most iconic characters in the medium, it’s pretty easy to see how much love this movie has for video games both old and new. The three main games they visits are all obvious send-offs to popular games old and new. Wreck-It Ralph is reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong, Sugar Rush is a saccharine Mario Kart clone, and Hero’s Duty is a satire of every first person shooter to come out in the last ten years, specifically Gears of War. If you’re a hardcore gamer, you’ll get a kick out of seeing cameos from franchises like Pac-Man, Street Fighter, Sonic The Hedgehog, just to name a few. Hell, if you recognize the giant purple rhinoceros in the Bad Guys Anonymous meeting in the beginning of the film, then you’ll know just how big this movie’s affection for games is. Unfortunately, the exception of maybe one or two characters, they’re all pretty much brief cameos, most of which are shown in the trailer. So anyone who saw the trailers or the posters walking in expecting to see Sonic or Bowser or anyone else play an important role in this movie, don’t.

This is actually a good thing since the references and cameos don’t distract from the story. I think everyone at some point has thought of what it would be like if different video game characters would cross over into each other’s games. I really liked and could sympathize with Ralph as the hapless oaf who can’t catch a break and feels unappreciated, Vanellope, a glitch from Sugar Rush, was a bit obnoxious and cutesy at times but, like Ralph, turned out to be a surprisingly sympathetic character, and Fix-It Felix, the hero from the same game as Ralph who can’t help but be the good guy. But my favorite character have to be Sergeant Calhoun, a no-nonsense femme fatale soldier who was programmed with “the most tragic backstory ever”. Seriously though, not only does she make me think that we should rewrite all those lists of “badass Disney women”, but she also shows us exactly how a strong female protagonist in video games should be done, something that most game developers have failed to catch up on. The voice acting is what really brings this cast to life. John C. Reilly and Jane Lynch nail their roles as Ralph and Calhoun respectively, Sarah Silverman and Jack McBrayer are hilarious as Vanellope and Felix, and Alan Tudyk of Firefly fame turns out a great performance as a character who turns out to be a surprisingly effective villain.

So in the end, Wreck-It Ralph isn’t Disney’s best, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. While not nearly as good as Toy Story or The Nightmare before Christmas, it’s a loving tribute to video games that doesn’t overshadow its creative plot and well developed characters. It took me by surprise and you can expect this to have a spot somewhere on my year end top 10 list.

I give Wreck-It Ralph 8/10.

Also, Oreos. If you saw the movie, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.