Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph

It's not the most promising movie idea, really: A "Donkey Kong" era video game villain gets tired of being the baddie after 30 years and decides to become a hero by venturing into other, more modern video games.

But John Lasseter's absorption of Disney animation can be considered complete with this. It has a lot of heart, and a lot of strong character development, and the weak spots are inundated with a boggling attention to detail.

Also, it's prefaced by an absolutely charming "silent" short, "Paperman".

And, truly, when I think about it, I think about how many wonderful choices were made in the process of making the film. For example, Ralph is an 8-bit character, though they make him a full 3D model inside the game (because it would be too hard to relate to him if he were that limited), his compatriots move like they would inside their game, with just a few frames of animation. This provides a lot of chuckles.

Then, in the first-person shooter alien invasion, the conceit is that the world is "real" and the player is represented by a monitor on wheels. (And that's now a real thing!)

OK, so Ralph is shunned by his video game companions (that's not really explained; the movie is fast and loose as far as the nature of the game, whether they're real, or recognized as games, or more like movie roles), and becomes convinced that if he gets a medal, his co-game-people will let him in to their social circle.

A number of contrivances allow game characters to visit other games, though Ralph is constantly admonished to not "go Turbo" after a rogue video game character who invaded other games in pursuit of  his former glory. This ultimately leads him to a Candy Land racing game, where he clashes with a socially ostracized "glitch"—a character who was coded to be in a game, but then removed for release.

So, there's your movie: Ralph wants respect in his own game while Vanellope (the Candy Land racer) wants it in hers, and circumstances are contriving to keep them from self-actualization (the theme of all Disney movies since The Little Mermaid).

It's good. There's one swooshy roller-coastery scene which is apparently mandatory in all kid movies these days that was really dull, but other than that the mix of characters, humor and convincingly sticky plot points carries through.

There's a lot of video game humor, most of which I'm pretty sure I missed, though so did my kids, I think. I think it's mostly based on later '80s and '90s games which none of us know much about. The Flower likes MAME, so she'd played some games that The Boy and I didn't know, and The Boy caught stuff that The Flower and I didn't. But the movie didn't really depend on it.

There's a nice little bit about Fix-It Felix, the hero in Wreck-It Ralph's game, being in some ways just as cursed as Ralph is. As Ralph cannot do anything but wreck stuff, Felix can't wreck anything no matter how necessary it is. There's some kind of an eastern thing there.

Rich Moore, of "Futurama", "The Critic" and "The Simpson's" fame, directs (and apparently wants to do a sequel).

Voices are done by John C. Reilly, who's great as Ralph. Sarah Silverman is Vannelope and, honestly, without knowing it was her (whom I usually like), I found her performance grating and rather unlikable. Too much edge for the part—which was, I think, inspired by and written for her. Go figger.

Jack McBreyar ("30 Rock") is fine as Felix, the carpenter who falls in love with Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch, never sexier) from the first-person shooter. Alan Tudyk (Spamalot, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, A Knight's Tale, "Firelfly") does a great Ed Wynn impression.

Cool is that Rich Moore brought along some voices you don't normally hear in Disney movies, though you won't recognize them, probably: Maurice LeMarche (The Brain, Kif), John DiMaggio (Bender, Jake the Dog), Kath Soucie (Qubert Farnsworth), and so on.

We enjoyed it. A lot of fun. And a lot of people liking it. I thought the Disney formula, while largely redeemed by the presence of Moore and Lasseter, was still pretty transparent and is still really tired. Award season is coming, of course, and I'd place Brave well above Frankenweenie, Paranorman, Pirates!  and this movie, but I'm not gonna, y'know, virtual rumble over it.

(Unlike others on the Internet.)

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