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Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Wreck-It-Ralph

Wreck-It-Ralph (2012):  Written by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, directed by Rich Moore.  Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer.  Rated PG.  Running Time: 108 minutes.   

Rating:  3/4 stars

    It’s been a pretty decent year for animation thus far.  First we had Arrietty, the simple but solid latest entry from the wizards at Ghibli.  Next came Pixar’s latest project, Brave, somewhat schizophrenic, but beautifully made and full of interesting characters and ideas.  And although I was not able to see it while it was in theaters, I have heard nothing but good things about Paranorman, the newest film from the promising group that made Coraline.  Now, we have Wreck-It-Ralph, the video-game-centered nostalgia bomb from Walt Disney Studios. 

    Before my ignorance betrays itself, allow me to state for the record that I am not, and have never been, a gamer.  Having never owned a system of my own, my video game experience has been limited almost exclusively to Pokemon Red, Blue, Yellow, and Gold, Legen of Goku II, Civ III, Portal, and the occasional Brawl/Halo/COD team games at friends’ houses.  So, as you can tell, I do not fall within the primary demographics this film is clearly aimed at.  Thankfully, that turned out to not be an issue, as the film, though filled with gaming references, cameos, and side jokes, is well-made enough and the characters broad enough that this movie can be a joyride for just about anyone. 

    The movie begins by revealing that the individual characters of the various arcade games are all self-aware entities, for whom their game roles are basically day jobs (somewhat in the vain of Reboot, if anyone other than myself remembers that show).  They live within their respective game boxes and can travel to the other games and visit each other via the connecting cords and power strips.  This carries a danger though, since, while the characters can die and regenerate endlessly within their own games, if they die outside their game, that’s it, and the game will be unplugged, leaving the other characters completely job- and homeless in the central game hub (or so we are told by an animated Sonic the Hedgehog Poster).  

    The main character, Wreck-It-Ralph, at a wonderfully assorted gathering of old-school video-game villains at an AA-esque therapy and support group, explains that he’s grown tired of being treated as stupid and evil, not just during open hours, but also by his fellow characters after-hours.  After he awkwardly stumbles upon the rest of his game (including the irrepressibly noble “good-guy” character, Fix-It-Felix Jr.) celebrating the game’s 30th anniversary without him, he storms off determined to win a hero’s medal in another game so that the other characters will finally respect him.  After stumbling through the COD-style shooter Hero’s Duty, where he meets the hardline Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), he finds himself in Sugar Rush, a new, top-of-the-line racing game, where he befriends a small girl racer named Vanellope von Schweetz (played rather effectively by Sarah Silverman) and has to find his medal and get back home before his game is unplugged for good. 

    It’s a fairly basic story of friendship and self-confidence, built (for the most part) from the standard Disney formula, with just enough twists to keep it fresh.  John Reilly’s Ralph is sympathetic without being melodramatic or overly depressed, and I find it refreshing that the main character of a Disney film finally gets to do something other than be pulled into a finding-love-where-they-least-expect-it story arc (said arc being left to the side characters this time around).  Sarah Silverman as a little child, sounds, on paper, like the sort of odd-ball casting that would try too hard to be its own running gag, but she actually turns in a great performance, managing to balance between being an amusingly smart-aleck and a likeable character you genuinely want to see win her race.  The biggest accolades, however, go to Jane Lynch (surprise surprise), who can play the hardass fem-fatale like few others.  Here too, however, Lynch’s performance surpasses her character’s initial superficiality, giving Calhoun some real depth. 
    The fun characters aside (and they are all fun), the strength of the film is easily the video-game universe it invents for itself.  The characters from older games, even up close, move with old-fashioned herky-jerkiness, while the high res new characters are fully-formed and walk more naturally.  The film avoids drowning itself in its own nostalgia, including plenty of Easter eggs for the old-school gamers, but never to the point of obscuring its own humor from regular viewers (that said, I did get my fair share of the gaming humor- my favorite was a passing GLaDOS joke).  When the film is being serious, it’s really moving, and when it’s being funny, it’s friggin’ hilarious. 

    Sadly, it took me a lot longer to see Wreck-It-Ralph than I’d planned (thanks to Sandy), so showtimes for this film are already giving way to Twilight, Skyfall, and Lincoln, but it’s still pulling in a profit, so if you have the chance the next week or two and aren’t in the mood for Hitchcock, definitely go check this one out.  I had a blast, and I’m sure pretty much anyone else will too. 

-Judge Richard

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