Wreck-It Ralph: Giving the Youth a Taste of Video Game History   3 comments

“I’m good at video games and bad at everything else.  That’s why I wish life were more like a video game.” – Fry
“Can you put that in the form of a question?” – Professor Farnsworth
“Uh . . . what if that thing I said?” – Fry

Top Line: Wreck-It Ralph is a clever, Toy Story infused kids movie.  It doesn’t make sense in places, and is much skimpier on real video game jokes and characters than the trailer would make you think, but its pace never flags and it’s got some amazingly clever and pretty animation to show off. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: Animation fans, video game connoisseurs, and kids.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Anyone looking for an old fashioned two-track movie that has almost as much for the adults as for the little ones. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:48m – Feels about right. 

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 15 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: ~15 people, a few young kids

MPAA: PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence

Not much to report.

Should Be Rated: PG-4

Three Stars:

  1. Alan Tudyk – Candyland Dictator: 
    Should get some kind of award for the awesomeness of his Ed Wynn-esque performance.  It’s like having the original Mad Hatter back on screen.  Bravo. 
  2. Sarah Silverman – Plucky Racer Girl:
    Does a good job of both sounding like an actual kid and not making it annoying.
  3. Jane Lynch – Badass Commando Leader:
    Gets to spew a ton of excellently cornpone sayings and phrases as she marches around kicking ass. 
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 (The big, bright and shiny graphics are worthy of being put up on a big screen.)
  • -1 (But there’s nothing truly spectacular here, and c’mon, it’s a video game.  Those have always been naturally at home on smaller screens.) 

Final Score: 2

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Lots of video game references will be catnip for pop culture junkies.)
  • -1 (While it’s a lot of fun, it isn’t the kind of movie that anyone’s going to be shocked and/or horrified if you haven’t seen it.) 

Final Score: 5

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +5 Passes Bechdel test, albeit with a Mean Girls type scene.

Final Score: 10

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Rich Moore:
    Practiced television animation director, including stints on Futurama, The Critic, and The Simpsons before the Fall.  This is his first time in the big chair for a movie, though.

Writer:

  • Jennifer Lee:
    Bupkis.  This is her only credit on IMDb.
  • Phil Johnston:
    Previously wrote Cedar Rapids (2011), but that’s pretty much it.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 84% Top Critics: 83% Audience: 90%

Notes:

  • There’s a very pretty but not terribly clever short called “Paperman” before the movie.  The animation deserves praise, and if Disney is thinking about turning this particular blend of computers and ink into a movie, I say do it. 
  • I mentioned this above, but Alan Tudyk channels all the goofy charm of Ed Wynn’s frantic comedy.  In case the name isn’t familiar, he was the voice of the Mad Hatter in 1951 Alice in Wonderland and was the crazy, tea-party-on-the-ceiling uncle in Mary Poppins.  Wikipedia tells me that Tudyk was born a few years after Wynn died, so we may finally have evidence for reincarnation here. 
  • Since it is a movie for kids above all else, it leaves some of the stranger, darker and more interesting possibilities of its video game inner space unexplored.  Far from being sunny and fun, the world it posits is just this side of a dystopia.  It’s chalk full of distressed homeless old characters, and lucky ones who are working don’t have anything to look forward to except an endlessly monotonous existence.  It isn’t hard to picture today’s eight-year-olds loving the movie now, but then sitting around talking movies as adults and saying something like, “You know, when you think about it, the world of Wreck-It Ralph is a pretty terrible place to live.” 
  • The Rihanna song feels more than a little out of place in the middle of the movie.
  • There aren’t any over the top “stuff flies at you for no reason” 3D moments.
  • I don’t know if it was a late addition or not on account of this week’s big “Mickey Bought Yoda” story, but at one point the movie does use the Darth Vader breathing noise. 
  • Jack McBrayer plays “Fix It Felix Jr.” pretty much in character as Kenneth from 30 Rock.  This is not a bad thing, but it is beginning to look like that’s the only thing he can do really well.
  • I’d say about 75% of the screen time that the real video game characters have in the movie is in the trailer. 
  • It’s nice to see some awareness of how programming and video games actually work.  In particular, the idea that games often ship with lots of leftover and half finished things than most users will never see.

Bottom Line: The trailer at the top of this page is a little misleading in that it makes the movie look like more of a two-track, for-adults-and-kids flick than it really is.  Wreck-It Ralph is much more of a straight ahead kids movie than films like Toy Story or ParaNorman, which have a lot of adult humor in them designed to sail right over the heads of the wee ones. 

After playing around with other video game characters and jumping into to a first person shooter, Ralph and the movie settle into a Candyland-meets-Mario-Kart racing game called “Sugar Rush” where most of the action takes place.  (Incidentally, if Disney wanted to spend some money and make a real Sugar Rush racing game, it looks like it’d be a lot of fun.)  Inside “Sugar Rush” the story checks off the usual kids movie moments and emotions: here’s where the unlikely friends bond, and here’s where they’re chased by the bad guy, etcetera.  Make no mistake, it is an exceptionally well done kids movie, with an exciting but simple story and lots of genuine silliness, but the balance of the comedy and ideas are to be found on the children’s side of the ledger. 

None of which is to say that Wreck-It Ralph will only be interesting to the pre-puberty set.  For one thing, the movie is animated and filmed wonderfully.  Each of the different video game worlds (and the power strip that connects them) get their own distinct look and feel, but when the movie peers back from the glass at the real world of the arcade (which it does so frequently), you know that things are still connected. 

On top of that, there are the superb supporting performances of Alan Tudyk, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.  Tudyk gets by far the most interesting role in the movie and runs with it in every way he can, while both Silverman and Lynch nail their charmingly idiosyncratic characters.

All in all, Wreck-It Ralph is a fun and well done kids movie built around video games.  (Put like that, it’s a wonder no one had made it before now.)  It’s great for kids and adults who like animation, but it isn’t a mainstream crossover movie like the better offerings of Pixar and Dreamworks. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Wreck-It Ralph:

The Hobbit – Semi-serious question, which is going to finish first, HBO’s ten or eleven seasons of Game of Thrones or Peter Jackson’s ever expanding Hobbit movies? 

Smurfs 2 – Don’t worry, this piece of shit will pass through theaters faster than fiber. 

Rise of the Guardians – You know, if the story is about a boy with special powers realizing how important he is, should he already have the magic powers at the beginning of the movie? 

The Croods – An animated movie about cavemen who leave the cave and go on an adventure.  These computer animated movies are all starting to look alike. 

Oz The Great And Powerful – Please, Disney, please stop showing me this trailer.  I’ll see the movie, I promise. 

Monsters, Inc. 3D – I like this movie, but there is no reason it needs to be converted into 3D and re-released in theaters. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

3 responses to “Wreck-It Ralph: Giving the Youth a Taste of Video Game History

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  1. Well, I see that I liked this movie a lot more than you did. I thought the female characters were more developed and interesting than in most movies and I really liked the themes, like with Fix-It Felix representing privilege (“I’d be able to fix things too if I had a magic hammer from my father” and the fact that Fix-It Felix was crushed by one rejection and expected Ralph to sympathize was amazing). I thought the Vanellope plot worked really well with current queer youth issues and I was relieved that the ending was satisfying on that particular metaphorical level (as opposed to her being fixed in the end, which I was worried would happen).

    • I did like the movie, I just felt a little frustrated by the way they kept leaving some of the more interesting possibilities of the world they created unexplored. I mean, Qbert and company were begging in the street. That’s pretty harsh, but they just blow past it and drop in a line about it at the end. I know it’s a kids movie, but I don’t see why they couldn’t have fleshed the world out a bit more.

      Totally agree on both Lynch and Silverman getting characters who were far more interesting than your usual female movie roles. And yeah, it was a little worrisome when Silverman pops into her princess outfit at the end, but it didn’t last long. Glad to hear you liked it.

      Charlie Sweatpants
  2. I loved the shit out of this movie, it was a lot of fun. It did toy with a lot of darker themes, and they could have addressed them in more detail, but there were a fair amount of dramatic moments. When Ralph is smashing up the car and Silverman is screaming and crying… I was stunned at how hardcore they played out that scene.

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