First things first, I’m a gamer. So I was probably predisposed to like this film, steeped in video game culture as it is. What I didn’t expect that it would be as moving and as sweet a film you’ll see this side of Pixar while also being as subversive as the best Dreamworks animations.
Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of Ralph, the bad guy in a video game called “Fix It Felix Jr.” He’s unhappy with his role in life, as he only ever known as the bad guy. He attends Bad Anon, a support group for fellow antagonists, who tell him just because is a bad guy in the game, doesn’t make him a bad guy. When Ralph gets his chance to achieve the respect of his peers, by game hopping into other arcade machines (via the extension cord/Game Central Station; very clever) he jumps at the chance to win a medal that he hopes will gain him the respect he craves. Along the way he meets Vanellope Von Schweetz, a character also ostracised from her own game and the two work together to win their medal.
On the surface the message of the film is one that has been done in previous Disney films many times before, that you should always be yourself, but it’s done with such sweetness and a lightness of touch that it doesn’t feel false or too saccharine (a good thing too, because the Sugar Rush world could give you cavities just looking at it). Vanellope’s ‘glitch’ could be interpreted as any number of things and I thought it was a nice touch that made her character relatable to any young ones in a similar frame of mind.
The world the film creates as well is beautifully realised with the previously mentioned Game Central Station being an inspired idea, but there are so many little in jokes and game references that I would need a second or maybe third watch to spot them all. A particular favourite was the location of the Bad Anon, and the mechanics of a First Person Shooter, and the Metal Gear Solid reference as well as the movements of all the characters in “Fix It Felix Jr.” I could go on but I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises. And you’re probably not half as nerdy as me.
The voice cast is fantastic across the board; John C Reilly gives Ralph a world weariness but also an sweetness as well, Sarah Silverman (in possession of an already childlike voice) makes you love Vanellope when she could be very very annoying, Jack McBrayer repeats his 30 Rock schtick but it works for the goody two shoes Fix It Felix, and Jane Lynch is outstanding as the no nonsense military gal, ‘programmed with the most tragic backstory ever’ from the war game “Hero’s Duty,” a neat riff on the Call of Duty franchise one assumes. As Ralph puts it, ‘When did video games get so violent and scary?’
Overall, it’s smart, gorgeous to look at with a vibrant colour palette and some of the best animated set pieces in recent memory. And also, for a gamer like me there’s loads of fun watching game characters clock off for the night and see them retreat to the local bar.
Oh, and stick around for the credits. Some more visuals treats and gaming easter eggs to be found there too.
Also, make sure you get there early, as there’s a Disney short before the main feature called ‘Paperman.’ Wordless, done in the style of old Disney animation and just a wonderful piece of storytelling.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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