A long while back, around June, I made a post about Wreck-It Ralph–Disney’s 52nd animated film–and I will have to say that I was skeptical. Looking back at my first impressions of Ralph, I am quite proud, pleased to say that after watching the film on its opening day I can honestly say that I was wrong. Say what you will about Disney Animated Studio’s most recent works–things like Bolt, The Princess and the Frog, and Tangled— but Wreck-It Ralph is, by far, one of the best movies to come out of the studio in the last few years.
And it is through Ralph’s combination of superb artistry and strong story that makes this film definitely worthwhile.
Wreck-It Ralph is a story about lovable misfits trying to eke out a living in the world, a warning about making judgments, and the triumph of a “bad guy” who is not a “bad” guy at all. Misunderstood and unappreciated by his fellow NPCs within his own video game, Ralph embarks on a journey through various arcade games to win a “medal”–which hero characters earn, never villains–and prove once and for all that he is more than just a stock video game villain.
I know, it’s a “tried-and-true” plot because we all love watching misfits and outcasts win in the end, but Ralph takes this trope and handles it masterfully.
Because let’s face it, several animated films this year–specifically Pixar’s Brave–have outcasts ending up as heroes. However, as I have said before in my Brave post awhile back, there was something missing, something missing plot-wise that just did not add up. Yes, we have Merida, who is a great role model that seeks to break the royal boundaries imposed on her, however, Merida’s story was unfortunately dominated not by her emotional journey, but with antics and fight montages (and butts) that were somehow so integral to keeping audiences entertained that her struggle was put on the back-burner.
That is not how one handles the journey of the outcast to the hero; if the hero’s story alone is not powerful enough to draw the audience’s attention then you get an emotional flop.
However, this is not the case with Wreck-It Ralph.
As much as we love beautifully animated films, the story must also carry strongly throughout, and Ralph delivers when it comes to an emotionally invested story trained specifically on our heroic misfit. Ralph himself is a charming character–a video game villain who is tired of his life as the stock “bad guy” and who wants a little recognition for his seemingly thankless job. His “wrecking” abilities to destroy everything in sight is off-set by his kindness and his genuine desire to be a good guy.
It’s an admirable wish, it’s something that it’s easy to relate to, and it is a struggle that is followed throughout the film — unlike Brave with its liberal use of chase-scenes and action sequences meant to “wake up” the audience once in awhile, we’re trained mostly on Ralph and Ralph’s story is exciting enough to keep even the children in the audience spell-bound and occupied. We feel connected to Ralph because we are so invested in his story with little need to diverge towards the struggles of other characters.
Although, one should not forget that Ralph is buffered by a similarly charming cast of supporting characters. Accompanying Ralph on his journey is his heroic counterpart, Fix-It Felix, who tries to understand Ralph and his loneliness and often serves as our guide into the other perspective that continues to hold villains in contempt, or apart from hero and NPCs. We also have Sergeant Calhoun–who is excellently voiced by Jane Lynch–and her gritty homage to FPS and arguably the Mass Effect games actually puts her in the perfect position to be a source of comedic relief, entertaining action, and even exposition when necessary. And finally we have Vanellope, an equally lovable foil and mirror for Ralph and his outcast status. Her own struggle for acceptance in her game-world is as important to the plot as Ralph’s, and does not overshadow his triumph but actually justifies it.
Basically — there is much kudos to be shared with the writers for Wreck-It Ralph for their economic use of story-telling that not only keeps Ralph’s journey at the forefront, but also is able to tie-up loose ends, deliver exposition without boring the audience, provide necessary comic relief, and even give interesting roles to Ralph’s supporting characters that ultimately leads to a well-balanced story.
Ralph also succeeds in the art department, which still-frames do not do justice. Yes, a long while back I remarked that Ralph does not look revolutionary from still frames alone, but you have to watch Ralph in motion to really appreciate the detail and work put into this movie. As with a video-game, sometimes you need to “see it” to believe it — and what screen-caps floating around the net fail to capture is the way Ralph has successfully mimicked game interfaces and motion. For instance, Ralph’s 8-bit NPCS move with jerky, up-and-down motions in contrast to Sergeant Calhoun’s fluid motion and “high definition” details that characters remark upon. Essentially, the animated team deserves props for their dedication to style that goes beyond rendering models that “look” like they would fit in an arcade game, but also with an attention to movement and texture that is fitting for the characters themselves.
You also cannot forget the nostalgia factor that is driving Wreck-It Ralph. Can’t spoil too much here, but if you were an arcade junkie–like I was way back when–you may recognize a number of cameo characters that come from old arcade staples. Not to mention some of the video game and coding humor that had starshine and I snickering, although it might fly over the heads of kids in the audience, Disney is back again to their old game of inserting witty humor for adults in-between the explosions for kids.
Overall Wreck-It Ralph is a visual as well as an emotional experience — and definitely a movie that deserves accolades for its solid story, charming characters, and visual effects.
– Strong story that ties up loose details with a satisfying ending.
– Stunning visuals and creative use of movement for each character model.
– Charming characters and actual character development.
– Limited world-scope — we only get to see three games and not much else.
– Don’t go to an early showing if you want to avoid the kids.