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Warning: Cheats... erm, spoilers, follow.

It's tough work being a video game character - anybody who has ever died in Leisure Suit Larry would know. It's even tougher being a video game villain, as Wreck-It Ralph is discovering. Sick of living in a dump, being largely ignored for the game's hero (the eponymous Fix-It Felix jr.), and never being the hero himself, Ralph (John C. Reilly) decides to win a medal to try to win the respect of everybody in the video game world. This attempt goes awry and Ralph ends up in the sickeningly sweet go-karting game Sugar Rush. There he meets a glitch character called Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who is trying to live her dream of being a real racer, rather than just a glitch.

This film is a kids' movie, but honestly, I'd suggest it's a kids' movie for twentysomethings and thirtysomethings. Particularly those who were alive during the video game boom that came after the crash in the early 1980s. Though there are a lot of games and game references that kids will know (Pacman, Sonic the Hedgehog, and even a couple of Super Mario references thrown in), there is an awful lot of nostalgia. In fact, 8-bit games all but dominate the first fifteen minutes or so, with names like Frogger and Space Invaders getting cameo mentions, and the famous Konami Code also getting a sneaky mention.

Alright. Enough of the video game stuff. Serious vein now. Overall, I loved it. Nostalgia aside, the film had a good fun feel about it, for the most part. Of course, since the deuteragonist was a kid. I found myself laughing at quite a bit more than just the game references, and cringing at the slightly more cringeworthy moments - for example, when Felix's (Jack McBrayer) attempt to pick up Calhoun (Jane Lynch) with the line "You are one dynamite gal", ahem, blows up in his face. I enjoyed the voice acting quite a bit, particularly Alan Tudyk's work (I never knew he had an Ed Wynn1 impersonation in him!); I loved the writing, despite picking up on the twist at the end particularly quickly; I was very pleased with the visuals.

I'd have to say, though, my favourite part came nearer the start. For me, seeing Fix-It Felix Jr. running as a game, I realised that (apart from the in-game voiceovers) this is actually a game I would want to play.2 This told me one crucial thing: the filmmakers had actually done their homework. Nothing is worse than films with poor research, particularly to pedants like myself. But the game within the movie is simple, reminiscent of mid-to-late 1980s arcade games, and (apparently) a challenge and a half. In fact, full marks for all the games. I actually want to play Sugar Rush now.

Now, this is the part where I'm supposed to pan something within the movie. But what to pan? The only thing I can think of is the romance between Calhoun and Felix, but that's just me having been single for too long. The film is good for laughs, great for kids (especially if their parents are bringing them up on a healthy diet of Atari 2600 and Famicom games), and visually nice, with the obvious underlying theme of bullying (or, more correctly, anti-bullying) driving home a great message for everyone. Also, the film didn't outstay its welcome - approximately 100 minutes was a very good length for such a film.

This film rates 9.5/10 for me - much better than a lot of other kids' movies I've seen.


1I originally said Mel Brooks here. In my defence, I'd never heard of Ed Wynn before kthejoker and e2reneta both helpfully pointed this one out. Cheers to both of you!
2In all its 8-bit glory, Fix-It Felix Jr. has the setup of Wreck-It Ralph all but destroying an apartment complex. Felix has to then fix the broken bits with his magic hammer without getting hit by falling bricks and debris. Very reminiscent of Donkey Kong, in some respects.

Wreck-It Ralph is a 2012 Disney film, directed by Rich Moore. The story was written by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston and Jim Reardon, and the screenplay by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee. John C. Reilly is the voice of Ralph, Sarah Silverman is Vanellope and Jack McBrayer is Fix-It Felix Junior. Other notable performances come from Jane Lynch as Calhoun, Alan Tudyk as King Candy and Rich Moore as Sour Bill and Zangief.

On paper, Wreck-It Ralph is a superb idea for a film. A video game’s bad guy decides that he’s sick of being the villain and would like cake and a medal for a change, rather than being thrown off the top of the building he was trying to wreck. As there’s no medal available in his own game, he visits another game in the arcade (by travelling down the power cables) called ‘Hero’s Duty’ (cue lots of ‘duty’ jokes). Here, he does, indeed, find a medal. He also manages, accidentally, to pick up a ‘cybug’ (a nasty generic alien) and – whilst piloting an appropriated spaceship – crashes back through the power cables and into a third game, ‘Sugar Rush’, a rather cheesy racing game themed on candy (sweets, if you’re in the UK). The cybug escapes (and makes lots of little cybugs ready for the film’s climax), and Ralph loses his medal to Vanellope, a racer who – apparently – doesn’t really belong in the game at all, a glitch, who just wants to race. Ralph’s game can’t function properly without Ralph and so Fix-It Felix has to set out into ‘Hero’s Duty’ and ‘Sugar Rush’ in order to find him, picking up Calhoun – the cynical, hard-bitten commander from the shoot ’em up – as he does so. I won’t go any further for fear of spoiling the film… If you really don’t want to know anything more, then don’t read any further: it’s a perfectly enjoyable film. Go see it. You’ll like it.

And it is, too. It’s perfectly enjoyable. There’s a great deal to be vastly entertained by. John C. Reilly does an excellent job of making the film’s hero sort of lovable whilst at the same time clumsy and inadequate. Jack McBrayer does an admirable job of realising a 1950’s handy-man stereotype without making him too twee. The film is utterly stolen, though, by the sublime Sarah Silverman who makes Vanellope endearing, funny and quirky. She is a pleasure to listen to and watch, and her interaction with Ralph is great. King Candy is as annoying as hell, and really does feel as if he doesn’t fit in the game – which I guess is kind of the point. That doesn’t mean to say I’ve got to like him, though. I cringe whenever he speaks.

The animation is pretty much what you’d expect from a Disney film. It’s clear, crisp and cute without being too fuzzy and saccharine. The game worlds are all appropriate to their style of game, with the older games being less smooth and a little more old-fashioned: Fix-It Felix is a sort of Donkey Kong affair, really, with jerky movements and pixelated characters. There are loads of references to other games, too, and styles of animation: in fact, this is certainly one of the film’s strengths. Pac Man, Super Mario, Sonic, Q*Bert and so on, all have cameo roles.

The plot, though, doesn’t carry the film, which is a real shame, especially as it’s usually one of Disney’s strengths. The holes in this one are just too big. For a start, the premise that computer game characters can travel down power lines and into other games is clearly just a means to an end, but it throws up more problems than it solves. Characters can leave their games and visit other ones, but glitches can’t. It’s a really important part of the story, but there’s no explanation. It just has to be the case because otherwise Vanellope can escape, and there’s no film. Characters who die in games other than their own don’t regenerate. Why not? Because the film wouldn’t work otherwise. It is, of course, absolutely fine that Disney wanted the rules that way, but – because the whole premise is so arbitrary – it just makes the film seem a little too constructed. It’s as if the film was such a good idea on paper, the fact that it really didn’t work particularly well as a story didn’t matter very much.

Mind you, it seems a little petty to be arguing about such things. It’s just a film. If it’s enjoyable, then does it matter? No. Of course it doesn’t. But other things do…

Wreck-It Ralph’s real problem lies in its morality. Ralph is a bad guy. He does bad things: he wrecks an entire building whose residents haven’t really done anything wrong. He doesn’t want to be a bad guy any more. He wants to be praised and to have friends, and he sets out to do just that. At the end of the film, though, he has learned the truth behind the ‘Bad Guy’s Affirmation’, it’s good to be bad. And just because you’re a bad-guy, you don’t have to be a bad guy. In other words, then, you can’t change your role in life, but that doesn’t matter. So long as you fulfil your function, people will like you. Maybe it’s just me, but that, apart from seeming rather reactionary and conservative, makes no sense.

It also makes no sense in the film, either. Vanellope decides to fight against what she thinks her function is only to find out that she was right all along, and she is – in fact – the heroine of her game, not a bad guy (gal?). And the guy who looked like the good guy in the game? Yup – he was the bad guy, after all.

So – do we accept our fate and fulfil the function that life decrees for us or not? Should we strive to be the good guy? Or is it just better to get on with it and stay in our place? For a film which tries to use this as its central idea, it has curiously nothing to say about it. Okay. So, it’s only a film. But that’s not an excuse, or it shouldn’t be. Now, I could start talking about children, and morality, and the responsibility of films, but I’m not going to, not least because that’s a whole can of worms right there.

But when films don’t obey their own logic? That’s a problem which cuteness, fine voice acting, Sarah Silverman, and a whole cast of computer game icons just can’t solve.

 

Film information comes from imdb.com and the Blu-Ray box.

"I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good, and that's not bad. There is no one I would rather be. . . than me."

Wreck-It Ralph is Disney's 52nd animated film in the Disney Animated Canon. It was released November 2, 2012, and follows the story of a First-Generation-Donkey-Kong-esque arcade videogame villain named Wreck-It Ralph as he travels through different arcade game worlds, trying to become a hero and win a gold medallion. His motivation? To stick it to the little weebly-ass jerks who live in the apartment he is contractually obligated to destroy.

See, Ralph is from the game Fix-It Felix Jr, where the titular Felix goes and repairs an apartment building after Ralph destroys all the windows and things. It's literally just a job, but while Felix and the little people get to live in the really lush apartment building, Ralph is forced to sleep on a pile of rubble literally off-screen (for the videogame viewer). After not being invited to the game's 30th anniversary party, Ralph leaves his game entirely, going through the wires in search of a place where he can win a gold medal, mistakenly believing that if he wins a medal like Felix does every game, he will finally be accepted (or at least get to rub it in the head weebly-dude's face).

Along the way, Ralph accidentally winds up in a hardcore sci-fi first person shooter game called Hero's Duty and inadvertently and unknowingly releases a horde of alien devourers on the general gaming populace, causing the kickass soldier character Calhoun to hunt him down. Meanwhile, back at Fix-It Felix Jr, Ralph's absence has been noticed by the players; when they start up the game, nothing freaking happens. It's just Felix standing there awkwardly, waiting for Ralph to show up. The game gets labeled as Out of Order and the Fix-It crew realize what's happened: Ralph has gone Turbo. Turbo was a video game character who abandoned his game in search for others to conquer, and wound up getting his original game destroyed, killing everyone inside and leaving the escaping game characters homeless in the wires between games. Felix is sent by the Fix-It characters to find Ralph and bring him home before their arcade game is unplugged.

Ralph, meanwhile, has stumbled into Sugar Rush, a candyland-like racing game where he meets Vanellope, a girl who is glitched. She uncontrollably flickers out of existence and is treated like a pariah by the other racers and the game's leader, King Candy. Vanellope has stolen Ralph's medal, coercing him into helping her compete in the big race, and slowly a friendship is forged. But those cy-bugs are still on the loose, Calhoun is still gunning for Ralph's blood, Fix-It Felix is at risk of being taken down, and there's something awfully suspicious about King Candy and Vanellope's glitch...

Wreck-It Ralph is a great movie. The plot and characters are engaging, the writing is great, the visuals are breathtaking (as per the usual with Disney). The only complain I've heard are:

Halfway through it turns into a Vanellope movie. Her situation becomes the focus of the story, rather than Ralph's story, and he becomes a deuteragonist when we were expecting a straight protagonist. In fact, she so takes over that in Japan, the movie was actually advertised as her story, with Ralph as the side character and the movie was titled Sugar Rush.

The other complaint is the ending (SPOILERS).

Some people took umbrage with the film's message; namely don't try and better yourself or change your position. You are where you need to be for a reason.

On the whole, though, the film is the best one to come out in a long time. Unfortunately, despite the high opinions critics and audiences have of the film, Disney pretty much stopped marketing it. You're gonna be able to buy Frozen merchandise until the end of time, but this movie? I couldn't even find a Vanellope pin while I was at Disneyland, which is a damn shame because you KNOW the Sugar Rush area would make an awesome playset.

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