Wreck-It Ralph: 8-Bit Nostalgia and Product Placement

Over the past couple of decades, the primary location where video games are played has shifted from the arcade to the living room, and while the graphics may be improved, the nostalgia for those quarter-to-play games remains. Wreck-It Ralph taps into this nostalgia and focuses on the characters living inside the arcade-games, particularly Wreck-It Ralph, the bad guy of the game Fix-It Felix Jr.. The film is produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, and directed by Rich Moore. The voice cast includes John C. Reilly as the titular Ralph, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Ed O’Neill, and Dennis Haysbert.

Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is your typical arcade villain, he spends his days wrecking buildings that are destined to be fixed by Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), and he spends his nights alone living in the junkyard while all of the other residents of the game live in a cushy apartment building. After going to a Bad-Anon (Bad Guys Anonymous) meeting, Ralph’s frustration with his lot in life builds to the point where he barges in on a party for all the citizens of the game, except for him of course. He then heads off to the central hub where all of the game characters from the arcade can mingle in order to find a game where he can finally gain some respect, and a shiny medal. After a mishap in a shoot-em-up game, he winds up in a Candyland inspired racing game where he must team-up with a glitching little girl, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who just wants to race. But a malicious King Candy (Alan Tudyk) desperately wants to keep Vanellope away from the racetrack, and isn’t afraid to go through Ralph to do so.

Wreck-it_Ralph

The voice-acting of Wreck-It Ralph is top notch, particularly the work of John C. Reilly in the title role. Reilly is one of the most underrated actors working today, able to be incredibly subtle while doing some outlandish comedy. His voice is naturally downtrodden, in fact I can’t recall one of his characters that is not at least a little bit depressed, so his casting as the frustrated and (wait for it) depressed Ralph was ideal. Reilly’s work is strong throughout Wreck-It Ralph, and his work anchors a film whose plot could have easily ended up being a framing device for sight-gags.

Sarah Silverman, as the intriguingly named Vanellope, straddles the fine line of endearing and cloying when playing (voicing) spunky children. The character is surprisingly well-developed for a child in an animated film, but she is onscreen a little bit too much, and her antics get old rather quickly. Though, it must be said that she is an easy character to support. Jack McBrayer, of 30 Rock fame, is cast in yet another goody-goody role as the hero to Ralph’s villain. He is good-natured, but frustratingly naive about the ways of the world and the manner in which he treats Ralph.

wreck-it-ralph-title

Jane Lynch provides most of the funny one-liners in the film as a hardened soldier programmed with the most tragic back-story ever (the only day she didn’t check the perimeter was her wedding day…). Her character is the stereotypical gruff, competent soldier type so common in just about every narrative medium, but it is very funny. Alan Tudyk plays the villainous King Candy and goes for broke with the over the top performance, but he is effective, and actually quite menacing, despite the pitch of his voice.

The animation is, as is the case with most 3D animated films these days, superb and detailed. The sequences of 8-Bit animation give the film a large modicum of charm that many of the computer-animated films released these days lack. Having all of the characters exist in different arcade games allows for a variation of designs of the characters that actually makes sense, from the exaggerated features of those in Fix-It Felix Jr., to the anatomically correct sort-of-realism of those from Hero’s Duty, and just about everything in between (Pac-ManStreetfighter!). And for once, the vast variations fit the story, and don’t distract from it. The settings are all detailed and visually resplendent, but none of them are all that interesting. It is either a town, or a battlefield, or “Candyland.” The central hub where all of the different characters is much more interesting, if less elaborate, but very little time is spent there.

Wrecking-It in multiple languages.

Wrecking-It in multiple languages.

The story of Wreck-It Ralph is surprisingly complicated for an animated family film, but the execution of some aspects of the story-line, particularly in the third act, leaves a lot to be desired. Wreck-It Ralph is yet another animated film to end with an extended chase sequence, which may look pretty but are almost never tonally consistent. The ending of the film also redefines what it means to have a happy ending. I am, in general, not anywhere near a fan of endings that wrap up everything in a neat little bow, and that definitely holds true here. I liked the film, I truly did, but that doesn’t change the fact that the ending was sweet enough to give me a headache (context: really sweet things tend to give me headaches).

Wreck-It Ralph is worth watching if only for the constant stream of references and homages to other arcade games. I couldn’t help but to get a kick out seeing Clyde, one of the ghosts from Pac-Man, running a support group for the antagonists of various games found in the arcade. Or seeing Ryu and Ken (from Streetfighter) going out for drinks after a long day of fighting on the streets (sorry for the wordplay). In this way, Wreck-It Ralph is not dissimilar from the Toy Story series which featured a plethora of various different toys both as characters and as cameos.

Wreck-It Ralph is a very fun, very well-made and well voice-acted animated feature from the people at Disney, the concept lends itself to visual splendor and Wreck-It Ralph delivered on that promise. This is not a great film, the story is too easily resolved and the plot is more than a little bit hectic, but it is definitely worth watching, for both children and adults, who will probably actually get more out of it than younger viewers.

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