Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly voice Vanellope and Ralph in Wreck-it Ralph.
Wreck-It Ralph is the best animated film Walt Disney has released in years that didn't come under the Pixar banner. It does however, have several things in common with a Pixar film, including computer animation and a concept that's vaguely reminiscent of Toy Story. It was also executive produced by John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar. It's a wonderfully entertaining story for small children and grown-ups with fond memories of arcades.
John C. Reilly voices the lead character, Wreck-It Ralph, the villain in an 8-bit arcade game inspired by Donkey Kong. For the video game characters, the game is their day job. While the arcade is open, they play their games, but when it closes, they go about their lives.
After 30 years of being the bad guy and living alone in the dump, while Fix-It Felix, the hero of the game, lives in a penthouse receiving accolades and medals, Ralph is feeling depressed. He's not even invited to the 30th anniversary party for the game, but when he gate crashes it anyway, he has a confrontation with the other game inhabitants where they agree that if Ralph can earn a medal of his own, they'll let him live in the apartment building with them. So Ralph sets off on a journey to win a reward that will hopefully help him find acceptance.
As Toy Story featured cameos of famous toys, so this film features cameos by famous arcade game characters. Bowser, Q*bert and Pac-man have larger cameos, but in the background there are plenty of blink or you'll miss them moments featuring characters like Frogger and Dig Dug, along with other more obscure characters. For grown-ups in the audience who remember playing these games as children, it's a real trip down memory lane.
Noticeably absent from the cameos are Mario and Luigi, which is reportedly due to the exorbitant licensing fee that Nintendo requested before they would allow them to appear, which Disney refused to pay. Given the amount of publicity Mario would get from this movie and given that Nintendo is soon to be launching a new game console, complete with Mario game, I say it's more Nintendo's loss than Disney's.
On Ralph's journey to earn his medal, he runs into young Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by Sarah Silverman. Vanellope is a video game character in Sugar Rush, a racing game with a candy theme. She's adorably annoying or annoyingly adorable, depending upon how you want to look at her. In any case, she's a scene stealer and the scenes between her and Ralph give the movie its heart as the two outcast misfits help each other feel wanted.
The rest of voice cast is also well done. Jane Lynch voices a tough space marine from a modern, first-person shooter game. Fix-it Felix, voiced by Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock, gives it his earnest best and the relationship between his character and Lynch's is worth a few laughs.
Fast paced and funny, Wreck-it Ralph is a delight from start to finish. It's the most fun I've had in a theater for quite a long time.
Ralph doing what he does best.
I agree that Wreck-It Ralph is a fast enough paced, entertaining piece of eye candy, but I was not so enamored with it as Scott. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that he has always been far more fascinated by video games than I. Sure I played some arcade games when I was young, but they never consumed much of my time or interest.
Since I am reminiscing here, I need to point out that at one time it was rare for an animated film to be released. When I was a kid we may have had one come out a year, at best. Today we get one every other month. With so many coming out, it is nearly pointless to even remark on how good or bad the animation even is, but I will. As Scott wrote, Ralph is from an 8-bit arcade game. This translates to the animation in the game being in tiny squares. Notice how the artists used them throughout the scenes in the Fix-It Felix JR game. The squares are in the architecture of the building's interior as well as the cake mess on Ralph.
Each game has its own look. Felix comments to Calhoun on how good her high definition makes her appear. Vanellope's world is entirely done in sweets, from candy cane trees to ice cream mountains. Her racing world is very much similar to Mario Kart, one of the few more recent games my sons have gotten me to play. Just don't get me started on Rainbow Road. Scott mentioned Mario and Luigi not making an appearance but at one point Felix does remark that Mario is probably late to his party.
The film makers clearly paid attention to details, and with that said, I have a couple of questions. Was that intended to be a pedophile shown entering the arcade? The owner is shown opening up for the day and inviting kids in and then makes a brief greeting to an old guy in plaid pants. I know it may seem like I am stretching but arcades were where parents often left their children alone. Perhaps the film makers are making a point that arcades were a pedo's playground?
Since I am already reading things into the movie, I may as well go so far as to ask if the bar that Ralph goes to, called Tapper, (based on an actual game) is intended to be a gay bar? No women are shown in it. The muscle guys from Street Fighter go there. Ralph finds a man's Speedo in the lost and found. While looking through the lost and found box, one of the street fighter guys is shown in the background going to some back room. I may be reading too much into things, but Disney animators have been known to plant subtle messages in their films.
Because I found myself distracted by things irrelevant to the actual plot shows that I was not entirely engrossed in the proceedings. Ralph is a "bad" guy who learns he has a purpose. I am not sure what the moral lesson is in that. We need criminals so heroes can do their job? Just because you do bad things does not mean you cannot still do good? Either way, the story is merely about acceptance, but it is not very well delivered. Ralph does not find acceptance from the other occupants in his game until his absence threatens their livelihood. Vanellope does not find acceptance until she becomes a princess. I guess the lesson is to bully other people into liking you? As Ralph learns to say at his Bad-Anonymous meetings, "I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good, and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be then me." I think Osama Bin Laden once also said that.
The four main characters in Wreck-It Ralph.
Scott, I would say the concept behind Wreck-It Ralph is more than “vaguely reminiscent of Toy Story”. The central conceit of these video game characters (cyber-toys, if you will) being actual living creatures is a direct rip-off of Toy Story. Eric, with the exception of the part where you sound like a paranoid conspiracy nut, I actually agree more with your opinion on this movie.
It is visually interesting but its message gets muddled along the way. It reminded me a bit of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Ralph and Vanellope are misfits living on the fringes of their society just like Rudolph and Herbie. And in both cases they are appreciated only when their absence causes a serious disruption in the lives of those who ostracized them in the first place. What kind of message is that?
Also like Eric, I was never a big video game fan, even as a young adult during the 80s. Sure I remember playing Frogger, Elevator Action, Pac-Man, Asteroids and Space Invaders (to name the first ones that come to mind) but like Eric I was never more than a casual player. Arcade time for me was more about being social than it was about the games.
The one reference that I got that neither of my brothers mentioned was the voice of King Candy. Alan Tudyk is obviously doing an Ed Wynn impression. For anyone who doesn't recognize the name, Ed Wynn was a comic actor who famously voiced the Mad Hatter in the classic animated Walt Disney version of Alice in Wonderland and he played the laughing Uncle Albert in the tea-party-on-the-ceiling sequence in Mary Poppins.
It has long been debated whether a fictionalized art form such as the movies leads societal trends or follows them. Here's food for thought in that regard. 2012 was the year that animated female characters stepped to the forefront as warriors/soldiers. Just look at tough-as-nails marine Calhoun so memorably voiced by Jane Lynch or think of Princess Merida and her mother in Brave. These are no shrinking violets. Now consider that just last month the Pentagon announced that female soldiers will now be allowed to take a more active role in combat missions.
Wreck-It Ralph is fun but a bit sugary for my tastes. Brave deserves to win the Oscar.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney (2012)