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Review: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Directed by: Rich Moore

Premise: An animated film. Taking place inside the world of video games, the villain of a Donkey Kong-like arcade game (voice of John C. Reilly) tires of being the bad guy and travels into the worlds of other games.

What Works: Wreck-It Ralph combines the conceit of TRON with the tone of Shrek and it is a successful blend. This is a computer animated film from Walt Disney Animation Studios and it sits comfortably between the artistry of Pixar films like Toy Story and the corporate products of DreamWorks Animation like Madagascar. Wreck-It Ralph has the industrial qualities of DreamWorks Animation features as it is filled with product placements and is constructed within a fairly safe and creatively conservative framework but at times it treads on the skill and maturity that have distinguished Pixar’s films. The title character is fully realized and the story gives him a compelling, if familiar, personal conflict. Ralph is the kind of character who has hit a midlife crisis and he feels as though his life has plateaued. The filmmakers set their hero on a journey in which he proves to himself and others that he has value and in the process gains new perspective on his life. This story formula has been seen before in animated films like Shrek Forever After and Despicable Me but Wreck-It Ralph does it better than most others. The film also manages to include some other amusing twists and turns with its supporting characters. The hero of Ralph’s game is Fix-It Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer) and in his pursuit of Ralph he falls for a woman from a first person shooter game (voice of Jane Lynch). The story also takes some smart and unexpected story turns in its finale which are made possible by the way that the filmmakers’ cleverly devise this world of video game characters and environments.  Wreck-It Ralph mixes visuals of classic and contemporary video games in a way that is charming and the visuals are sometimes impressive, especially in the climax. 

What Doesn’t: Wreck-It Ralph comes up short in its scope. The story world allows for a lot of possibilities but the film only takes place within the world of three games. In that respect, Wreck-It Ralph disappoints because it hints at a rich world of old and new video game characters and environments but the filmmakers do not take full advantage of their premise. The film also has some problems with its tone. Like a lot of animated movies, the intended audience of Wreck-It Ralph is children and their parents but the film sometimes shifts too decisively in its appeal to one viewership or the other. Some of this has to do with generational shifts in animation and storytelling. The bulk of the story takes place in a “Candyland”-like racing game that will be familiar to younger viewers. This confectionary environment is nauseating at times and Ralph’s ally here, a racer voiced by Sarah Silverman, gets obnoxious. Wreck-It Ralph may also alienate its younger viewers with its many references to retro video games like Q*bert and Street Fighter.  These cameos are likely to go over the heads of viewers under the age of thirty. That won’t impact younger viewer’s ability to follow the story but it may confuse them at times.  

Bottom Line: Wreck-It Ralph is a solid piece of mainstream entertainment. It does not do much to advance the art of animation but it is a very enjoyable film.

Episode: #414 (November 11, 2012)