Sunday, 9 February 2014

Wreck-It Ralph

Walt Disney Animation Studios 52nd feature and my personal favourite for nearly twenty years, Wreck-It Ralph is a love letter to the video game. Expertly combining cutting edge animation with 8-bit, 2D and classic arcade styles, the film is chock full of references and in jokes to the thirty or so years of the video games industry which it celebrates. The film tells the story of an arcade game villain who wants to be liked and leaves his own game, travelling to others in the hope of winning a medal. It’s this medal that he hopes will aid his inclusion with the good guys of his own game, Fix-It Felix, Jr. While outside this game, he enters the candy themed cart game Sugar Rush in which he meets a glitch who has struggles of her own.

Wreck-It Ralph is a sweet and funny film that rewards concentration and multiple watches but doesn’t alienate the casual viewer or gamer. As well as being targeted at those with specific game knowledge, it also features a surprisingly emotional plot and some likeable and well drawn characters. It cleverly appeals to both boys and girls with its combination of gender centric games and characters while mums and dads will get a lot of the references to gaming history that will go over the heads of younger audience members.

The animation is perhaps Wreck-It Ralph’s strongest area. It often unites several styles and eras in single shots and gently nods to the style of specific games through colour and character movement. The characters in Ralph’s game for instance move in a juddery, old-school manner, akin to that of their contemporaries whereas the more modern characters move with greater flow and consistency. Some retain the sort of floating nature that video game characters often have and some have that video game shine. Each character is wonderfully designed and crafted and looks exactly as you’d want them to. Because the film is set in the world of a video game arcade, it has an almost unlimited number of locations to make use of. This opens up the film for even more vibrant animation with the world of Sugar Rush being the brightest and most imaginative.

The excellent animation is coupled with fantastic sound design. In many respects, video game sound is more recognisable than animation and Wreck-It Ralph captures some of the most famous sounds in gaming history. They’re used to great effect and often placed at moments which add humour. In terms of comedy, the film is usually spot on. There are in-jokes such as characters walking aimlessly into walls and a plethora of puns and play on words. This is probably the funniest Disney animation I’ve seen for some time. Adding to the film’s sense of humour is a voice cast who fit their characters perfectly. John C. Reilly is excellent as Ralph, exhibiting his downtrodden and depressing existence as well as his overall grumpy demeanour. You always know though that there is a nice guy in there and he never plays the character as the bad guy. Sarah Silverman is perhaps a surprising casting choice for a children’s film but the bouncy enthusiasm of her character is matched by her voice. Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) and Jane Lynch (Glee) seem hand picked for their roles, playing characters who are very similar to those of their famous television work. Both work well though and have some nice back and forth.

As much as I enjoyed the animation, sounds and characters, I did find myself getting bored the further I got into the film. The initial conceit is excellent and the movie explores it fully but the longer we stayed in the world of Sugar Rush, the more bored I got. While I expect these scenes would have appealed more to a younger audience, I found much more enjoyment from the older style games as one would expect. Even so, there are still great moments in these scenes and it didn’t impact my overall enjoyment too much. Another slight problem I had with the film was the product placement. Although this is unavoidable due to the nature of the film, there were moments in which the 'camera' lingered on unnecessary fast food containers with logos prominently featured and a couple of characters are actually named after shops which have obviously paid to be featured. It's things like this that really annoy me when watching a movie, especially one targeted at children. 

Overall though, Wreck-It Ralph is a film which manages to appeal to many while alienating few and reminded me of so much of my childhood. Although it owes a great debt to Toy Story and takes a lot from existing ideas, games and companies, it remains highly original. It looks and sounds fantastic and is full of lovely ideas which are well executed. It could perhaps do with losing a few minutes here and there but its overall hit rate is higher than much that Disney have produced in recent years. 


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