Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph (2013) –  large_4

I like to consider myself something of a computer game nerd, so when I first heard about Wreck-It Ralph, my interest was immediately piqued. Then I saw the trailers and I was hooked. Then the positive reviews started pouring in and I couldn’t wait to see this film.

But that’s exactly what I had to do. I had to wait for the film to come out in this country. When it did finally arrive, four excruciating months after the US release date, me and my little brother practically ran to the cinema. Luckily, Wreck-It Ralph was worth the wait.

*

From the moment the film started, with its brilliant eight-bit Disney logo, it was clear that this was a film made for game lovers by game lovers, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a game lover to enjoy it. Whatever your relationship with arcade games, the film is still instantly enjoyable, with the big heart of classic Disney and action-pieces to thrill even a Michael Bay fan.

The reason the film is so accessible and enjoyable to everyone is because of the way the references to games are handled. It would have been far to easy to overload the film with cameos and sight-gags, cramming every available second with a loud and obvious reference. While this approach would have undoubtedly made several fan-boys wet themselves, it would have also alienated a large portion of the audience and the plot would have undoubtedly suffered, buried beneath all the winks and nudges.

Instead, apart from the opening ‘Bad-Anon’ meeting, the cameos are never at forefront of the film. They are left in the background for the people who get them to spot and enjoy (the ‘Aerith Lives’ graffiti was a personal favourite of mine). Mario is mentioned once in conversation, Sonic is seen in a public awareness message, and Pac-Man is a background character in one scene. These are some of the films ‘biggest’ cameos and they are handled with a mature and refreshing restraint that is present throughout the entire film.

*

Wreck-It Ralph is a visually stunning film, and is aided brilliantly by its use of 3D. Disney seem to be one of the few companies that are able to use the third dimension to enhance their films, rather then just exploit its gimmicky things-flying-out-of-the-screen side. Much like the jaw-dropping Tron Legacy, Wreck-It Ralph is a film that needs to be seen in 3D. The sheer depth of the film is astounding, with some sets, particularly Game Central Station, appearing at times to go on for miles. When the characters in the games look out at the real world, the colossal screen in the sky seems so ominously far away that the distance between them is practically palpable.

And it’s not just the visuals that are great. The film excels vocally as well. John C. Reilly is instantly loveable as the put-upon Ralph, optimistic and honest, he is easy to relate to as the man who just wants a little bit more out of his lot in life. Sarah Silverman keeps the motormouthed Vanellope von Schweetz on the right side of cute and, as she loudly says herself, she’s adorable. Fix-It Felix, Jr., the charming hero of his game, is excellently voiced by Jack McBrayer, playing the character as both naive, confident, and extremely likeable. Jane Lynch seems to be channelling Jennifer Hale’s Commander Shepard with her performance as Sergeant Calhoun, but that’s by no means a bad thing. And it’s always a thrill to see a Firefly alumnus appear in the top credits of a major movie, especially when it’s Alan Tudyk as the gloriously over-the-top King Candy.

*

The story is also very well handled. Ralph’s desire for more is sensitively handled and ensures that the audience is on his side. After setting up the story, things really jump up a notch when Ralph first game jumps into Hero’s Duty, a violent FPS that leads to a thrilling and hilariously frenetic action sequence. Then Ralph continuous on to the racing game, Sugar Rush, and the second half of the film plays out there.

Many critics seemed to think that the plot suffered hereby slowing down to an almost unbearable crawl. While I will admit that things do slow down in Sugar Rush, I don’t think it is enough to make the film suffer. Besides, after the zippy pace of the first half of the movie, it’s nice to get a little breathing space. Once Sugar Rush’s titular race starts, the pace soon speeds up again, roaring along like the race cars as all the plot stands converge for a heck of an action-packed finale.

Like most Disney films, Wreck-It Ralph wears its heart upon its sleeve, but I for one have never been bothered by their obvious sentimentality, and I am unashamed to say that were tears welling in my eyes at several points. But the film also makes sure everything is not too sugar-coated and is not afraid of going to some very dark places at times, and is even willing to take a few good-natured pot-shots at the Mouse House.

*

One of the things that actually impressed me the most was just how well advertised Wreck-It Ralph was. At the moment, there seems to be an unfortunate trend of revealing most of a film’s plot in its trailers. Wreck-It Ralph though, was a thankful antithesis to this trend. All I knew from the trailers was that Ralph had become disillusioned by his job as a villain, so as a result, went game jumping. I knew he went to a First-Person Shooter, and I knew he went to a racing game, and I knew that, in said racing game, he met a little girl. That was pretty much all that the many trailers told you, and that was all you needed to know about the film to decide whether or not you wanted to go and see it.

So imagine my surprise and excitement when things started happening that I had no idea about. I didn’t know just how important Hero’s Duty or Sugar Rush were going to be to the plot. I didn’t know that Felix went looking for Ralph, or that he teamed up with Calhoun. I didn’t know how important Vanellope was to the story or to Ralph’s journey. I didn’t know about the Cy-Bugs, about Turbo, or the danger that Ralph’s leaving puts his game into. Hell, I didn’t even know this film had a villain, and to keep something like that secret is bloody impressive.

Until I saw Wreck-It Ralph, I hadn’t actually realised how regularly films are spoiled by their advertising campaigns, but it was so refreshing to actually be surprise by the plot twists and the character developments. That thrill of the unknown definitely made the film so much more enjoyable.

*

Full of memorable performances, and dizzily brilliant set-pieces, Wreck-It Ralph is so much more than a love-letter to arcade games. It is a touching, funny, thrilling adventure that, like its main character, has a big heart and a strong moral centre. Another triumph for Disney.

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