Nov 12, 2012

[Movies] Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

If it was not already apparent to you readers of this blog, I'm quite the gaming geek. And while I don't get play as much as I'd like to given my work schedule and other obligations, I do make sure to invest time when I can. And I have been playing games of different kinds over the years, dating back to my much younger years.

The 1980's is a period celebrated for so many reason. It seems that the culture of the period was either so rich or just so fondly remembered by lived during those years, that it has become a distinct aesthetic on its own. And while we often talk about the joys of the music and the movies of this particular era, the video games were also nicely distinct and never forgotten.

Wreck-It Ralph is an interesting first project for the new Disney, now that you have John Lasseter as Chief Creative Officer of the unifed Disney-Pixar. And while this animated feature comes from the Disney side of the fence, it clearly shows the influence of Lasseter's influence on the company.

And while this wasn't quite a knock-it-out-of-the-park kind of movie on the level o the Pixar releases, it does show an interesting return to greater things for the core Disney studios. And the movie works, and it's not just because it features classic video game characters.

Synopsis: Wreck-It Ralph is a 2012 CGI-animated featured released by Walt Disney Pictures. The movie was directed by Rich Moore with a screenplay by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee.

The movie brings us to the world beyond what we see at the video game arcades - the secret lives of the various video game characters that populate the various games and respond to our commands. At the center of things is Ralph (John C. Reilly), the building-destroying villain for the fictionally classic video game Fix-It Felix, Jr. Ralph is frustrated with his life of being the bad guy and constantly ridiculed and marginalized by the other residents of his game - the Nicelanders. Everyone praises Felix (Jack McBrayer) and celebrates his many victories while Ralph lives in the dump.

So Ralph decides to try and change his fate by aspiring to get a medal that is better than any of the medals that Felix has earned over the years. But in order to do this, he decides to leave his game and explore other game environments to see if he can  find a medal for himself. And this takes him to other game worlds like the military shooter Hero's Duty and the candy-themed racing game Sugar Rush. And there he meets a wide variety of characters, all while he continues to aspire to become the good guy for a change.

There are a large number of things that I love about this movie, and it's a little hard to determine where exactly I want to begin. And while the movie wasn't necessarily perfect, it was still quite the entertaining adventure.

First, we need to praise the overall quality of the animation and the nuances of what had been done to bring the various characters and worlds to life. I totally love how they interpreted the 1980's 8-bit gaming aesthetic. It's one thing to merely paint the characters as 8-bit pixelated sprites. It's another thing to not just make them look slightly less refined compared to other characters, but also to given them a weird frame-skipping jerky movement style that tries to illustrate the differences between the old games and current creations. It's hard to describe in words - you just need to see it in terms of how the various Nicelanders move around.

Ralph made for an interesting leading character. We know he's a "bad guy" but he's still a very likable character. His frustrations are still pretty reasonable and I'm sure we can all see why he was pushed over the edge, as it were. But instead of just going on a homicidal rage of sorts, we have him trying to apply his destructive powers towards something good. Or at least something that is still productive.

I'm not too big a fan of the bilk of the supporting cast. Sure, the Nicelanders are fun as a collective group and I can respect the need for Vanellope Van Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) but I really don't understand the point of Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and almost the entire Hero's Duty world. Sure, it's a key part of Ralph's journey to somehow acquire a medal for himself. But to build up Calhoun the way that they did and to have her on-screen so much didn't seem all that key to the plot. And while I love Jane Lynch a lot, she didn't seem to serve all that much function in the movie beyond being, well, Jane Lynch.

It's quite delightful that the movie is filled with a wide variety of video game character cameos all throughout. And while I'm sure a lot of us hoped to see the likes of Mario and Luigi sharing some screen time, understandably the licensing costs were probably ridiculous. Still, it doesn't meant that the appearances of the likes of Cylde (Kevin Deters) and the rest of the Pac-Man ghosts and of course the surprisingly introspective Zangief (Rich Moore) to name a few. And I'm sure a lot of geeks will be analyzing the diverse sequences set in the central terminal to spot even more cameos. Such geeky fun!

The movie dose have some surprising plot twists towards the end, but overall it remains a very child-friendly adventure. The bulk of the story does take place in the sugary sweet Sugar Rush game world and that can be rather tiring on the eyes. And while they put effort into keeping things fairly interesting, one can't help but wish that they had tried involving the other worlds some more.

Wreck-It Ralph is a great return to better movies for Disney and it gives me a lot of hope for the studio's future, beyond the Pixar creations of course. Thus the movie gets a fun 4 snippets of unintelligible dialog from Q*bert out of a possible 5.

And I really enjoyed the short film Paperman shown before the main feature. While aspects of the story seem re-hashed from a number of short films that are already on YouTube, it's still a nice story and a nice addition to Disney productions moving forward if they continue to feature a new cartooning talent like this.

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