Wreck-It Ralph is a frantic, hyper-active sugar rush to the head
240Wreck-It Ralph is a frantic, hyper-active sugar rush to the head that, despite having it's moments, fails to get the balance in it's narrative right. It's desperately trying to share the podium with Pixar, but can't quite manage to get it's footing right. It's a sweet-natured yet contrived alternative take on Toy Story, only it's target demographic is split towards the almost middle-aged, and the younger generations you might have assume it was aimed at.
The film has a definite message it wants to convey, but that message felt a little diluted and often smothered by eye candy and wow factor. It is original and enjoyable, but only up to a point. Beyond that, it's a little oafish, much like Ralph himself.
At the back of a noisy and inexplicably popular video game arcade, sits a retro, yet still inconceivably popular game called Fix-It Felix Jr. This game has been around for decades, and it's still going strong. After we've reconciled the fact that there's really no logical explanation as to why kids today still frequent such a place as a video game arcade, we grudgingly go along with the idea that even if there was such an explanation, that they'd want to play a game that was older than they were.
The premise of this game is simple. There's this guy with ridiculously huge forearms who, night after night, comes along and wrecks an apartment block. He's called “The Wreck-It guy” - or Ralph (John C. Reilly). He has a catchphrase - “I'm gonna wreck-it”. Felix Jr (Jack McBrayer) is the apartment block residents' saviour. Invariably, he shows up whenever the wreck it guy shows up, and he fixes Wreck-It Ralph's handy work. Felix Jr is beloved by the residents, and when the game is not being played and the arcade is closed, he and the residents from the video game get together for disco parties and cake and other lovely stuff. Guess who's not invited? Ralph, the Wreck-It guy.
Ralph feels increasingly hard done by, left out, alienated. Although he plays the bad guy, he's really just a big softy. But none of the residents tolerate him, and actively exclude him from their bourgeois soirees. Hurt and dejected, Ralph decides to “go turbo” - which is video game land speak for jumping out of your own game and into another – to try and prove to himself and the hoity toity residents of his own game that he is a good person. His mind set on bagging himself a winner's medal (a constant source of anguish as he watches Felix collect them time and time again after fixing things), he enters several games, such as, Hero's Duty and Pacman, before stumbling into the candy coloured world of a racing game in the arcade called Sugar Rush. Here, he meets an annoying and wholly frustrating little character called Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), whom he decides to help – much to my frustration. And so Ralph's journey of discovery and exploration takes him outside the realms of the game in which he has spent his entire life thus far.
So, the premise of the movie is actually ingenious. It's not a new idea, but the context in which it's delivered is, as I said, ingenious. It's basically Toy Story again, only instead of toys in a bedroom scenario, only coming out when the coast is clear, it's about video game characters having a life when the arcade closes and the kids go home. But to be honest, that's about as far as the narrative ingenuity goes. Beyond this re-hashing of Pixar's original idea, the whole thing is just a bit flat in all areas bar visuals (where it's eye-sizzlingly bright and colourful).
Sure it's got heart and it tries to promote morals, but there's only so much of that we can be expected to take, and when I'm hearing that prejudices are bad, m'kay? for the fiftieth time, it begins to wear you down a little. Despite John C. Reilly's endearing performance as the oafish brute who's as clumsy as you can imagine, Wreck-It Ralph is the same old moralistic brainwashing material we've been force-fed for years, and it doesn’t try to hide it. It has some clever nods to modern day social issues or subtle references to popular culture, but it just felt to me that it wasn't trying hard enough to be original. I can't be completely dismissive of it just because of that though, I can put up with it, just about.
The real issue for me was the way the balance of the movie is weighted. The fun parts are all too short, and the bright and mind-numbingly garish parts are all too prevalent and long winded. From the moment that Ralph steps into Sugar Rush, a neighbouring game in which colourful characters race around being cutesy and bright, I felt an ominous sense of foreboding that I was probably only going to get another ten or fifteen minutes of enjoyment out of this, and I'm sorry to say that I was right. From this point on, the movie actually becomes quite irritating, and woefully cliched. The narrative takes a dive, the jokes become utterly throwaway, and the toilet humour sinks to an all-time low.
Yeah, I know, it's a kids movie – and you're right, kids will probably love it – but beyond the bright colours and squeeky voices, there's really very little that even kids can take away from this because the message is so muddy and you're constantly distracted from it with visuals that, though beautifully rendered, completely overpower the movie. It's a sequence of blisteringly bright and colourful imagery, followed by a quick moralistic sermon on how to be a good person before diving head first into the next potty joke.
But despite my arguably miserable opinion on the above, it has got heart. It's inoffensive and mild and perfectly suitable for kids – I guess I just expected more from it as it was clearly aimed, at least in part, at my own generation who actually know what a video game arcade is. I felt a little let down that not enough of the comedy material felt like it was for me - perhaps we've been spoiled with other such material over the years like Toy Story and Monsters Inc. and even so recently as Tangled, which had plenty for the adults to get their giggles from.
With some decent performances from the likes of Reilly and Alan Tudyk, it's hard to be overly critical of this movie, and in fairness, I can't quite understand how Wreck-It Ralph could have been differentiated from Pixar's Brave, which took the oscar for best animated picture in the end. It's a close race between two fairly average movies that both look visually stunning.
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