Monday, November 05, 2012

wreck-it ralph is actually ... a lot of fun

I must admit that I had been seriously dreading having to see the new Disney animated film Wreck-it Ralph. From the first glimpse of its noisy, annoying preview I was convinced that it was the equivalent of having to spend time with a bunch of other people's kids on a sugar rush — not my favorite scene. But as a mom, one must make sacrifices for their child, and my daughter had been as enchanted by the preview as I had been repulsed. So we set off for the theater for a Saturday matinee and I resigned myself to 90 minutes of torture.

Imagine my surprise when Wreck-it Ralph turned out to not only not be a non-stop aural assault but actually entertaining. Thanks to some clever references to vintage arcade games the film is a treat for not just the kiddies but adults who have spent time with Pac-man, Mario, Street Fighter, and many other games over the years. Director Rich Moore, who has previously worked in television, on The Simpsons and Futurama, wisely amped up the nostalgia factor, and even though one of the main fictional video games featured in the film is called Sugar Rush, Wreck-it Ralph is not too saccharine an experience.

Ralph and Felix (top) as they appear in their game, and (below) in their own world behind the arcade screen

The only caveat is that the movie is probably not suitable for the under-7 crowd, as there is plenty of "cartoon violence." So the viewing guidelines for Wreck-it Ralph would be similar to the signs posted on the games in the arcade— which are frequently ignored. Suffice it to say that during a sequence featuring Glee's Jane Lynch as a tough-as-nails commando, Sergeant Calhoun, in a game called Hero's Glory, which closely resembles the uber-violent movie Starship Troopers, a few crying babes had to be hustled out by their parents.

The premise of the film is simple. Ralph is tired of being the bad guy, not only in his game, where his job is to wreck a high-rise apartment building that is then fixed by the handy Fix-it Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer), but after the arcade closes, when the rest of his game characters shun him because of his villain status. Wreck-it Ralph's message of "being yourself" is a good one, but what really makes it enjoyable are the stunning visuals and great voice-work by its cast. John C. Reilly really carries the movie as Ralph. His voice has always been expressive, and it doesn't fail to do so here, as his character nimbly straddles the hero/bad guy tightrope. Reilly apparently had so much input on the film that he even earned a story credit. Sarah Silverman is fine as Ralph's glitchy friend Vanellope van Schweetz. And Alan Tudyk does a great Ed Wynn impression as King Candy.

arcade skee-ball
After seeing a movie about an arcade game where do you want to go? The arcade, of course.

But Wreck-it Ralph is strongest in its details: the herky-jerky movements of its characters mimicking how they look on an arcade screen, the range of graphics quality from game to game, the reward system that is built into games and how it effects the characters. After the lights go down at the arcade game characters can move from game to game, which makes for some fun mash-ups. All in all, Wreck-it Ralph is great fun. If your movie theater has its own arcade you can just extend the experience. An added bonus: Wreck-it Ralph is also preceded, a la Pixar, by a sweet animated short, the painterly Paperman.
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