…Aww heck, I'm going to skip my usual "I was apprehensive of this movie because I'm a cynical bitch" speech and cut to the chase; this movie kicked ass. Disney reached its goal, it's 1-up, its achievement trophy, its experience points, it's, bah, you get the drill.
Wreck-It Ralph stars the eponymous "bad guy" Ralph, main antagonist of the 8-bit arcade game, Fix-It Felix Jr. After thirty years of suffering under a role where no one appreciates him, Ralph tries to avert status quo and force his way into a party inside the apartment complex (where Felix Jr. and the other game NPCs reside). Immediately declared a nuisance, the head of the apartment complex tells Ralph (rather facetiously) that the only way he can join their posse is if he wins a medal, something only "heroes" get. Desperate to leave his designated role, Ralph takes the challenge and sneaks into a different game—first person shooter Hero's Duty. Unfortunately he accidentally ends up creating a mess of things that changes the outcome of their little arcade world.
After I learned the main plot and premise of Wreck-It Ralph, my immediate thought traced its roots to Game Over. No, not the video game term; I mean the short-lived CGi series that aired in UPN way back in 2004. Game Over was, from what I remember, hyped pretty damn well as an exciting and innovative series exploring the lives of a family who happen to be game characters. The gimmick was to see how video game characters lived when they aren't in the actual games. I've kind of wanted to talk about this series for a bit now and I realize this review is as perfect time as any because let me tell ya; Game Over suuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. Granted, I only saw like two episodes out of six, but it's an obscure series that got cancelled in just six episodes because it's not worth seeing even because it suuuuuuuuucks. I bring this up because I want to compare and contrast what Wreck-It Ralph did excellently that Game Over could not even attempt to. I also just found out Hulu Plus actually has all six episodes of Game Over up. I'd say I'm tempt to revisit it to see if my opinion from '04 still holds, but I'd rather stick my hand in a beehive than fork over a subscription fee to watch that travesty)
1.) When Wreck-It Ralph make video game references, it's well researched and well placed within the structure of the story: One of the biggest flaws of Game Over—and by which I mean its first episode alone—is that they fall under the trap of pulling video game jokes and references from out of nowhere without any context or justification. The biggest one that I remember is Tommy Vercetti from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City appearing offscreen, punching the main father figure, and then running off. The father then lamely jokes, "What is this? Grand Theft Auto?" Okay, first of all; there was no setup for this joke. Secondly, name dropping the game title absolutely does not work in said context if all you do is introduce the character, have him wordlessly punch a guy out of random, and leave. It also doesn't work as a joke because "grand theft auto" does not mean "punch a guy in the face." It means "steal a goddamn car."
There are a bushel of cameos of actual video game characters in Wreck-It Ralph (the staff must really love Street Fighter) as well as a number of references to video games itself. The entire thing could have been milked to push the movie without any significant talent to the overall plot. It could have just been nothing but pointless cameos and shoehorned roles of famous video game characters in an attempt to cash-in, but Wreck-It Ralph is so much better than that.
Every cameos and references makes sense or has their placement in the overall world. The biggest is likely the crowd shots (which I'd buy the DVD just to freeze frame), but the ones who have a slightly larger role all serve purposes that push the plot. The various bad guys (ranging from Dr. Eggman, Bowser, Zanghief, etc.) contribute and elaborate the complications of the role Ralph is forced to play. Q*Bert and his buddies exemplifies what happens to video game characters whose arcade cabinet has been broken down and taken away, leaving them homeless (and later, they help Felix locate Ralph). At one point, you see Sonic in a PSA commercial delivering a very important message on the life and death of video game characters that is absolutely crucial to the plot.
Then there are the other shout outs the creators snuck like the Konami code needed to enter a secret code room by King Candy. There's a small blink-and-miss-it scene where Sonic loses his rings when Ralph's ship accidentally crashes him. "Aerith Lives" graces a wall as graffiti and so forth. There's tons more I likely missed. It's clear they paid a lot of attention on how to adjust these characters into the story without overtaking it or overshadowing the central protagonists. The rest are sprinkled as blink-and-miss it moments for the gaming fans to point out that serves as visual treats.
2.) They obviously know their video games: Really, when I saw the main characters of Game Over, I kept wondering what was remotely "video game" about them? Only half the main cast remotely fit in that definition and I mean that in a loose term. Dad is a race car driver which I can slide and only say it wouldn't work now because Gran Turismo and its ilk aren't as popular as it is now. Mom is the Lara Croft character—the closest to actually fit the archetype. Kids…what the hell are the fucking kids? Daughter is the typical moody straw feminist protester and son wants to be a…rapper? And for some reason they also have a…walrus…dog... thing...with a Mohawk whose attitude is clearly molded from Bender's Futurama only with 40% less cool. Game Over isn't about video game characters; it's a family sitcom dressed with video game whatzit because they couldn't pull their gimmick and actually take advantage of it.
Wreck-It Ralph damn well did their homework. One glimpse of the Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade game is enough to get an idea of how much love and attention the creators gave. The premise is classic '80s; fix the windows and dethrone the villain. The graphical tone, the simplistic gameplay, the clear homage to Donkey Kong is incredibly faithful to video games of yesteryear. Even the ways the Nicelanders move (with limited movements) is reminiscent of their gaming nature. Both Sugar Rush and Hero's Duty (a title I cannot believe an actual first person shooter has not utilized because it's exactly the kind of blunt, straightforward wording the genre would pull off) are just as appropriate. Importantly, you can see the contrast amongst the three major game worlds. Cute, midget Strawberry Shortcakes-ish racers overtake Sugar Rush. Hero's Duty is more realistic in tone. Look at the armors the soldiers don and compare the amount of details in comparison to the simpler kewpie dolls of Sugar Rush. Then compare that to the stunted, square residences of Fix-it Felix Jr. This isn't just video gaming, it's a visual animation treat.
I'd say the only real flaw I have amongst the three is that we spent most of the time in Sugar Rush's world and not enough with the others. Variety is there, but it's also kind of lacking at the same time. The reasons are largely justified since the plot focuses primarily on Ralph's dilemma and his bond with Vanellope. Plus the developers admitted adding more worlds would convoluted matters.
3.) We give a flying shit about the characters: Because I sure as hell didn't care about the craaaazy antics of a perverted purple manatee.
On the surface, it's "Be Yourself" trope is straightforward and expected. Ralph is initially disdained at his destructive abilities, but we know he'll eventually value his ability to create havoc (and it's this exact quality that manages to save the day), but digging deeper reveals the layers that adds much more to its already vivid characters. Status Quo plays an important and thematic role in the film. All the game characters are expected to play a certain role over and over because it's their job—their very nature. Going against said quo is often depicted as an omen and considered a visible high risk. Indeed, from a visual standpoint, it's the terrifying orange/red glow of the "Out of Order" sign that potentially signifies the final days of their gaming cabinet. There's only two outcomes of the characters' fate: exit the cabinet and live without a home (most of them dwell in the Central Game Station; a train station/hubworld for the arcade residences) or stay and perish. *shudders* To leave and pursue otherwise is already opening up a big can of worm or "going Turbo" as various game characters spout. This is a phrase they say all throughout the movie and it comes back in a BIG way.
While Ralph does embrace who he is and returns to his role (and return everything to normal), it's so much more than that. The characters all change for the better and reach a level of understanding and improvement that betters their lives in the process.
The beginning of the film has Ralph and Felix Jr. on shaky grounds, but not out of malice from each other. If anything, they seem to act like people you know from work, but aren't particularly close. Look how uncomfortable Felix Jr. feels when Ralph asks for an invite. He's not trying to be mean, but he may be sticking to the status quo. There's also that awkwardness of working alongside someone for years, but never really attempting to get to know them better. Eventually we learn he's really just oblivious to Ralph's problem. Felix Jr. never realized the significant issue Ralph had kept bottled inside until he finally bursts it out. Felix does realize how problematic this is and honestly feels genuine remorse. Course, it helps that he's portrayed as the nice guy. He speaks in that "gosh darn it" kind of manner that's absolutely adorable. A good visual tic of his is him taking off his hat whenever he greets someone like a gentleman. His feel good nature is a direct contrast to Sergeant Calhoun; leader of an army crew in Hero's Duty.
She's easily the best damn character in the movie. Calhoun is tough, no-nonsense, and verbally smacks her crew down ("Doomsday and Armageddon had a baby and it…is…ugly!" is a line I need to use now) as much as she'd punch some sense into them. Programmed with a tragic past that involved a dead fiancée (eaten by the alien Cy-bugs on their wedding day no less), she is visibly annoyed with Felix at first before realizing his handiness. He's probably that sunny spot she needed in her life and though I think their romance was a little underplayed; their overall interaction was amusingly adorable all the same.
If I felt the pacing of Calhoun and Felix's romance was a bit underwhelming, Ralph and Vanellope's friendship is anything but. The growth between the two is so fluent and organic. What started off as heated irritation when Vanellope ran off with Ralph's medal turns into vitriolic partners, close buddies, and eventually lasting friends. Vanellope's childishness was annoying at first, but it quickly deteriorate the more we got to her situation and past.
And boy howdy, it is a doozy. I mentioned "Going Turbo" earlier, yes? The term is frequently mentioned throughout the movie until we get a flashback explaining what it really means. Turbo was the star of his own 80s racing arcade game. He adored the attention that when his game was overshadowed by another, he game-hopped there to steal the spotlight. This caused both game cabinets to be shut down. I figured that's all we'd ever see of Turbo; he served his role as a brief important explanation until NOPE KING CANDY IS FUCKING TURBO. Mind, BTW, was blown. What I assumed was just a one-shot flashback character needed for exposition turned out to be the final goddamn boss and it is awesome. I was already impressed with the movie before that, but the plot twist made it even better.
All the major characters are well-developed and possess great personalities and interaction. By the end, everyone changes for the better and get their happy ending. The way they solve their problems is so good, so rewarding. None of these feel cheap and they especially follow the rules of their world wonderfully in the process. Congrats, Wreck-It Ralph, a winner is you.
…No, I do not regret the terrible game puns.
AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE
Accompanying he movie is the short film Paperman. It's the story of a man who meets a beautiful woman by the train station and tries his damnest to catch her attention via paper airplanes. I admit the reason I wanted to see Wreck-It Ralph first was simply for this. Even if the main feature sucked, Paperman would be worth viewing solely for the animation. Nevermind my love for old timey early 20th century eras or the effective black and white (and a small dose of red which symbolically remains the significant color of the film) cinematography—the animation is simply damn gorgeous. Using a 2D/3D combo, they take the best of both worlds and flawlessly blend the two into a concoction of epic pretty. The characters and environment move so smoothly and effectively. If this is a sign of future animation, I'm all for it. I'm hoping for more of these.
Also, the music is reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally gorgeous.
OUT OF FIVE
Discovery (A Transformers Animated Fancomic): Read the entire thing here. More updated as the series progresses. Placed there for archival purpose.
Chess Piece (A Danny Phantom Fancomic):
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