Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph / ***½ (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Ralph: John C. Reilly
Vanellope: Sarah Silverman
Felix: Jack McBrayer
Calhoun: Jane Lynch
King Candy: Alan Tudyk

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Rich Moore. Written by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee. Running time: 108 min. Rated PG (for some rude humor and mild action/violence).

I was never a big video game fan. I grew up in the era that brought video games out of the arcade and into the living room. I went to arcades as a kid, and that was a more exciting experience for me than playing them at home. It’s possible the filmmakers of the new Disney film “Wreck-It Ralph” are aware of how much more powerful an experience the arcade is than the home console since they set their adventure in an arcade. Whatever the thinking behind the setting of this movie, it was made with love, care and respect for the video games that have been popular throughout the 30 years that could be called the Renaissance of the video game. “Wreck-It Ralph” is a wonderfully affectionate adventure that works weather you’re a fan of video games or not.

The story takes place in a video game, or rather in several video games. Director Rich Moore and writer Phil Johnston imagine a world in which the different video game characters can leave their work places after the arcade has closed and interact with each other. They focus on the villain of an older video game not a far cry from the original “Donkey Kong”. His name is Wreck-It Ralph. He’s a big fisted ape of a man who causes destruction to an apartment building that is fixed by the game’s title character Fix-It Felix, Jr. Once he fixes all the destruction that Ralph causes, the building’s tenants throw Ralph off the roof.

After 30 years of faithfully performing his duty, Ralph is sick of being the bad guy. He attends a Bad Guys Anonymous meeting that is populated by some very recognizable bad guys from other video games, like “Pac-Man”, “Super Mario Bros.”, and “Street Fighter”. It’s details like the inclusion of these characters that work so well to immerse the audience into this video game world. Although I know relatively little about copyright law, I’m surprised Disney was willing get the rights to use so many actual video game characters. Q-Bert, Sonic the Hedgehog and many other classic arcade characters also make appearances.

Ralph decides to skip to other video games to see if he can win a medal to become a hero. The first game he tries out is a first person shooter game, ala “Halo”. There are some quite humorous moments as the quite monstrously built Ralph is frightened by the realism and violence found in modern video gaming. He wins his medal but is ejected from that game and finds himself transported to a girl and candy themed racing game called “Sugar Rush.” There he meets a tenacious little girl named Vanellope, who wants to become a racer in her game. Unfortunately for her, she’s a glitch; so everyone thinks if she races, the customers will think the game is broken and get them marked “out of order.”

The relationship formed between Ralph and Vanellope is where the heart of this movie lies, and what a big heart it is! Although, they get off to a rocky start due to their stand-offish outcast personalities, they soon come to realize they have more in common than not. They both want something they’re told they can’t have. They feed off of each other’s drive to become something else. Yet, it’s who they are that gives them their strength. It may not be an incredibly original message for a family film, but its very well delivered here.

Much of the success of these characters comes from the voice casting. John C. Reilly, who most people would recognize as Ricky Bobby’s best friend from “Talladega Nights”, is not your typical Disney hero. His oafish voice fits Ralph’s physical appearance, but also conveys an intelligence that no other character would suspect from the strongman. Sarah Silverman has a reputation as an offensive and controversial stand-up comic, but her little girly voice and instinctive irreverence inform the character of Vanellope more than a Miley Cyrus or Mila Kunis ever could.

Theirs aren’t the only fates being explored, however. In a subplot, Felix teams up with the female commander from the first person shooter game to search for Ralph and stop a bug from her game from destroying the “Sugar Rush” game. The two engage in an unlikely romance fueled by their opposing personalities. Voiced by Jane Lynch, of “Glee” fame, the commander is a hard ass who seems capable of snapping the perennially nice Felix, voiced by the equally appropriate Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock”. There is a very funny sequence where Felix insists she beat him up to secure their safety. His magic hammer easily fixes any damage she does to his face, but how this builds to their first kiss is difficult not to laugh at.

Film critic Roger Ebert has engaged in a controversial, decades long discourse on how video games can never be art. He makes the good point that allowing the gamer to choose his own fate takes any dramatic narrative out of the equation. It seems Moore and Johnston have found a way to inject genuine dramatic expression into the video gaming world with “Wreck-It Ralph”. No, it is not a video game, but a movie about them. Their use of video gaming vernacular to tell their heartwarming tale, however, gives them an advantage over the typical talking animal movies by allowing the audience to relate to their tale in terms unique to the subject matter. Their intimate knowledge with their subject makes “Wreck-It Ralph” a cut above your typical family oriented cartoon by allowing the video gaming details to elevate the lessons contained within. This is some fun stuff.

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