One of the toughest genres to crack has been the video game movie. Almost universally, the adaptations have been panned…and when Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the cream of the crop, it speaks to how much failure there has been. While not a true video game adaption, Wreck-It Ralph has set a new bar by which to judge video-game-themed movies, and will clearly be a contender for best animated feature at the Academy Awards.
The story follows Ralph (John C. Reilly), who is tired of being ostracized by the other characters in his video game because he is the “bad guy.” In hopes of winning their favor, he begins hopping between video games in hopes of winning a medal to prove he can be a “good guy.” Unfortunately, he puts himself and his fellow video game characters in danger of being unplugged when his game fails to work without him.
That description really doesn’t do the movie justice, as it is much more complexly layered. The best comparison I’ve been able to come up with is sort of an amalgamation of Tron and Donkey Kong, within an entire Whoville-like world in a video arcade. While video game aficionados might point out this isn’t a true video game movie (since the game in question is fictional), it clearly has some parallels with the world of the original Donkey Kong, as well as including classic video game characters like Q*bert, Bowser, and PacMan. I enjoyed the fact that the filmmakers played up the video game nature of the movie instead of trying to make it as real to life as possible, like most video game adaptations seem to aspire to do.
I will admit that I had been eagerly anticipating the release of this movie, not just because it had one of the best trailers so far this year, but because I love the concept of the “bad guy” searching for redemption. The notion of being unfairly judged by our peers is something that is relatable to everyone. And despite the film being named Wreck-It Ralph, he isn’t the only character experiencing this type of identity crisis—it is really much more of an ensemble story.
In a strange way, the film is a bit like a horror movie. It is a pretty slow burn for most of the runtime, but then when it all finally comes together in the end, the payoff is that much sweeter. Because of this, the middle portion does feel like it drags a bit, but sticking it out to the end makes it all worthwhile. On the same note, while the film feels like it is geared towards children, it was a bit darker than I anticipated. It has some scary characters and some violence. But I had the same concerns about Brave and Frankenweenie and apparently nobody had any issues with them, so this film probably won’t pose a problem, either.
With the exception of the Pokemon movies, this seems to be one of the few video game movies that actually decided to take on the challenge as an animated movie. Despite being staunchly in the anti-3D camp, I found the 3D in the film to be quite solid. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say it changed the experience, as with Avatar or Coraline, but it does noticeably enrich the environment. I wouldn’t describe the visuals from Disney to be as refined or lush as Pixar’s work on Brave, but it felt appropriate given the material, and I think the 3D work might be superior.
The main downside for the film was actually the voice acting. Everyone did a fine job, but the easily recognizable actors were a bit distracting and took me out of the characters a bit, particularly Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman, and Jane Lynch. I wouldn’t say they miscast, but it is hard to not think about the real people while listening to the characters. I wish producers would be a little bit more adventurous in their casting of voice talent, but I do understand why one might be a little conservative when having probably a hundred million dollars invested in a project like this.
Wreck-It Ralph has raised the bar for video game movies, as well as being a feather in the cap of Walt Disney Animation Studios, who have long been trapped in the long shadow of Pixar. With the recent success of films such as Tangled and the quality production they have here, it looks they might be making themselves a solid contender in the animated film game again. And it is nice to see John Lasseter establishing himself outside of the friendly confines of Pixar, reminding us all of how creative he can be.
Final Grade: A-