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"Wreck-It Ralph" Is Formulaic Fun

Jeremy Fuster |
November 2, 2012 | 12:36 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

"Wreck-It Ralph" follows the Disney formula, but it does it well. (Disney)
"Wreck-It Ralph" follows the Disney formula, but it does it well. (Disney)
When ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ came out in 1988, it became an instant classic worth loads of replay value.  A major reason for this, aside from a fantastic noir plot and a beautiful blend of live action and animation, was the cameo factor, as the film gave its audience some incredibly surreal crossover scenes between Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon characters. To this day, it is the only film in which Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny have appeared on screen together.

Now, Disney is trying to use that same cameo factor with video games. In the new animated film ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ (out now) over 100 video game characters from a wide variety of games and developers make special cameos in the wild video game world known as Litwak’s Arcade. Games like ‘Street Fighter,’ ‘Pac-Man,’ ‘Sonic The Hedgehog,’ and even ‘Mortal Kombat’ are featured in the film. Ironically, the biggest icon of them all, Mario, is nowhere to be seen because Nintendo’s asking price for his appearance was too big, though Bowser does show up.

Within this world ranging from the 8-Bit to the 1080i, we meet the titular protagonist Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), the villain within the 1982 video game ‘Fix-It Felix Jr.’  He does the same thing every day. He wrecks the building, and then the player uses Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) to clean up the mess. Felix saves the day, and the building’s inhabitants throw Ralph off the building and into a mud pile. After 30 years of this job, Ralph is sick of being ostracized while Felix gets all the glory as a hero, so he runs away from his game to win a medal in another game to prove he can be more than just a brutish bad guy.

Ralph’s journey takes him to the new ultraviolent first-person shooter ‘Hero’s Duty,’ where he incurs the wrath of the tough Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch). After he wrecks that game (pun intended), he gets blasted off to the bright cartoony racing game ‘Sugar Rush,’ where a bratty glitch named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), makes off with Ralph’s medal so she can use it to enter a race where the winners become playable characters in the game. In his attempt to get his medal back, Ralph learns what it means to be a good guy, while Felix and Calhoun go off to find Ralph and bring him back to his game.  

For kids and gaming enthusiasts, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ brings the goods. When I saw the film with a theater full of USC film students, the room erupted with laughter at a scene where Ralph drowns his sorrows at a bar. Why? Because 1.) the scene was inside the old 80s arcade game ‘Tapper,’ and 2.) a quick cutaway shot during a conversation shows Ryu from ‘Street Fighter’ knocking down a mug of beer. The whole movie is not only filled with great references to famous games, but also has some nods to gaming culture and the common tropes and elements that can be found throughout video games, like glitches, graphics quality, and hidden game files.

Along with this, the voice acting is absolutely top notch.  Reilly provides Ralph with the sensitivity the character needs, showing the hurt he feels when he gets alienated just for doing his job.  But the true stars are Lynch and McBrayer, who steal the show with their delivery and banter.  Watching the wide-eyed, upbeat Felix try to keep up with the jaded, battle-hardened Calhoun actually becomes more fun than watching Ralph and Vanellope trade juvenile insults.  You can practically see McBrayer and Lynch standing alongside each other in the recording studio as Felix swoons over the “high-definition beauty” of the Sergeant while she tells him to cut the crap and stay focused.

For adults who didn’t pick up an NES controller when they were kids, there’s still enough humor and fun to be found in ‘Wreck-It Ralph,’ but the experience will likely not be as fun for them.  Take away the setting, and the film is left with a story that follows the classic Disney formula: base the story around the lesson “It’s important to be yourself,” “How you treat people is what makes you a good guy,” etc., and then cap it off with a big dramatic chase scene at the climax.  In addition, the second half of the film mostly puts the cameos aside to get to telling its story, and since the story is centered around Ralph’s relationship with Vanellope, it begins to drag a little since she is, to be honest, rather annoying.  Silverman does a good job getting some laughs out of the character, but most of her juvenile lines are there for the kids and no one else, as is the Candyland-style video game that Vanellope lives in and where most of the second half of the film takes place.

But perhaps the most disappointing part of the story comes when Ralph is presented with a very serious moral dilemma regarding Vanellope.  This tough decision leads to a very emotional scene that ties together all the messages the movie is trying to make.  But five minutes later, a quick twist allows the story to opt out of the tough situation so it can have its “happily ever after” ending.  Yes, it’s Disney and one shouldn’t be expecting a story in which painful sacrifices have to be made to prevent disaster, but to be teased with the possibility that the film would take its idea of good guys and bad guys deeper than expected only to not commit to it is rather disappointing.  

While it doesn’t push any envelopes, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is still undeniably fun and laughter-filled.  For video game junkies, this is definitely the film they have been waiting for, the kids will get a great time out of it as expected, and if you fit neither of these categories, you are still in for a good time. It’s typical Disney, but lovingly-crafted typical Disney.

Animated short "Paperman" steals the show. (Screenshot)
Animated short "Paperman" steals the show. (Screenshot)
Bonus: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ comes with an eight minute animated short called ‘Paperman.’  The film blends characters drawn in traditional 2-D animation with a CG city setting to tell a tale of an office worker that tries to get the attention of a girl in another building with dozens of paper airplanes.  The black-and-white animation blend is very impressive and interesting to look at, but thanks to a wonderful story told only through the actions of the characters and a wonderful score composed by Christophe Beck, it soon becomes unnoticeable as the tale draws you in.  ‘Paperman’ is absolutely fantastic and actually left me with a better impression than ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ did.  If we start seeing more animated films combining CG with old-school animation, ‘Paperman’ is where it will have all started.  

Reach Staff Reporter Jeremy Fuster here.



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