Movie Review: Wreck-it Ralph
Who doesn’t love video games? Be you a full-blown gamer, a game obsessed ‘cause it’s better than homework kid, or someone who looks back fondly on days of yore and the birth of a booming industry with loving memories of games like Space Invaders, Pong, Pac Man or Mario, or even back to the precursor of video games, pinball, somewhere deep inside you, we’ll find a gaming girl or boy. And that’s exactly why even the closet-gamers out there will run with rolls of quarters in hand to the nearest theatre to see WRECK IT RALPH!!! A fun, fun, fun candy colored kaleidoscope of goodness and adventure that just doesn't end. The PERFECT buddy road picture. The PERFECT meld of old and new. The PERFECT blend of animation styles. The PERFECT blend of video games. I want to ride the ribbon candy road of fun again!
Fix-It Felix, Jr. is a tried and true gaming legend. As games come and go in Mr. Litwak’s arcade, Fix-It Felix, Jr. has been a stalwart. Loved by all, Felix and the Nicelanders, his fellow residents in the game, are very proud that even with it’s 8-bit lo-res design, kids still rush to him every day when the arcade doors open. 30 years and still going strong. Quite an accomplishment. With his magic golden hammer, Felix fixes everything that WRECK-IT RALPH tears down. At the end of hard day of sucking up quarters and exciting gamers as they reach level after level, Felix gets feted with cake and ice cream in the penthouse apartment of the building he just fixed after Ralph spent the day breaking it apart. Ralph, on the other hand, is relegated to living at the dump. Sad and alone, he wants a party for him. He wants to be the hero. After all, if he didn’t wreck things, Fix-It Felix couldn’t fix them.
After being admonished by one of the game’s residents that if Ralph had a medal of some sort, he then would be celebrated, Ralph gets a brilliant idea. Travelling the maze of power cords and surge protectors of the games, at night Ralph ventures out to meet up with other fellow game characters at Game Central Station, and specifically”Bad-Anon” meetings. Some brag, some boast, some lament about the day’s gaming, but in his conversations and meetings, Ralph just cannot come to terms with the fact he’s not the focus of Fix-It Felix, Jr. and, that he’s a “bad guy.”
Suddenly, warnings sound. The games are under attack - a cy-bug attack. Back to your games! Back to your games! But not Ralph. Nuh-uh. He’s learned of a hi-def first-person shooter game called Hero’s Duty where the winner gets a medal. Ralph can be a hero! But things don’t go quite as smoothly as Ralph planned when Hero’s Duty is under massive cy-bugs attack and one of the bugs escapes. And we all know what that means - Cy-Bug Virus for all the games!! With Hero’s Duty no-nonsense, tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun hot on the tail of the cy-bug and Ralph, Ralph takes off, finding himself in the candy coated world of Sugar Rush with a gal who may be more rough and tough than Sergeant Calhoun - Vanellope Von Schweetz.
But while Ralph’s away, what’s happening over at Fix-It Felix, Jr.??
Voicing is another bit of perfection and for me it starts with Alan Tudyk as King Candy, ruler of Sugar Rush. I thought the beloved Ed Wynn had come back from the grave. And while many audiences may think Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins as their vocal touchstone, for me Tudyk and the animators give King Candy more of Wynn's trademarks as the Toymaker in another Disney classic, “Babes in Toyland”. I felt like I was 5 years old again watching the eye-popping “Toyland” with my dad.
Then there's Jane Lynch. No one could do Calhoun but for Lynch. If anyone ever makes a Jane Lynch video game, Calhoun would be her character. Hard nosed, smart-alecky, rapier brilliance!!
But it’s John C Reilly who brings Ralph to life with this oafish heart-of-gold teddy bear quality that you can't help but love. Making Ralph even more relatable, you see Reilly in every aspect of Ralph from the animation and physical design to the dialogue and vocal intonations. And then we’ve got Sarah Silverman who takes the high energy level of fun in video games to greater heights with her high pitched, tonal inflections, energetic voicing of Vanellope. The rapport and chemistry between Ralph and Vanellope is magical, due in large part to the fact they were able to record the voicing together as opposed to the standard practice of separately. The human interaction between the actors just fills the characters and story with its heart.
Directed by “The Simpsons” veteran Rich Moore, WRECK-IT RALPH was a concept that had been kicking around in the Disney stable for several years. After languishing with no one able to bring the idea of gaming to life in a way to resonate with and entertain audiences, co-writers, Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee were ultimately tapped to write the screenplay for WRECK-IT RALPH. It was well worth the wait to bring the world of WRECK-IT RALPH to life as Johnston and Lee found the perfect blend of heart and fun with characters that you literally fall in love with, while Moore visually articulated every element to perfection. Key, however, was selecting the games and characters.
According to Johnston, the most important consideration to remember when writing WRECK-IT RALPH was that once “ we settled as Ralph as the guy [it became] how can we put this guy in the worst possible place imaginable. So you’ve got this big, boorish lout of a guy picked on most of the time, certainly wouldn’t like children, let’s put him with children in the most sickeningly sweet game imaginable. That’s gonna be funny. Similarly, in Hero’s Duty, a guy who’s self-awareness is not that high, sort of feels a little entitled thinking this is gonna be easy, so let’s put him in the most violent, hellish game imaginable and see what happens. So pretty much everything, including most of the jokes – if not all of the jokes in the movie – were trying to come out of character as opposed to dumping one-liners here and there. That’s how almost all of the decisions were made in terms of the worlds – where they go and who they run into.” Once the premise and design was established with an organically flowing fountain of humor, focus was put on a villain. And what better villain in the gaming world than a virus. “[T]he bugs become the stakes of the movie. If a bug gets out, it’s a super virus thing. It could infect the whole arcade.”
The end result is a solid story that in many respects is a buddy road picture. Concentrating on character development, and by using the characters’ traits and the different thematic elements of each game, we see values, good versus bad, friendship, selfishness, forgiveness, dreams which when put together sends great messaging to kids and adults alike. And again, the creativity involved in the video games, each candy item, each character's name, etc., is just off the charts! Clever, witty and funny.
Going for authenticity, the older 8-bit video game designs used in Fix-It Felix proved challenging for Moore’s team of Disney animators. With animators trained in classic Disney style of “personality animation”, Moore tossed out the rule book and implemented a technique known as “twinning - when the figure is symmetrical, when both arms are doing the same thing.” Not done in animation because it’s not “life like”, the 8-bit was mandatory so the actions of Ralph and Felix and the Nicelanders would “duplicate what we know from on the screen of those games.” Melding the 8-bit gaming style with the candy colored and often rounder more rotund childlike figures of Sugar Rush and adding in the hi-tech super gloss of the designs of Hero’s Duty, the result is a visual stunner. With glorious use of color, the attention to detail in execution is meticulous. A seamless blend of multiple disciplines and looks that range from retro to slick realistic polish to high tech flawless, the styling isn’t just blended within the film as a whole, but within the individual scenes. The attention to detail and animation of the individual games, as well as Sugar Rush candy properties is fantastic. Quite honestly - it's jaw-dropping excellence. And when you scan the arcade background, I don’t think the animators have missed a game, or at least the game face, for inclusion in this world.
At the top of the heap is something I don't get a chance to mention that often - sound. Sound design is beyond Oscar worthy. Each game is distinctive as is each sound for each move for each avatar and each action. And nothing misses a beat! Kudos to Sound Designer Gary Rydstrom, Sound Editor Frank Eulner and Foley Mixer Corey Tyler. Going hand in hand with the gaming sounds and voicing is Henry Jackman's score which also incorporates the gaming sounds! Don’t be fooled into thinking WRECK-IT RALPH is “just an animated film”. Technical sophistication is at its peak here.
Surprisingly, licensing of games proved not to be a problem. Writing the story and film first, the filmmakers knew what licences they would need, rather than get licensing first and be story bound by what they had obtained. According to producer Clark Spencer, with story in hand and assurances of “[W]e will be true to your character. We will give you the script pages. We’ll show you the models. We will let you see the test animation. And we will let you approve the finished animation.”, companies were more than willing to join in the fun of this brave new world of WRECK-IT RALPH.
Without the proper animation styles, WRECK-IT RALPH could have been a wreck. But thanks to Moore’s vision, what we have is a dizzying and dazzling array of visual effects that immerse one in the digital realism of a 3D world, set to a story filled with wonder and heart.
Grab those quarters (one roll is $10....the average price of a movie ticket) and get on the Sugar Rush ribbon highway to fun and climb the leaderboard with WRECK-IT RALPH!!
DIRECTED BY: Rich Moore
WRITTEN BY: Phil Johnston & Jennifer Lee (screenplay) based on a story by Moore, Johnston and Jim Reardon
VOICING TALENTS BY: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling, Joe Lo Truglio, Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Adam Carolla, Rachael Harris, Edie McClurg, Horatio Sanz, Stefanie Scott