[Review] – Wreck-It Ralph

9 Nov

Title: Wreck-It Ralph
Year: 2012
Director: Rich Moore
Writers: Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, based on a story by Mr. Johnston, Rich Moore and Jim Reardon
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling
MPAA Rating: PG, some rude humor and mild action/violence
Runtime: 108 min
IMDb Rating: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 73

You may have heard a few things about Wreck-It Ralph. It just had a terrific debut atop the box office (and earning the best opening weekend numbers of any Walt Disney Animation Studios film ever), it features some gaming references that will make some people joyous with nostalgia, it had a really amazing animated short called Paperman attached to it and, to me, it stands as the single best animated effort of the year.

So far to me this year there had been three really, really good animated films: Frankenweenie, ParaNorman and Brave. I would rank them in that exact order if I had to (and, list-lover that I am, I do) but they’re all pretty much hovering around the same level of quality in my opinion. Wreck-It Ralph is the one animated film that really succeeds on a level of its own this year and ranks squarely above that trio of films and, unless Rise of the Guardians seriously knocks it out of the park, will be the best one of 2012.

Like I said, a lot of the success this movie has is because of the nostalgia factor of people who went to arcade or remember playing the good old videogames from a decade or two ago. That and the fact that it had a tremendous marketing campaign. From that very first teaser poster that exhibited the face of the main character in 8-bit format, to the fact that the trailers were just awesome, to the fact that you could actually play, arcade-style, the Donkey Kong-inspired arcade game the movie’s about in the website for it. The Disney folks really outdid themselves in trying to build the buzz and knowing who their target audience was.

Because, really, if you take the gaming stuff away this really is like most of the other Disney movies as far as themes and plot (though it executes those themes and plot to perfection). But then again, why focus on what it would be without those references and nifty nods when Wreck-It Ralph is all about that stuff. I loved that it was, too, because it will enable kids to really go crazy for all the awesome colors and high-octane adventure while the grown-ups that are probably taking them to the theater will have the hugest kick getting all the nostalgia-filled jokes which this film doles out so cleverly.

Here’s the basic plot line if you don’t already know it. Like I said, the main game of the movie is this old-school Donkey Kong-style one called Fix-It Felix, Jr. that has the eponymous hero of that game fixing the stuff that Wreck-It Ralph destroys. That game exists in Litwak Arcade a place where, when the lights go out, the characters of one game can visit each other. People, as you might imagine, love Felix and hate Ralph, which gets our main character to admit, on an awesome video game villains support group (which is attended by characters you may know, like Bowser), that he’s had it with being the bad guy and wants to be a hero for a change.

So that’s what happens, you have Ralph trying to become a good guy, going from one game to the next trying to be known as hero so people will accept him more in the arcade. You see him in Hero’s Duty which represents today’s favorite genre of the first-person shooter games and where we meet Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, the no-nonsense character from that game voiced by Jane Lynch, and then we also see him in Sugar Rush, which is like Mario Kart and where we meet Vanellope von Schweetz, our main female character voiced by Sarah Silverman. The thing is that one of the enemies from the shooting game clung onto Ralph and are now threatening to take over Sugar Rush so it’s all about what Ralph can really do to save the day then.

I cannot stress enough just how awesomely this all worked for me, how the old-school/new-school combination was so amazing, how sweet and geeky it was. It’s the kind of film that’s just really hard not to downright love because of how infectious and innocent it is and really made me think that the year’s Pixar movie wasn’t made at Pixar. Because, really, what with all the imagination and intelligence this film has it really felt like it had been done by the people over at Emeryville and it really got me amazed that two years in a row now Pixar has been out-Pixared by another studio (this year now, last year with Rango).

Another reason why I say this reminded me so much of a Pixar film is the parallels that are just so easy to draw from this and Toy Story. There’s stuff about the relationship kids develop with the stuff they play with, both of them obviously focus on what those toys do when no one’s watching them, they tackle themes like friendship and believing in yourself, they build their narratives up with an unhinged penchant for nostalgia.

Not that this film just wants to imitate a classic. Oh no, this one’s a beast all of its own. Not only is it hyperactive and fun with all those blasts of colors, probably the most exhilarating kids flick since another one of Pixar’s creations, The Incredibles, but I also thought it was mightily ambitious. I mean, once you start realizing what the filmmakers are doing here in the midst of all the silliness you’ll see that they’re actually juggling all these different subplots only to tie it all up together in the greatest possible way once it’s all said and done, and you just don’t get such ballsy narrative tricks in these kinds of movies nowadays.

Granted, I’m obviously part of this film’s target audience as far as the geeky in-jokes we get. I don’t play video games all that much nowadays (and when I do it’s mostly FIFA or NBA or NFL games) but I was a huge gamer until about six years or so ago and I get all the classic references here and I’m itching to see Wreck-It Ralph a second time and try to catch all the famous video game characters they licensed to splash around in the background as nifty little easter eggs. Not that they’re all in the background though: Pac-Man, Zangief and Sonic the Hedgehog are all here for you to enjoy in the forefront.

Again, though, Wreck-It Ralph may be steeped into those references but it’s not all about them. It’s also about real emotions (another trait it shares with Pixar films) that come through in the best of ways thanks to what director Rich Moore, who here makes his feature debut after winning Emmy‘s for working on both The Simpsons and Futurama, brings to the table. He finds a way to balance the terrific humor with an emotional backbone that was a joy to watch.

Props, then, must also be given in spades to Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, the duo in charge of the screenplay. Ms. Lee actually makes an impressive writing debut here and Mr. Johnston follows-up the killer work he did in Cedar Rapids, one of the most pleasant surprises from the 2011 movie year. They’re the ones who not only make the in-jokes part of the story and not something that takes you away from it, but the ones who are also responsible for giving us those nifty subplots that start adding up to so much and the ones who structured all of the amazing setpieces on display here.

Every little turn this movie makes is compelling and totally cohesive to the rest of the film and achieves a pitch-perfect balance of all the elements it has in play. It’s that balance that makes it one of the best films I’ve seen all year and certainly the best animated one, how it gives you so much heart while never slowing down its exhilarating pace all while you’re still getting all this loving detail into every single world you step in here. That depth of detail is especially awesome because not a single moment of it, and not a single line of dialogue, feels wasted in the overall story, it all really does work for the bigger picture and I’m a fan of any movie, animated or not, that manages to achieve that.

Grade: A


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