Monday, November 5, 2012



Animated films have to accomplish a lot these days. Thanks to the success of Pixar over the past two decades, the bar has been raised to the point where an animated film needs to keep adults entertained just as much as the kiddies. Many films try to walk that fine line, while others just go right for the kids. WRECK-IT RALPH is a film which takes place in the setting of classic arcade-style video games, which means the door is wide open for adults to come in and enjoy some nostalgia. But how does it play for the young-ins…?
Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the bad guy (but not a bad guy) in the video game Fix-It Felix Jr. Growing tired of being the villain and looking to prove his goodness, Ralph begins “game-jumping”; jumping from one game to another, including Hero’s Duty (a first-person shooter game), and Sugar Rush, a racing game in a candy-land world. In Sugar Rush, he meets Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman), and the king of Sugar Land (brilliantly voiced by Alan Tudyk), and discovers that his game-jumping has threatened every game in the arcade.

RALPH is a film that is saturated in video-game mythology, and the film is at its strongest when it spends time behind-the-scenes of the arcade. The questions of what video game characters do when their game is not being played, or what is just off-screen are brilliantly answered; the film can easily do for arcade games what this year’s CABIN IN THE WOODS did for horror films. The cameos of classic video-game characters are a pleasure to see, and the screen is literally packed with familiar faces; picture a STAR WARS Creature Cantina only on a bigger scale with characters you have gamed with for years.
When Ralph begins game-jumping, the fun of the video-game mythology gets even better, but then comes to a literal screeching halt when his jumping stops at Sugar Land. While the design of the candy land is exquisite and the characters interesting enough, the film completely steps away from its own mythology and nearly goes into a whole new movie. It’s a bit of a disappointment that no more game-jumping occurs once the Sugar Land stuff starts as the film did such a great job in the early goings setting up a great universe. The happenings in Sugar Land do serve a purpose, and the characters do go through some excellent (albeit predictable) development and drama, but again it is such a departure from the stronger first act it’s enough to jar you out of the film. Also, when the film drifts from its own video-game mythology, its shifts gears into a kiddie flick, and adult audiences will be instantly bored out of their minds. RALPH also seems to shift away from its main character and over to Vanellope; often coming dangerously close to becoming the goddamn Sarah Silverman Show.

What it all boils down to is WRECK-IT RALPH is one-half of a good movie; older audiences will love the nostalgia but will snooze through everything else. Younger audiences will be thrilled at the cartoonish hijinx, but the in-jokes involving 30 year old video game characters will go right over their heads. Nostalgia can only get you so far in a film like this, and you have to revert to story to add substance, but for RALPH the blending could have been better. There is plenty for young and old audiences to enjoy; it just comes one level at a time.

PS The animated short PAPERMAN, which runs before, is a work of genius.


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