Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph is a kids’ movie with retro video game references.

I went in expecting another Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, where the point of the movie is how much fun they have with the references and effects. Scott Pilgrim the film didn’t really have character development, but it was one of the most fun movies to watch in 2010, and I would still watch it again.

Wreck-It Ralph is not like this, which I should have expected since it’s a Pixar Disney film. Instead, it’s…well, it’s a kids’ movie with retro video game references.

Okay, I’ve said that twice now. Wreck-It Ralph borrows plenty from past Pixar movies: the secret life of inanimate objects (Toy Story), the rise to stardom from a humble background (Ratatouille), going beyond your “place” in life (A Bug’s Life, Brave)Wreck-It Ralph seems to be the first story about a villain or outcast being redeemed, which actually seems right up Pixar’s alley, but it’s definitely been done in kids’ movies before.

The Hero’s Duty gameplay actually reminded me very strongly of a similar premise and scene in Antz, one of the few parallels where (IMHO) DreamWorks beat Pixar.

The “kids’ movie” part comes from fairly straightforward characters and a fairly straightforward plot. Well, okay, two fairly straightforward plots. I didn’t really feel like I was being asked to think at all during this movie…which is okay, but I was more engaged in Toy Story and Ratatouille and WALL-E. But maybe I’m just outgrowing kids’ movies.

Right. On the flip side, the video game references were fun, but faded away as the movie went on. It became part of the scenery—and I want to interrupt myself to say that this was a very nicely built arcade game universe. I liked the rules, the very different aesthetics in each game-world, and the cross-game culture. It did mean that movie couldn’t rest on the novelty of being inside an arcade, though.

Still, I found myself slipping into the sappy plot of the kids’ movie, and caring about the characters and all that. The threat of being “unplugged” was horrific, and the troubles of Vanellope (a girl from a racing game who becomes a second protagonist) got me frustrated and disappointed on her behalf.

I also loved Jane Lynch’s character Sergeant Calhoun, a hard-hitting squad leader from an FPS. I won’t call that a subjective judgment, though, because I’ve enjoyed Jane Lynch since she was first Coach Sylvester on Glee. Glee may have gone downhill, but Lynch is still a lot of fun.

Other good world-building: the phrase “going turbo” is mentioned in the first twenty minutes of the movie, but they don’t explain it until halfway through. Characters from real video games inhabit the universe, for verisimilitude. Minigames exist. I also appreciated the fact that the one consistent Player we see outside the game is a girl.

One thing that arbitrarily annoyed me: I think I’m done with what TVTropes dubs Rags to Royalty. A particular kids’ book by Lawrence Yep did this once and for all for me…why did Vanellope have to be a princess? I guess King Candy wouldn’t have been able to hold his position without being king, and for that there had to be a missing ruler of some kind…but still. Of course, we did get the “be yourself” message expected from Pixar.

So: will you enjoy Wreck-It Ralph? If you’ve all the way grown up and don’t like watching kids’ movies anymore, no. But otherwise, probably yes. Relax, let yourself get drawn into the story. And scour the background of Game Central Station for cameos from Pong to Sonic.

EDIT: Wreck-It Ralph has grown on me after the fact. It was a lot of fun, was very well put together, and had a lot of heart, and I can totally see myself watching it again. I don’t think I’ve changed my mind about anything I said here; it’s just not as enthusiastic as it should be.

Absent: a review of Life of Pi. I was somewhat perplexed at how to review this movie. I read the book and liked it, and the movie was actually fairly faithful. I think it even did a better job with the “prologue” part of the movie (before the storm)—when I read the book, this section was sort of forgettable, but in the movie it’s visually impressive and very accessible. I think I was more invested in the book for the bulk of the story, though. I’m going to bow out of a full review and recommendation, and instead pass along that my flatmate quite liked it.