The gripes about Wreck-It Ralph have been few and far between – a few gamers begrudge them suggesting Zangief was a ‘bad guy’ when that was really only in the movie and he was no more a bad guy than most of the Street Fighter II cast; some overbearing mothers think no kids’ film should have characters from a bloody game like Mortal Kombat in them; and here and there animation fans think that Disney’s CGI films ought to blaze their own path to regain an original voice rather than doing something very easily mistaken for a Pixar film – which sadly I’ve heard far too often, though some amusing jokes have been made about Disney having made Brave and Pixar having made this, and then the two studios deciding to swap credits. But the number one gripe I’ve heard about Wreck-It Ralph has been more or less exclusive to this fair land: how come
got it in October and we don’t even get it til February of the next
year? I’ve only managed to see it because I got a preview thanks to the special
offer of a cinema chain – general release is still over three weeks away! Isn’t
that just encouraging piracy? America
Despite this quibble that has nothing to do with the film itself, I can announce myself an instant fan. It was aimed squarely at me and my generation, but it still managed to be far better than I had hoped for, and much more emotionally engaging. This is how it was most like Pixar – not in the perspective, or the visuals, or the pace, but in how it got me to care.
Before the film came a short – very Pixar, that – showing a romance almost lost but then saved by inanimate objects. Done in rather lovely cell-shading, with a smart decision to make it monochrome but for red lipstick, it was lovely to behold and sweet, but rather trite and threw away its believability rather too much when paper aeroplanes came to life.
Then the main event, and from the start it was right on the money with what appeals to the tail-end of Generation X and the early years of Generation Y – and those of us born in the transitional period. Iconic Disney logos are presented with 8-bit graphics, and there’s chiptune in the music. We’re introduced to Ralph, who is somewhat like Donkey Kong with a touch of the monsters from Rampage – in his game, he tries to demolish a building that displaced him from his home, while the hero, Fix-it Felix Jr, repairs the damage with his magic hammer. When the damage is all repaired, the occupants hurl Ralph from the roof and Felex is rewarded with a medal. The film opens in the support group for bad guys seen in the trailer, which so delighted 20- and 30-somethings with its iconic group of antagonists from Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros, Mortal Kombat, Pac-Man, Altered Beast and more. After announcing he’s sick of his life, Ralph returns to his home, notices a party is happening in the penthouse (my one cringe in the film was when I saw Skrillex was the DJ, but this is a reference that will soon be swallowed by time – whereas surprisingly all the 80s and 90s references will likely last a very long while). He goes up and uses Felix’s crippling need to be an awkward nice guy to get himself invited in, but this only leads to disaster. He leaves vowing he’ll transcend his nature and earn his own medal. In the bar from Tappers, where many famous faces are up on the wall and Ryu is having a quiet drink, he meets a space marine from Hero’s Duty, and winds up climbing a tower after the arcade is shut for the night and getting himself a medal. Unfortunately, he also ends up in an escape pod with a hostile, adaptable alien, and shoots into cutesy Mario Kart clone Sugar Rush. He meets the apparently annoying Vanellope there, but soon finds out that more than he expected is going on under the surface in Sugar Rush. Meanwhile, Felix sets out to find his one-time antagonist, with only the ass-kicking female commando Calhoun from Hero’s Duty – whose backstory is perfect - to help him.
One of the joys of the film is the background details. See Sonic fall and lose his rings, or Chun-li spending some time with the Nintendo princesses. I had been told to look for graffiti, especially ‘Aerith lives!’ and though I missed that one, it was only because I was admiring the Internet-pleasing ‘All Your Base are Belong To Us’. I also got a kick out of (LEROY) ‘JENKINS’, the Konami code and little Pong and Dig Dug cameos. There are plenty of foregrounded references thrown in, from a casual mention of Lara Croft and a nod to DDR to the brilliant scene where all the bad guys leave the Pac-Man world and are represented as small 8-bit sprites, but it’s the fine details that will make me and doubtless many more want a repeat viewing.
Not only is the style at the peak of being in fashion with a crowd big on nostalgia and keen for its own variation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, with its easy melding of styles and screen space shared by unlikely costars, there also needed to be a little time gap to prevent any accusations of this being a rip-off of ReBoot, which is after all fairly similar in basic outline. It was interesting to me that the whole thing is set in a single arcade, and thus presumably these are but a few of many, many versions of the same characters, bringing the scale closer to that of Toy Story. The clash between a twee older world and a frenetic, violent, modern game is hilarious, and that the game ends on a Pac-Man-ish kill screen is priceless. The references are also not limited to games, with Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz having sound-based jokes, and even a little poster of Bolt can be seen.
But a million funny references in a bad film would still make a bad film. And this is far from it. There are really three plot arcs – Ralph’s attempts to get a medal and rehabilitate himself, the truth of Sugar Rush and why Vanellope is ostracised, and the escaped alien from Hero’s Duty. All become action-packed because of Ralph, all come together nicely, and all are tied up well. Being the type to aim to spot twists, I put together this one’s but was blindsided until only minutes before the reveal because the one in question was shown to secretly be acting for the benefit of another even though it was hard, and teaching that to Ralph – which led to one of the most touching scenes as well as feel-good reparations. Emotions are actually struck very well, from hopes and dreams being dashed to the thought of having to abandon someone to die – and I never thought I’d be so uplifted by the thought of someone punching mentos into diet coke. The fact is that the characters all became likeable, even the ones who seemed annoying, including the silly king with his old-fashioned Disney performance. Fantastic.
I loved it. I only want to know two things – why Vanellope is on the side of the cabinet yet still glitchy at the end if it wasn’t the antagonist’s doing, and…well, just what happens when the arcade closes down…
Paperman post-Oscars note: well, I can’t say I was greatly moved by Paperman, but it was a weak year. It’s a shame – put it against any of the 2007 nominations I’ve seen and it totally pales.