23 January 2013


Before we get cracking on Disney's latest animated film, a word or two on the studio's current franchise monopoly- they now own Pixar, Marvel and LucasFilm, so it's safe to say that Toy Story/Avengers/Star Wars will replenish their Scrooge McDuck-style vaults of treasure for the foreseeable future. It makes you wonder what they'll acquire next, and in Wreck-It Ralph, you'll almost be convinced that the house that Mario built is in Disney's sights.

Still, it's not the licenced Sega and Nintendo characters who are the main focus of Wreck-It Ralph, but the eponymous Ralph, an original character who serves as the bad guy in a Donkey Kong-style 8-bit game, continually foiled by Fix-It Felix for just as long as kids continue to spend their pocket money at the run-down arcade where the characters "live". After hours, Ralph is really more of a good-natured oaf, leading to something of an existential crisis about his job. Deciding that he'd quite like some of the adulation afforded to Felix, he goes exploring in other game worlds, putting his own home in danger.

Structurally, this film most closely resembles The Nightmare Before Christmas, which similarly depicted the softer side of a supposedly sinister figure, and the consequences of his natural curiosity about the wider world. There are shades of Despicable Me in there too, but it really owes a debt to Pixar's Toy Story trilogy, in as much as the characters are essentially there to entertain children, and treat their point and purpose like an everyday working life. Whether it's Woody and Buzz or Ralph and Felix, there's downtime in which to either have fun or reflect upon how their life has actually turned out, and that's where this one kicks off.

Ralph's status as an outcast, cemented by 30 years of arcade tenancy, makes a sympathetic starting point for a film that has a lot of fun in re-addressing these previously covered plot points. John C. Reilly does a great job of voicing the big lug, and kids will enjoy watching him galumphing from first-person action shooters to sickly sweet Mario Kart-pastiche racing games. Crucially though, the likeability of the characters, and Ralph, in particular, turns it into something I wasn't expecting- although it appears to have been geared towards young boys and older fanboys who will be tickled by the video game references and fan service, the film itself strives for more.

Given the way that it's paced to spend the most time in "Sugar Rush", the aforementioned racing game, which operates in bright colours and funny, interesting female characters, there's interest in courting a broader audience at a point where the male audience will largely be completely on board, and that will do it some big favours. Crucially, its entire story turns out to revolve around Vanellope, an alternately cute and annoying sprite voiced by Sarah Silverman, and a character who is shunned within "Sugar Rush" as much as Ralph is in his own game.

With the arrival of Vanellope comes a transition from gags about Pac-Man et al to sweet-based puns, and I'm sure that parents of hyperactive kids will wince at a film that promotes candy and video games so prominently. It's more than forgivable, by the measure that the jokes are generally pretty funny. It's not gut-bustingly hilarious, but consistently cute, with an unpredictable streak of imagination that throws up a goofy-looking yet sinister antagonist, who sounds like the comedian Ed Wynn, (although actually voiced by Alan Tudyk) and a parody of a poorly-sketched female action heroine that turns out to have far more nuance.

Wreck-It Ralph is a film with several forerunners, but its self-awareness is such that it doesn't get caught up in solely trying to impress those gamers who can name all of the licenced characters at Ralph's bad guy counselling group. Like its forerunners, some of the enjoyment comes from seeing the world-building that has gone into it, and the commentary on the divide between old-school and new-school gaming, but the writers also aspire to build more of a story within that scenario. It's not on the level of Pixar's best work, but it's perfectly serviceable Disney family fare, that's both cute enough and funny enough to engage audiences who might reasonably have expected less.

Wreck-It Ralph is released in cinemas nationwide, in 2D and 3D, on February 8th.
If you've seen Wreck-It Ralph, why not share your comments below? Which characters would you like to see in the announced sequel?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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