I’m not sure what’s happening to me. The strongest emotional reaction I’ve had at the movies recently has been in animated features. First of all turning into a francophile and falling in love with the villain Dubois in Madagascar 3. Now being bought to the edge of tears by the highs and lows of “Wreck It Ralph”. Either I’m becoming unhinged or animated features have reached a whole new level. I’ll go with the latter. I think.
According to Wiki-pedia Wreck-It Ralph has had a long gestation period beginning under the working title of “High Score”, and having been in development at Disney in various forms since the late 1980s. It was put back into active development in the late 1990s under the name “Joe Jump”, and then later in the mid 2000s as “Reboot Ralph”.
Right now its hitting some very fertile territory with several generations of gamers and non-gamers alike being able to relate to the film on a few levels.
The film contains a mixture of real video games and characters and some fictional ones who bear a heavy resemblance to some iconic games such as Halo and Donkey Kong.
The main characters are voiced by John C. Reilly (Ralph), Sarah Silverman (Vanellope von Schweetz), Jack McBrayer (Fix It Felix Jr.), Jane Lynch (Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun) and Alan Tudyk (King Candy).
Wreck It Ralph (Reilly) is the Big Bad Guy in the 8 Bit platform game called “Fix It Felix Junior”. Ralph’s role is to wreck the apartment building and then the players use Felix (McBrayer) to fix it up again. Felix gets a medal from the residents for his efforts, while they throw Ralph off the building into the mud.
30 years of the same routine. Every day. Dozens of times.
Ralph is getting tired and lonely and feels wholly unappreciated. Especially when no-one invites him to the 30th anniversary of the game. After all HE is the one who creates the reason for Felix in the first place. After an argument he leaves his game to travel through the other games in the video arcade in search of a medal to show those ungrateful apartment residents he his not all Bad Guy.
So, acting on a tip-off from an off-duty character in another game he travels into “Hero’s Duty” to get what he assumes will be an easy medal. Now everybody knows that a 30 year old platform character doesn’t belong in a modern first person shooter. So of course Ralph’s sojourn into Hero’s Duty ends badly as he steals a medal but is forced to escape the game in a most undignified and chaotic manner. Something sinister from Hero’s Duty also escapes with him.
Fleeing Hero’s Duty Ralph ends up in “Sugar Rush” a Kart game that reminded me of Crash Team Racing with a bit of Wacky Racers thrown in. Sugar Rush is peopled by bizarre characters and cute girls who race their karts through a dreamscape of confectionary and ice-cream. Its here that he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Feisty, Cute and Sugary beyond imagination Vanellope is also “glitchy”. She has digital spasms and is ostracised by the other characters in Sugar Rush – unable to do that which she was born to, programmed to – race karts.
After a rocky start Ralph agrees to help Vanellope race if she gets back a medal for him. Meanwhile kids in the arcade notice that the Wreck It Ralph game doesn’t work properly anymore and alert the owner. He places one of the dreaded “Out of Order” signs on the game and all of the characters realise they may become homeless or die. Felix leaves the game in search of Ralph in a desperate attempt to save the game.
One other character has left their game. Heroic Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (Jane Lynch) sets off from Hero’s duty as she realises one of her game’s nastiest enemies (a Cy-Bug – think Aliens meets The Thing meets Agent Smith) has escaped with Ralph into Sugar Rush and will destroy every game in the arcade if she doesn’t stop it.
Felix and Calhoun join forces (talk about your odd couple) searching through Sugar Rush while the race is under way. However Sugar Rush is not the straightforward candy-coated place it appaers on the surface. All manner of intrigue, politics and skullduggery has been going on that wouldn’t be out of place in an X-files series. Most of it driven by the wacky King of Sugar Rush, King Candy (Alan Tudyk)
Vanellope starts her race, battling King Candy while Calhoun uncovers the Hero’s Duty Cy-Bug which has spawned millions of eggs inside Sugar Rush. Calhoun attempts to destroy the Cy-Bug threat but is forced back. It looks like the Cy-Bugs and King Candy will destroy the whole arcade if a series of miraculous feats don’t stop them first.
I’ve been addicted to arcade games since I was 10. Thats 43 years. Back then we had pinball machines and other bizarre mechanical games that eventually game way to electronic wonders such as Asteroids, Pong, Space Invaders and later Pac-Man.
It was so easy therefore to like this film. The pace and sheer richness and variety of the settings make it impossible to get bored. It is a beautifully realised feature. Especially Sugar Rush. I got hungry watching the screen. The characters are all engaging – in particular Vanellope. The laughs and references are fast and furious with nods to such a wide variety of pop-cultural icons as The Wizard of Oz, Aliens, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alice in Wonderland and The Thing.
A highlight is the seamless meshing of 30 year old game characters with some idosynchrasies retained of the old games with characters and backgrounds from newer and vastly more sophisticated games. Across all genres. It wasn’t forced, odd or out of place. It just worked.
It was also surprisingly touching. Vanellope’s frustrated ambition and isolation, Ralph’s existential despair, Calhoun’s tragic backstory (well that was funny), the flowering of Ralph The Hero. It pushed my buttons and I was happy having them pushed.
I think most of all, game characters don’t always re-spawn. You don’t always get another life. Sometimes bad things happen to good game characters. There was a real sense of something at stake in “Wreck It Ralph”. And that is probably the biggest reason I liked it.
9 1/2 out of 10.