2012 turned out to be a pretty solid year for animated features. My personal favorite was Frankenweenie, Tim Burton’s brilliant return to form. Pixar also had another solid entry with the warm-hearted Brave. But there was yet another animated feature that was wildly popular and that received critical acclaim and even an Oscar nomination. That movie is Wreck-it Ralph and it’s built around a brilliant idea that really grabbed my attention. Yet as with so many animated pictures, Wreck-it Ralph sets the table nicely but almost squanders it’s originality and cleverness with its frantic and occasionally numbing midsection. But that aside, it’s a movie with a lot of heart and a good message. You could do a lot worse.
What initially interested me in Wreck-it Ralph was the concept. As a guy who grew up on video games dating back to the earliest ones, I loved the idea of a story set in a video game world. Connected through power cables and surge detectors, all the arcade machines make up a cool and vibrant world behind their screens. Wreck-it Ralph’s pixelated landscape is filled with classic video game characters that old school gamers will enjoy recognizing. You’ll find Q-Bert, Bowser from Super Mario fame, characters from Street Fighter, Pac-Man, and many more. For me these were the best moments in the movie, when the film unveiled and introduced this fantastic world filled with nostalgic cameos and funny in-jokes.
The main character of the movie is Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly). He’s the “bad guy” in the older but still popular Fix-it Felix, Jr. game which sits inside Litwak’s Arcade. Ralph has grown tired of the lack of appreciation and ostracism from his fellow workers in his game. Seeking to prove he can be a hero too, Ralph sets off to acquire a medal (something only reserved for heroes). But as he explores other games in the arcade’s community in search of the elusive medal, he inadvertently triggers a series of events that could lead to disaster especially for the world of a tasty kart-racing game called Sugar Rush.
Inside the Sugar Rush world Ralph meets a cute but obnoxious little girl named Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman). She’s been ostracized by the people within her video game home mainly because she is so “glitchy” (something my fellow gamers will certainly get a kick out of). This common bond between Ralph and Vanellope develops into the film’s central relationship and it’s what keeps the movie from sinking into a mire of loud and repetitive slapstick.
Sugar Rush looks incredible and the blast of bright colors jump off the screen especially in high definition blu-ray. But it’s here where Wreck-it Ralph veers away from the cool video game angle it’s built on and instead makes candies and sweets the focus. Instead of Sonic the Hedgehog and Dig Dug we get taffy, lollipops, cough drops, oreo cookies, and diet cola. It won’t be a big deal for many but I was a little bummed at the shift away from what had drawn me to the picture. It was also here where the movie gets a little goofy and becomes an obvious reminder that it’s a kid’s film. The story begins to move as if it were on a hyperactive sugar rush and I kept wanting things to just calm down. But aside from that, the saving grace was the tender relationship between Ralph and Vanellope and despite its predictability I still found it pleasing. The relationship is built around some legitimate real-world feelings and I applaud the movie for tackling them in a respectful but also relatable way.
So while I liked Wreck-it Ralph and I would recommend it, it’ll still go down as a movie that didn’t see a good thing all the way through. Now I realize I’m not the film’s target audience and the two young kids I watched it with absolutely loved it. That’s says something and for that it deserves credit. It also has several funny moments, some spectacular animation, and a good message that revolves around a heartwarming relationship. I just wish it didn’t have that seemingly mandatory overly rambunctious middle section that is a staple of so many animated films today. With a little more of the movie’s early focus and a little less caffeine, this could been an even better picture.
For a look at another animated film of 2012, check out my review of the fantastic Frankenweenie.