Chet Greason, Popcornucopia
I was excited to see Wreck-It Ralph. Those ads depicting Zangief mixing it up with Bowser and Dr. Eggman in a video game villains support group had the old school gamer in me salivating. (I don’t mean to brag, but I’m unstoppable at Street Fighter II, both Super and Championship Editions, for the Sega Genesis. But Is Zangief a villain? M.Bison, yes, but I was under the impression Zangief was just the lovable, bear-wrestling Russian character.)
Coming into it with the expectation of revisiting my thumb-blistering formative years, I was pleased. The film is rife with nods to the world of gaming — from the Contra code to Metal Gear Solid’s trademark exclamation mark.
I was surprised to learn that Wreck-It Ralph had been in Disney’s development hell since the late ’80s. Knowing that, you can’t help but admire the timing of the film’s release; retro-gaming nostalgia, in all its 8 and 16-bit glory, being really popular right now.
It’s impressive that Disney was able to secure the rights to use so many trademarked characters, similar to how they had Donald and Daffy Duck square off in a piano duel in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But beyond the nods and references, Wreck-It Ralph is somewhat lacking in substance.
While Disney owns Pixar Animation Studios, it’s important to note that Wreck-It Ralph is not a Pixar film...it’s a Disney film. (Confused? Welcome to the world of homogenized entertainment.) The difference is noticeable, as Pixar continues to be well ahead of the competition in terms of the overall quality of their films.
Studios like Disney and Dreamworks have caught up with Pixar in terms of the quality of animation, but they still lack Pixar’s stellar ability to draw you in with compelling characters, sweet sentiment, and genuine humour. To compensate, the other studios tend to rely more on the use of popular celebrity personalities to drive their films.
That’s what we have with Wreck-It Ralph: First, they draw you in with the promise of retro video game-based content, which they deliver on. Once they have you in the seat, the challenge for Disney is to secure a place for the film on people’s must-rewatch list using all the stuff that makes films great; things like engaging stories and characters. This is where Wreck-It Ralph fails.
John C. Reilly plays the titular straight man, so his humour is largely unrealized. Jane Lynch (from Glee) and Jack McBrayer (from 30 Rock) play replicas of the characters that made them famous on the small screen, the result being more “What would happen if Sue Sylvester met Kenneth Parcell?” than actual substance.
That leaves Sarah Silverman, who, normally, I can’t stand (blame the desperation inherent in her brand of second-rate shock comedy). In Wreck-It Ralph, Silverman plays a cutes-patoots candyland racer, who, at one moment, is impishly devious, and the next moment, is pulling at your heartstrings as only a bullied child of circumstance can. She’s easily the best character in the film...maybe Silverman should leave offensive comedy to pros like Louis C.K. and start acting like an agreeable person more often?
As for story, Disney makes up the rules of the video-game-world-made-real as need be. Need a reason why the down-and-out characters can’t just walk away? How about glitches can’t leave games? Sure, that works. Need a budding relationship to have a falling out? Insert flashback explaining past-relationship hang-ups. Problem solved.
It’s these kinds of cheap tricks that hurt the story, and it’s the lack of meaningful characters that hurts the humour and sentiment. But Wreck-It Ralph still has its retro video game references; those make it at least worth a viewing...unless you’re not into that kind of thing.
For a film that heavily references gamer culture, in addition to being a unique and entertaining film, I recommend Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe.