Directed by Rich Moore
Written by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee
Let’s face it, movies about video games haven’t had the best track record. Never mind video game-based movies, what have we got? The Wizard (oof), Spy Kids 3 (barf), Tron (maybe…). Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t just change that trend; on its own merits, it’s genuinely great.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain in the 8-bit arcade game Fix It Felix Jr. (which has been defictionialized since before the movie’s release – go play it on iPhone, it’s pretty fun). After 30 years, he’s finally become tired of Felix (Jack McBrayer) winning medals and getting no recognition for himself, so he decides to game-hop, ending up in Sugar Rush and helping the outcast glitch Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). But if he doesn’t get back to his game before the arcade reopens, it’s getting unplugged.
The movie does well in building the world from the start. Considering that the movie has main characters from 3 different worlds, they look different. Ralph and Felix look like they belong in their game, but when they enter other games they look notably out of place. The way the characters come to life after arcade hours resembles Toy Story, but the world is built differently, with the characters freely hanging out in other games after-hours. This also gets in a lot of the well-publicized game cameos. This could’ve easily taken over the movie, but it’s thankfully only in the first act. This provides plenty of in-jokes for gamers (and trust me, there are A LOT in the fairly short amount of time. Get ready to wear out the pause button when this comes to DVD), but it also means that the movie doesn’t lose the non-gamers. In fact, the movie in general could’ve been too chaotic in its game-hopping, but once it gets to Sugar Rush, it settles in.
And it also finds its emotional voice from here. Ralph feels unappreciated thanks to constantly being defeated and never getting a chance to win, despite this being his job. Vanellope is glitchy and not allowed to race because of it. The two end up becoming a perfect pair as they build a car and practice. They’re the perfect mismatched pair. Ralph looms over Vanellope and their movements make it feel right. And ultimately, the movie’s message of being yourself and loving it is the kind of proper feel-good message that I just love to see. This is notably new territory for a Disney movie, but it fits its Disney-ness right into it.
And while maybe it’s not meant to be more than the world itself, there is a kind of gaming message in here. This is just me, not the attempting-to-be objective reviewer, but my feelings, and if you just want the movie review you can skip this. But maybe it just touched me in the same way that Hugo’s message of silent film restoration ended up getting to that nerdy part of me. The feeling of the arcade itself is this sadly ancient notion at this point. And the fear of being unplugged that looms over the movie is something that’s happened to so many games these days, never mind games that will never be seen, either on these shores or just in general. How many of these characters that we grow to love over the course of the movie can be mirrored in gaming characters that we’ll never see again, if at all? I’m reminded of the fact that several arcade games had built-in death timers that could’ve stopped people from ever playing them again, and people had to quickly save the games before they were lost. The new digital landscape means that things are being saved, and maybe someday all these old games, lost in some way, will be ready for new gamers to experience them.
Ah well. It’s just the feelings that Wreck-It Ralph brings in me. It’s a truly emotional movie that’s certainly made to appeal to gamers, but has absolutely no problem bringing its message to everybody. I didn’t expect Disney to make a video game movie, but I hope they make some more.