Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph ★★★★

A Lovable Animated Character of the 8-bit Kind

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Growing up, my console of choice was Sega Genesis and the game I spent countless hours trying to conquer was Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic and I were a great team until, of course, I accidentally made him jump onto a row of spikes or bash into a badnik, at which point we would start the level over. Eventually we would reach the third act of a level and be forced to defeat the maniacal Dr. Robotnik, thereby saving the helpless animals he had trapped in machines. I watched Robotnik explode thousands of times, never thinking that Robotnik may have grown tired of always being the bad guy and never getting the spotlight Sonic did. I should have been more considerate.

The writers of Wreck-It Ralph obviously had these concerns in mind while growing up, as this charming film is all about the existential crisis of Ralph (John C. Reilly), the title character and villain to a video game called Fix-It Felix, Jr., wherein Ralph breaks down buildings that Felix (Jack McBrayer) must repair in order to win the game. It's now the thirtieth anniversary of the game's release, and Ralph has had enough of the lonely life his role offers him. He wants to be the hero everyone roots for as opposed to the lug that other characters are afraid of. He's even in a villain support group (which includes Dr. Robotnik) because of his dilemma.

When Ralph decides he's had enough, he determines that the best way to be seen as a hero is to win a medal from one of the other arcade games. The game of his choice, as fate would have it, is a first-person shooter game called Hero's Duty, which involves destroying thousands of alien bugs. Things don't go as planned, and, by way of escape pod, Ralph lands in an entirely different game known as Sugar Rush, a racing game whose landscape is made up of so much candy and chocolate that I may have a cavity just from having seen this movie. From this point on, Ralph is on a quest for his medal, which is now lost in the abyss of Sugar Rush, while also trying to prove his heroism by helping out a glitch in Sugar Rush named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a 12-year-old who, like Ralph, is frowned upon for being different. Those differences are precisely what make these characters and the film itself so special.

At times, the idea of embracing one's uniqueness borders on being "too Disney" for older audiences like myself. But happily, Wreck-It Ralph has such a refreshing style and look about it that I found myself forgiving its hammer-over-the-head message and loving it for all that it is. That is, a film that has as much charm, joy and laughter as everything great that Pixar has ever created (Up, Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo, to name a few) and then some.

Part of that comes from the approach the filmmakers chose, which was making the world of a video games and the characters that inhabit them something to be taken seriously, but not too seriously. The screenplay by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee is so obviously personal that there's no way audiences can't relate to the material in some way. The director, Rich Moore, whose credits include episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama, understands comedy and uses that knowledge to the film's advantage. Any other director may have gone too far in one direction, but thankfully, Moore is the perfect choice to bring these characters to life.

Inhabiting those characters, in addition to Reilly, Silverman and McBrayer are Jane Lynch as Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, the leader of the characters in Hero's Duty and the object of Felix's desires, and Alan Tudyk, hilarious and incredibly creepy as King Candy, the leader and true villain of the movie. Each of these actors are cast perfectly, bringing something truly human to each of their characters, enlivening the comedy in every scene they are in.

In addition to the characters themselves, the animation is top-notch. Both the 8-bit and modern animation work perfectly together making the film feel nostalgic but also of its time. The colors are extremely vivid, especially in Sugar Rush, while the darker tones of Hero's Duty make it feel like you're actually in an Alien movie. Fix-It Felix, Jr., meanwhile, reminds me of another one of my favorite games, Rampage, in which monsters destroy dozens of city buildings.

Wreck-It Ralph is one of the surprising delights of the year and one audiences of all ages can enjoy. It also includes an animated short feature called Paperman, a brilliant, dialogue-free movie about a man who uses paper planes to get the attention of a woman he saw for only a moment on the morning train. It's a beautiful story, and one that works perfectly with Wreck-It Ralph's themes.

I think it's time that I play one of the Sonic games again, albeit with more consideration for Dr. Robotnik's feelings of being blown up by a hedgehog.

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