Wreck-It Ralph is sticky sweet

For a generation weaned on more Mario than Mother Goose, Wreck-It Ralph has been a long time coming. An 8-bit fairy tale with a burly bruiser in the role of the misunderstood princess, it skews a tad more prepubescent than Pixar but shares similar DNA. Writers Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston won’t be unlocking any bonus levels for originality, with a conceit that feels poached from Toy Story and a take-home message espoused by almost every kid-targeted piece of entertainment in the last half century. But with boundless energy and enough saccharine sentiment to win an entire cupcake crusade, let alone a mere war, Wreck-It Ralph is basically calorie-free comfort food.

Set in an arcade where the characters in the games come to life when nobody’s watching, the film follows Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), who is basically Donkey Kong without the hair and plumber problem. His “job” is to smash the crap out of a building so that Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) can use his magic hammer to do repairs. Only Ralph is in the midst of a pixelated existential crisis, no longer wanting to cause mayhem and destruction but create unity and joy. Despite AA-style self-help meetings designed for “bad guys” to not feel like bad guys, Ralph is forlorn.

So he “game hops” in search of accolades to prove his worth, landing in “Heroes’ Duty,” a first-person shooter led by a no-nonsense gal named Calhoun (Jane Lynch). By accident, Ralph winds up in “Sugar Rush,” a kart-racing game inhabited by a spunky kid named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). Before you can say “awkward friendship,” Ralph finds himself helping Vanellope battle King Candy (Alan Tudyk) while Felix and Calhoun fight the alien menace that accidentally followed the characters to the childlike racing game. The soul-searching quest for identity moves at a relentless pace, only pressing pause for “duty vs doody” jokes.

Director Rich Moore snaps off the gearshift at its high point, never letting the film rest, which works perfectly in a film targeted to kids who grew up with fruit-fly attention spans. There is no sophistication or depth to Ralph’s “find my place in the world” struggles, nor to the copious bodily function jokes, which isn’t to say both aren’t somewhat effective. Silverman’s voice is sometimes cloying, and it’s possible that the film sets a record for “most weepy-eyed CGI characters,” but it’s all so well-intentioned that it is easy to forgive.

Many have praised this as the first truly great “video game movie.” It most certainly isn’t. It’s simply a fairy tale movie; a classic Disney yarn dressed in video game trappings. It is no more the “first great video game movie” than Snow White was the “first great movie to espouse buying organic produce.” The growing animosity between those who feel games are a fertile artistic medium and those who abhor that concept will have to wait for another champion to settle things. Wreck-It Ralph is too busy being cute, sweet and generally adorable to make any substantial contributions.

Grade = B


posted at 07:25 am
on Saturday, November 03rd, 2012


(We're testing Disqus commenting (finally!); please let us know if you have trouble.)

comments powered by Disqus


« Previous Page

Worst. Children’s Book. Ever.

The horror genre is not my least favorite genre solely because white people keep making period costume dramas. At their worst, horror flicks revel in sadism and do so shoddily, with weak acting,...

more »

Happy, Little Clouded

Actual human beings made The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and you can tell. A water-colored rebuke of the robots who computer-generate most modern animation, every luscious scene is hand-crafted and...

more »

No Big Bang

In 1965, Stephen Hawking wrote his first ground-breaking thesis and wed Jane Wilde. His paper argued that if a star can collapse inwards to form a singularity, then a singularity can explode back...

more »

Leni Riefen-stalling

On the one hand, any film subtitled “Part 1” is a naked cash grab. On the other hand, shut up and take my money, Hunger Games. Mockingjay Part 1, like the rest of the franchise, is billed as “Young...

more »

Oopsie Genius

I know two things for sure: (1) Birdman aims to relentlessly drive home one singular point, one thoroughly expressed thesis about life and art. (2) It does not succeed. You would think that would...

more »

Advanced Search