Wreck-It Ralph (2013) – Review

Everything about Wreck-It Ralph screams Pixar.  The beautiful CGI animation, the unique and quite unconventional story, the subtle pop culture references, the heartwarming message, and the exquisite pre-feature short film, Paperman.  It makes sense that there are so many parallels considering Disney owns Pixar, but it’s still a rare occurrence these days to find such an original and organic animation that isn’t made by the latter.  Perhaps it’s because they’ve seemingly taken up permanent residence in sequel territory (Cars 2, Monsters University, Finding Nemo 2, Toy Story 3) that Disney feels an obligation to carry the torch for originals.  It would be a shame if Pixar really did forget about what made them so stand out in the first place, but as long as their parent company keeps making gems like this, I’m not too bothered.

You can’t help but instantly fall in love with this film after watching the aforementioned Paperman.   A blend of CGI and traditional hand-drawn animation, this piece of art is more beautiful, moving and captivating in seven minutes than many films manage in an hour and a half.  Once you’ve been thoroughly charmed by it, you’ll be ready for some more of the same.  And that’s just what you’ll get.

John C. Reilly voices the titular Ralph, the villain of the popular arcade game ‘Fix-It Felix’ who is fed up of always being the bad guy and outcast, while [Fix-It] Felix (Jack McBrayer) is lauded every day as the hero.  When Ralph goes AWOL in search of a medal to prove he can be a good guy, he crosses paths with Jane Lynch’s “dynamite gal” Calhoun and forms an unlikely bond with glitching racer Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) from the game ‘Sugar Rush’, all the while unwittingly placing the entire arcade in jeopardy.

As is so often the case with a great animation, the best parts are the little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details.  On your first viewing you’re looking at and listening to the main characters, but on the second you can pay attention to the little jokes the filmmaker throws at you from the background.  The bulk of Wreck-It Ralph‘s subtle jokes come when the setting is ‘Game Central Station’ (a great little gag), the central hub for every character from the every game in the arcade to mull around before taking a train to their respective games, where there is so much going on in the background that there are jokes you’ll get and some you’ll miss, but that’s all part of the fun.  Also, not only is the film riddled with video game references, as one would expect, but it also stocks its fair share of movie nods.  Among others, I spotted Indiana Jones, Predator, Star WarsFight Club, and maybe even American Psycho (although if it is indeed a reference to Christian Bale’s psychotic thriller, it’s a very subtle one).  There’s just so much in this to warrant coming back for a second, third and fourth viewing.  I love all that kind of stuff.

Director Rich Moore’s previous credits consist of little more than directing a few episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama, but that doesn’t stop him from taking an authoritative stamp of his first feature.  It can be hard to explain what actually makes a director look confident behind the camera (although I gave it a shot in my Zero Dark Thirty review), it’s just something you can feel whilst watching the film.  Nothing ever feels straggly or half-hearted, and every line (or joke in this case) works.  You get the impression with Wreck-It Ralph that anything that was less than perfect was cut long ago.

I really think this is more for the adults than the kids, but in the best possible way.  It’s not uncommon for this type of film to be aimed at both young and old, and of course there’s plenty of stuff in there that the younger viewers will enjoy (I was in a screening full of them so I should know), but the majority of the actual written jokes, as opposed to the physical humour, reference back to things that most of today’s generation just won’t get.  In the same way that films like Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Toy Story were intelligent in a way that didn’t alienate the younger audience, Wreck-It Ralph has a great time entertaining the grown ups while feeding off the success that the younger viewers will no doubt give it.  Kids will drag their parents to see this, but I reckon the parents will end up having even more fun.

*The ever so tiniest of spoilers in the following paragraph.  I’m not even sure if they are spoilers, but you’re warned anyway.

Ralph ticks all the usual Disney boxes, as it sort of has to.  The lovable but troubled protagonist, the evil villain who you don’t expect, the unlikely friendship/relationship that at some point falls apart before re-bonding, the heartwarming final message of endearing love and hope.  I suppose this could be seen as generic or a lack of imagination, but let’s be honest, we’d all be complaining if we didn’t get just that.  The reason we watch these films is because we want to laugh and feel happy, and these plot staples do just that.  And let’s face it, there’s absolutely no lack of imagination in Wreck-It Ralph‘s plot.  This thing is original to a tee.

The film has opened well in the UK and has already performed strongly at the US boxoffice, so there will no doubt be a sequel looming on the horizon.  I welcome that because I want to return to this world and see more of these characters, but I really hope there are more of these originals waiting behind the rafters at Disney, because they knocked this one out of the park.  Sequels are fine, but there’s just nothing that matches the magic of losing yourself in a brand new world like this.  There are strong similarities to Monsters Inc. in that respect.

Just a final little something I’d like to add is a word on the 3D.  The first time I saw it it was in twood, and it was beautiful, electric and bright.  The second time it was in threed.  Guess which was better.  I grow less and less convinced by 3D with every viewing (not that I was ever really convinced in the first place), and this was just another nail in the coffin.  It would be wrong to say it was worse than Texas Chainsaw 3D because at least that actually had some 3D, regardless of how rubbish it was.  The 3D in Wreck-It Ralph is literally non-existent.  Several times throughout the film I genuinely forgot I was watching it in 3D, because all it looked like was a darker version of the 2D screening.  They charge you extra for both the ‘experience’ of another dimension in a film, and a pair of uncomfortable glasses, and then they don’t even put 3D in the damn thing!  So, if you have the choice, you know what to do.

If it doesn’t quite reach the glorious heights of Pixar’s finest work, it gives it a darn good try.  I left with a spring in my step and a warmth in my heart, and while it’s still early days, this may well end up being the best animation of 2013.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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