Shegaw Reviews Wreck-It Ralph

4 Nov

It’s strange how dubious of a title being called “the best video game movie of all-time” can be. Sure, there’s the virtue of video game movies being inherently awful. We are all familiar with this. Exceptions have been made for movies like the first Mortal Kombat. Maybe some of the Resident Evil movies were passable, but I’d be hard-pressed to distinguish any of them from each other. Oh, and I have my soft spot Street Fighter. I mean, “Muscles from Brussels” [Jean-Claude Van Damme] as an American military colonel spouting lines like, “Come out from behind the curtain, wizard!”

Having said that, it is generally recognized that these movies are good for video games, but not as movies in their own right. The bar is set low for video game adaptations. But there have been great video game movies. Scott Pilgrim was musical that broke into fighting games (and song too). King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was a great documentary that worked up competition of a video game world record into a professional boxing match. eXistenZ, Indie Game: The Movie and many others have held the title of “best video game movie” as well and now Wreck-It Ralph can join that club.

Wreck-it Ralph is an analog of seminal Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong, Jr. games. The titular Wreck-It Ralph, voiced by John C. Reily, is the appropriately named antagonist to Fix-It Felix [voiced by Jack McBrayer]. Simple relationship: Ralph wrecks stuff, Felix fixes it and obvious reviewer is obvious. Taking a page out of Toy Story, and this is where I’ll draw the line on the comparisons to it, the games and characters in a place called Litwak’s Arcade come to life when the place closes at night and gather at Game Central Station. Feeling unfulfilled and unwanted, Ralph decides that he no longer wants be the villain and sets out on a mission to become a good guy and leave his own game. However, there are unforeseen consequences for leaving his own game that could leave all of the games in peril.

The sight of seeing so many characters from the most popular games of the 80s and 90s is just something to behold for video game fans. No doubt, you’ve seen the trailer for this one that depicts the bad guy support group. It’s great, funny and only a taste of all the characters you’ll see in the first act of the film. Disney certainly put their money where their mouth is here as this movie must have been one of the most expensive just in terms of rights acquisition. The House of Mouse/Avengers/Jedi managed to capture a surreal daze for a while making these characters interact. It’s akin to seeing Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse together in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Michael Playstation 3 commercial or pitting Mario, Sonic and Solid Snake against each other in Super Smash Brothers Brawl.

Of course, it’s not enough to have a fat wallet and afford these characters to make a good movie. There’s a genuine sensation of recognition for these characters and the way they act. Yes, Q*bert makes the @!#?@! sounds, but it’s often more subtle than that. You’ll be watching two characters talk and, in the background, Sonic will get gently nudged causing rings to come flying out of him. There’s graffiti on the arcade that says stuff like “all your base are belong to us” and “Leeroy Jenkins.” It just displays that the people working on this movie have a genuine love for the subject matter. Even the short that opens the film, Paperman, is fantastic in that respect. The movie has heart and humor, but it’s not without its faults.

While the first act is a buffet of references and sight gags, things slowed down a bit after that because the movie isn’t about those characters. It’s about Ralph and his quest for identity, recognition and fulfillment. This introduces us to the main plot device of the film: game jumping. In an effort to get his, Ralph leaves his game to enter another called Hero’s Duty that’s effectively Halo meets Call of Duty meets Gears of War. There’s actually an interesting thematic commentary here on the generation gap and how much things have changed 20-30 years. Games are more violent and scary and it makes me wonder if we as a society are becoming increasingly hardened and perhaps cynical at times. But then I steal a car, kill civilians with gun that uses a cat as a silencer, buy a hooker, run her over, get my money back and go about my day. In all seriousness, the Hero’s Duty section is probably the best part of the film. It’s full of action, allows for a bit of drama, but it is very much short lived. It felt like as I was settling into this world, it gets replaced with another game jump. This time to a game called Sugar Rush.

The Sugar Rush portion of this film is Candyland (hey, it’s still a game) crossed with a stock cart racing game. I don’t want to say Mario Kart because it’s so easy, so I’ll cite it as an allusion to all those flash games on kids websites out there. It’s too bad that for a racing game called Sugar Rush that things slow down. And if you’re groaning at the pun, you should! This whole movie has it’s share of puns, but this section is filthy with them. It’s borderline Cars 2 level pun-ishment. What’s worse is that they’re not even game-based. They’re puns about candy. Halloween just passed and you’re drilling this into our teeth? Admittedly, this section skews younger and introduces the character Vanellope von Schweetz [Sarah Silverman]. She’s the typical annoying and diminutive comedic relief with a surprising emotional turn that gets injecting into these animated films. I’ll admit that the dramatic turn in this section is genuinely gripping, but the whole section still feels drawn out for the kids. It may be necessary considering how many of the games alluded to in this movie skew to older audiences.

One of my complaints about this movie has to do with the balance of what we, as an audience, have been given and what we’ve been sold on. I make a point not to criticize movies for what I would have done, but what has been done or at least attempted. I wanted more games in this movies. Yes, they’re all over the arcade, but that gets curtailed once we’ve started game jumping and it really should have picked up more. We enter this these worlds [Hero’s Duty, Sugar Rush] created for the movie, but they’re juxtaposed to all of the real world virtual worlds. Yes, it’s a self-contradictory statement, but give a free slot here, I’m on a roll. If anything, the adjacent arcade cabinets weren’t as thoroughly explored as they could have been.

And here’s where I may be plucking at short hairs, but for all of the characters that Disney got from games to be in this film, there is at least one that is conspicuously absent. It is a gripe that is purely business related, and many would cite me for being ungrateful for all that we’re given. Yeah, I’d love it if Nathan Drake, Master Chief, Kratos, Vector Man and Okami were there, but I’m not complaining about it, but it’s clear that the movie wanted to go down a road regarding a particular character it was just incapable of doing so. I’m sure you guys can tell based on my not so clandestine coded language that I’m talking about Toe Jam & Earl. I just want a poindexter wearing rocketskates. Still, for all of my complaining, this a Disney movie that contains Mortal Kombat style Fatalities! The film was practically tailored for me and I was smiling throughout it. It’s visual feast, the voice acting is good across the cast (the line blurring the actors from their animated forms is very thin and pixelated), sight gags like limited animation are aplenty and it may even warm your heart at times. Hopefully, this movie makes enough slots and tokens that it gets a 1up so more game worlds and characters can be explored. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to ponder how awful the direct video game tie-in for this movie would have been.

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