If you go to see this film in the cinema and you’re at the part where King Candy (played by the hilarious Alan Tudyk) is pressing buttons on an old Nintendo controller and you hear someone go “Ah-ha!”, that person is a geek. If you hear someone laugh, that person is an Über-Geek. If you hear someone shout “Up, up, down, down, left right, left, right, B, A. It’s the Konami Code! Quick where’s my copy of Contra?!” then you’re probably sharing a cinema with me. Yes after playing video games for twenty two years, ever since I was three, you’ll probably not be surprised to hear that I’m pre disposed to like Wreck-It Ralph.
Wreck-It Ralph has been marketed as Toy Story for Video Games, a film that serves to satirise, lampoon and celebrate video games in all their various forms. As such one of the major selling points of the movie is all the little in jokes and cameos that the film has fun making. It’s peppered with the kind of humour that most will not even notice, or be bamboozled as to why that, for example, certain members of the audience laughed at that exclamation point in his hand or why is there a giant pink Rhino giving him advice.
The dedication to the premise is impressive, arcade screens provide the characters with a window into the real world and old 8-Bit (ugh, sorry, mid 80’s) characters walk at a rate of one frame per second (you can figure that one out for yourself). But the real genius of Wreck-It Ralph is it’s inclusiveness. How it seamlessly brings together various elements that unite the old and young, male and female, hardcore and casual. But mostly it succeeds because all the referencing serves only to support a funny, engrossing, heart-warming and occasionally heart breaking movie.
The main character is the titular Ralph (John C. Reilly) , a Donkey Kong-esque villain in a popular retro arcade game whose daily routine is to destroy an apartment block and get thrown off the top by the hero, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). Because in the context of the game Ralph lives in a dump, alone and away from all the other characters when the arcade closes and the machines are all shut down, he still lives in the alone in the dump. All the characters in the game worlds except the bad guys keep up the status quo and societal expectations, even when no one is playing. This makes the bad guys social pariahs, objects of fear to the children and outcasts from social gatherings.
Unhappy with this situation, Ralph searches for acceptance in other games thinking that if he cant be the hero in his game maybe he can be it in someone else’s. This takes him to a game called Heroes Duty where he accidentally unleashes a virus upon the home game of a broken character called Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).
Silverman gives the best voice over performance in a film filled with excellent ones. The characters are crafted in a way that takes full advantage of their voice actors personalities to the point that you’re not sure what came first, the screenplay or the casting. They all represent an exaggerated version of themselves, Vanellope adds an adorable infantile immaturity to Sarah Silverman’s mischievous impishness and Jane Lynch brings her tough as nails demeanour to a bad ass heroine. The relationships they forge with their male partners is what gives the story its heart, makes it a memorable experience and raises from the level of an amusing video game exhibit to that of a memorable and moving piece of cinema.
The film never gets so bogged down in the references that it forgets what keeps an audience interested is the story. It would have been easy to just take the audience on a tour of Disneyfied arcade cabinets and make it a roller coaster of a film with countless chase sequences. But that isn’t the game that Wreck-It Ralph is playing. A third of the way in the film the story finds its natural home and puts the whole “here is how a video game character would work in real life” trope to bed. Now the jokes and references must work around the story instead of the story working around the jokes and references.
The fact that the game the film settles down into is called Candy Land and seems to have been made by a multinational conglomerate purely to advertise its products, spoils the films otherwise harmless and innocent aesthetic. Ads for confectionery cheapen the creative vision and threaten its claim at being an entry for the animated A-list cannon, but for the most inspired Wizard of Oz pun I’ve ever seen they are cautiously forgiven.
Wreck – It Ralph is one of those films that can be enjoyed by the children who want to go to the cinema and the parents they drag along. While never quite being on the same nigh on untouchable level of Toy Story or Spirited Away, Wreck-It Ralph’s cheeky sense of humour, loving parody and wonderful story make it 2013’s animation to beat.