Monday, March 16, 2015

Film Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed the 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. And it was good. Great, even. Now, in said review, I mentioned it as one of two movies that took video games culture seriously. Here is the other one I had in mind.

Wreck-It Ralph
  • Publisher: Disney 
  • Production Company: Walt Disney Animation Studios 
  • Release: 2 November 2012 
  • Director: Rich Moore 
  • Producer: Clark Spencer: 
  • Writers: Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee 
Our protagonist, the titular [1] Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), is, oddly enough, the antagonist in his home, the video game Fix-It Felix Jr., starring, of course, Fix-It Felix Junior (Jack McBrayer). But this movie is not about Felix; rather, the focus is on Ralph, who's going through a sort of mid-life crisis as our story starts. Specifically, he's grown tired of being the villain in his game. Repeatedly watching Felix win pies from the townspeople while you get thrown in the mud can do that to you. So when the other characters throw a party for their game's 30th anniversary, Ralph isn't invited but shows up anyway. Suffice to say, his appearance is not taken well by the NPC townspeople, so he goes off to drown his sorrows (specifically, at the bar from Root Beer Tapper).

From there, Ralph's quest to earn their acceptance takes him through games like the rail-shooter Hero's Duty and the candy-themed kart-racer Sugar Rush, where most of the film takes place. In terms of additional characters, Hero's Duty gives us miss Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a no-nonsense sergeant prone to unusual, euphemistic expressions, and Sugar Rush gives us Vanellope von Schweetz (Susan Sarandon), who wants to participate in her game's races but is kept from doing so because of her nasty habit of "glitching". Calhoun was a lot of fun to watch, due largely to the juxtaposition of her serious attitude against the colourful, quirky backdrop of Sugar Rush. Also, she is played by Jane Lynch, who is just awesome. Vanellope, not so much. Her rude interactions with Ralph are annoying both for him and the viewer, and while she does garner sympathy as the plot moves along, it can't undo all the damage made by her first impression.

I've got to be honest, I was a little slow to experience this film at first. My major misgiving was that I was afraid they'd misrepresent gaming culture, and nerds are a terrible people to misrepresent. But the powers involved with Wreck-It Ralph know their stuff. They licenced many real video-game characters to make cameos, and background sight-gags are plentiful as well, such as graffiti messages stating things like "Aeris lives" [2] and "Sheng Long was here" [3]. Furthermore, there's a scene where the villain goes into the internal code of Sugar Rush (by entering the Konami Code [4], natch), and makes a slight alteration. The way the code is depicted, with its visual depictions of entities and attributes, is indeed true to the nature of object-oriented programming, and yet visualised in a manner accessible to the layman.

Apart from that, Wreck-It Ralph plays with the concept of heroic and villainous roles in storytelling. For starters the main character of the movie is the antagonist of his own world, only to get wrapped up in an even greater plot, thus becoming the protagonist. They even use this role-reversal for comedy as well. For example, there's a scene where Felix is locked in prison and tries to break out by smashing the window bars with his magic hammer, only to fix them further instead, like what he does in his own game. Even the product placement (and there's lots of it, mind you) gets in on the puns, such as the swamp of "Nesquik-sand", or the "Devil Dogs" owned by the police department in Sugar Rush. Normally I cast a wary eye on product placement, but in this case it's used so cleverly that I'll give it a pass. Between all the genre-busting, sight gags, and references, I dare say Wreck-It Ralph even comes close to Airplane!'s level of comedy. It doesn't match up, of course, but what does these days?

Up until now I seem to have given off the impression that I like this film too much. So let's make this review more fun and run down some plot holes!!
  • If the star of Fix-It Felix, Jr. is Fix-It Felix Junior, shouldn't there be a Fix-It Felix Senior hanging about? 
  • What is Zangief doing at the Bad-Anon meeting? Isn't his role in the Street Fighter series less-than-villainous? 
  • For that matter, what about Bowser and Dr. Robotnik? Their respective franchises aren't associated with the arcade scene. I mean, sure, there was an arcade port of Super Mario Bros., and I've seen it more than once, so it's not exactly rare. But Sonic the Hedgehog? Less so. Maybe they've got a Genesis hooked up in the back room, but by this point I'm just being nitpicky, so let's move on. 
  • If "going turbo" (read: leaving your game) is treated as such a bad thing, then why is Game Central Station (read: the surge protector all the game cabinets are hooked up to) so busy with so many characters going so many places when the arcade is closed for the night? 
  • For that matter, shouldn't the arcade owner switch the power off at night? And what would happen then? Surely the characters -- even the spatially misplaced ones -- wouldn't die forever; they'd be regenerated in their own games when they boot up again?
  • Ignoring the above point, if Turbo died when he invaded Road Blasters (a real game, by the way) and both it and his game were shut off and taken out of the arcade, then how did he come back as King Candy from Sugar Rush
  • Ignoring the above point, if Vanellope finishing the qualifying race resets the world of Sugar Rush, even after King Candy gets defeated, wouldn't that regenerate him as well? 
  • And why does she still have her glitch ability even after the game was reset and her connections to the code were restored
  • And how could the citizens of Sugar Rush remember that they lost their memories? 
  • Are the Cybugs from Hero's Duty supposed to eat and delete all the data they come across, within their own game or otherwise? What kind of sick programmer would do such a thing!? 
That's quite the laundry list of questionables, eh? But before you get the wrong idea, remember I took the same attitude in my review of The Wind Rises. The only reason I nitpicked it as much as I did was because it captured my interest enough to warrant that kind of further inspection. They say you only hurt the ones you love, and that being the case I must really love both films. I may have had fun in seeking out all those plot holes, but I had just as much fun actually watching the film. It's funny, well-researched, poignant, but most of all, it's innovative, taking the concepts of hero and villain for a new spin. And shattering conventions is something Disney's been doing a lot lately, as in this, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and to a lesser extent, Frozen. They're still a hundred years too early to compete with the Japanese anime scene at its best, but one could do far worse than hang out with The Mouse these days.

+ A genre-busting plot.
+ Very pretty animation and character designs.
+ Jane motherfalcon Lynch.

- Vanellope's character and performance.
- Quite a few odd plot holes.

Acting: 4 cybugs out of 5
Writing: 4 cybugs out of 5
Animation: 5 cybugs out of 5
Visual Design: 5 cybugs out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

[1] Except in Japan, where the film is known as Sugar Rush.
[2] Refers to Aeris/Aerith from Final Fantasy VII, famous for her death scene, which one apparently does not need to spoil anymore.
[3] Refers to a victory line from Street Fighter II ("You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance"), which triggered a rumour about a character with that name hidden in the game. There is no such character; "Sheng Long" is merely the Chinese translation of Ryu's "Shoryuken" or "Dragon Punch" attack.
[4]The "Konami Code" is a cheat sequence built into several classic games made by the publisher Konami, such as Gradius and Contra on the NES.  It's the one that goes "Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Select, Start", or some variation thereof.

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