Wreck-It Ralph Review
You know those times when you saw a trailer for a movie, and you initially had no idea what to make of it? That’s me when I was first introduced to the trailer of a little movie called Wreck-It Ralph. I think it was in the CheshireCatStudios forum that somebody posted the first trailer for the movie, and I admit that I honestly had no clue how to feel. I mean, it was really interesting to see iconic licensed characters involved in the film, like Dr. Robotnik, Bowser, and Clyde the Ghost (as well as lesser-known characters like the Beholder from Dungeons & Dragons or Neff from Altered Beast). On the other hand, the trailer gave me the impression that the story would be a simplistic “travel to different worlds to be a hero”plot, and I really wanted to punch Sarah Silverman’s character in the face because she seemed so unbearably annoying. With loads of speculation in the forums, the rest of the CCS Crew felt the same way I did. Well, time passed, and eventually the movie came out this past weekend. After all this time I still really wanted to go see Wreck-It Ralph because I was optimistic. True, I was cautiously optimistic like I was when I saw Silent Hill: Relevation because I was really trying to not go in with high expectations only to be let down. Well, this time was different; instead of leaving the theatre with the desire to promptly hang myself with the very tie I was wearing, I felt a kind of exuberance you get after you come home from a really, really good day. In a word, Wreck-It Ralph made me really, really happy, and I have no regrets seeing it.
I felt kinda like this
What makes Wreck-It Ralph a movie worth seeing, exactly? For me, it is for a number of reasons, and the ideal place to start is with addressing what the trailer made me so skeptical about: its story and characters. See, aside from Looper, Wreck-It Ralph is one of the only movies I’ve seen in theatres this year that has really gotten me excited about something, and part of what makes it special is its huge amount of creativity. Already distinguishing itself from the rest of the crowd by not being a sequel, remake, or reimagining, Wreck-It Ralph goes that extra mile by having a story that manages to break free from the established Disney formula. Instead of its plot simply being either a) a musical based on either a Hans Christian Andersen or Brothers Grimm fairy tale, or b) a character’s quest to be a hero while learning one of life’s many lessons, Wreck-It Ralph is about a video game villain who just wants to be appreciated instead of feared. Right away, we see a departure from other Disney films because this is the first time where we are actually meant to care for a character that is, by definition, a bad guy. After working as the antagonist in “Fix-It Felix Jr.” for 30 years, living alone in a dump and feared by the denizens of the game, Wreck-It Ralph decides to prove his worth and try to do heroic things so that the other characters will like him. This may sound similar to other films like Hercules where, in the beginning, the main character is an outcast who is either disliked or feared by the other people around him, but Wreck-It Ralph plays with your expectations.
Instead of simply having fate choose Ralph as The One to destroy some sort of evil, and being thrust into a heroic quest to save the world as a result, Ralph starts his journey to simply get a shiny medal so people will like him. One of the main concerns I had with Wreck-It Ralph before seeing it was that I was worried Ralph would be like a lot of other Disney protagonists – bland, nice, one-note, and completely boring to follow (some prominent examples include Snow White, Cinderella, Prince Eric, and Ariel). A lot of these characters, while supposedly relatable and the ones you are meant to root for, are too perfect and goody-goody for you to really find them compelling. Ralph, on the other hand, I found much more relatable because he actually has a lot more depth, and he goes through character development that feels natural. In the beginning, he’s a dumb brute who thinks that having a shiny medal will make him a good guy who is loved by everybody. However, as he actually continues on his quest, he comes to a much better understanding of what being a good guy is all about, also coming to terms with being a video game ‘badguy.’ Zangief puts it best when he says “Just because you are a badguy doesn’t mean you are a bad guy.” Ralph is a protagonist I can care a lot about because he undergoes character development that feels very natural, making him feel a lot more rounded as a result.
While I’m on the topic, the other main characters in Wreck-It Ralph are also well-rounded and likable in their own different ways. Vanellope Von Schweetz, the other major protagonist in the film, is another element of the film that I was apprehensive about when I first saw the trailer. See, I normally really dislike Sarah Silverman, who voices the character, and when Vanellope appeared in the trailer all I wanted to do was punch her in the face. As far as first impressions go, she was an obnoxious character. In the actual film, Vanellope is so much more than that; when you actually learn more about her, she turns out to be a more likable character. Vanellope is actually a glitch that is not meant to exist, and as a result she is shunned by the other characters in the game “Sugar Rush.” She wants to partake in the races, but she is constantly prevented from doing so by King Candy, the sovereign of Sugar Rush’s world, because it would ruin the game. After learning this, Vanellope evolves from that really annoying character in the trailers to somebody you feel really bad for, and you want to see her succeed after Ralph promises to help her race. There is tragedy behind this seemingly innocent child, and that is what makes her all the more compelling. As for the other characters in Wreck-It Ralph, there isn’t really a single character that feels wasted or unnecessary; Fix-It Felix, the stereotypical nice guy who parodies Mario, wants to bring Ralph back to their game so that it doesn’t end up getting unplugged. Sgt. Calhoun, a hard-as-iron drill sergeant from the Gears of War parody “Hero’s Duty,” was programmed “to have the most tragic backstory imaginable,” so she can’t help but give everyone the cold shoulder and stick to business. Really, I love Wreck-It Ralph‘s cast because all of the characters are likable, and actually carry a depth to them that you don’t really see in other Disney fares like The Princess and the Frog, or Tangled. With this movie, the studio definitely took a chance and succeeded in creating something truly unique.
Sgt. Calhoun and Fix-It Felix
The next thing I’m going to cover is the world that Ralph, Felix, and company inhabit, because this is where a lot of the appeal initially came from. Ever since the first trailer came out, video game fans collectively drooled because when they started watching it they saw some recognizable faces. Fan reaction at the time usually went “HOMG IT’S BOWSER, AND ROBOTNIK, AND M. BISON. THIS IS GUNNA BE A GREAT MOVIE, GUYS.” Disney’s advertising campaign for Wreck-It Ralph since then has been to make these cameos the selling point, knowing that all of these existing characters would bring in a lot of gamers. From reading some of the more misguided reviews, it was pretty plain to see that a lot of people went to see this movie because they thought their favorite characters were going to play a large part in the movie’s story. Although Disney didn’t live up to this promise, was it their intention? Well, although it was nice to see a load of cameos from iconic characters, they never played a large part in the film’s plot. Some see this as a weak point, but I actually see it as one of the movie’s core strengths; the purpose of the licensed characters being featured in Wreck-It Ralphis to help build the world that the movie takes place in, and make it feel more believable.
A movie that I feel very comfortable comparing Wreck-It Ralph to is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? because they are similar in this respect; both movies feature licensed characters from other companies that inhabit the world the story takes place in, the former in an arcade, and the latter in 1940’s Hollywood. However, both Wreck-It Ralphand Who Framed Roger Rabbit? don’t have these licensed characters play a role in the plot. Instead, they make the world more ‘authentic’ to the audience, and it really shows that the people behind this movie have a great love for video games. Let’s face it, how authentic do you think the Wreck-It Ralph universe would have been if all of the character cameos were replaced with obvious knock-offs? They would serve their purpose, but the audience wouldn’t feel that much of a connection to the world because they know that none of the knock-off characters could conceivably exist. The same applies with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which has a more authentic feel because we do see characters like Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, or Droopy Dog co-exist in that world, so we know that Toon Town could be a real place. Another quick point I would like to emphasize is that it is a good thing the licensed characters did not play a part in the story because this would have possibly led to them acting ‘out of character,’ which would have pissed a lot of fans off. For example, how likely would it be that M. Bison, Dr. Robotnik, and Bowser helped Ralph save the world, and help Vanellope become a racer in “Sugar Rush”? Not very likely at all. Getting back on point, I also feel that both Wreck-It Ralph and Who Framed Rogger Rabbit? share a core strength in that they have self-contained plots in this expansive universe, and this is where Wreck-It Ralph truly shines.
Cameos, and misleading advertising, abound!
Wreck-It Ralph has an incredibly tight story, and although I was at first skeptical with how it would turn out, I found that the plot was one of the best aspects of the movie. Although I thought Wreck-It Ralph was going to simply be a ‘journey film,’ where Ralph travels from game to game while on a quest to be a good guy, what I got instead was an emotional, very tightly-written story complete with its own mythos. As I said, this film’s story was very self-contained, and just like how Who Framed Roger Rabbit? focused on the mystery of Eddy Valiant trying to clear Roger’s name, Wreck-It Ralph focused on the exploits of Ralph and Vanellope as they both find their true purpose in life. The self-containment of Wreck-It Ralph‘s story can only be a good thing because it focuses on the development of the original characters without leaving any plotholes open. For example, there was a major subplot that wasn’t simply fed to the audience by forced exposition in the beginning of the movie (unlike the many subplots ofSilent Hill Revelation, which did just this). Instead, the subplot was subtlely explored as the story progressed, and it was given a great payoff that led to a huge twist near the end of the movie. Every character was given a proper arc, the story had no plotholes, and the movie packed an emotional punch that a) made me give a damn about the characters, and b) actually made me feel a whole range of emotions, which is pretty rare for animated films these days outside of Pixar (and even then, they haven’t been delivering in that department as of late). The story made me walk out of the theatre with a big grin on my face, and this is because it was very well-executed. The writers did what they should have done, and that was focus on telling a good story instead of worrying about making Sonic the Hedgehog or Zangief help Ralph save the day.
Overall, Wreck-It Ralph is a serious contender for this year’s best animated film (for once, that doesn’t go to Pixar) because it gets so much right when it comes to how it presented its story, how characters are all well-developed, and even how it handled the gratuitous cameos. Wreck-It Ralph was able to build its own self-contained story in a way where it really was something to behold, and the story was fresh and original. Truly, and I’m not exaggerating, this is this generation’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?