As a long time retro gamer, I won’t deny that Wreck-it Ralph has been one of my most anticipated titles, and even though it’s taken far too long for it to reach South African shores, I assure you that the wait has been worth it.
When Wreck-it Ralph, a video game villain, is no longer fulfilled by his role as an antagonist in the popular Fix-it Felix Jr. game, Ralph leaves his game and ventures into other cabinets in the arcade in search of a medal to prove his heroism. Little does Ralph know that his actions are wreaking havoc on the game worlds that he enters.
Conceptually Wreck-it Ralph combines elements of Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but at the same time is not defined by those films – This isn’t the Roger Rabbit for this generation, but it does carry the spirit of a unified world that the Zemeckis classic portrayed, and unlike Roger Rabbit, Ralph is much more innocent. The main hook of the film for most will be the inclusion of gamings most memorable characters as part of the cameo cast: Street Fighter, Sonic, Mario, Q*bert, and many other franchises strong and long gone give a nod of validation to the film. However, Wreck-it Ralph is not defined by its cameos, in fact the cameos are really more of tool of association and marketing than serious plot points.
It’s not often that a film resonates with my childhood as much as Wreck-it Ralph; however, it is not just fan service, Wreck-it Ralph is genuine and goes beyond what would be considered a tribute. The film takes me back to the carefree days of the playground where arguments where not of politics but rather who is better Mario or Sonic?. Of course, the multitude of references and the quirkiness of their presentation is not only what Wreck-it Ralph has to offer, beneath it’s 8-bit roots is a humble tale that with or without theme, just works.
Wreck-it Ralph is hardly unique in terms of modern story, lets just think about how many films there have been of recent times with villains that want something more from life. The difference is that Ralph is self-aware, attending therapy sessions to assist him with his existential quandary - where other villains gradually transition into the hero role, Ralph never really starts out as a villain internally, he has simply been typecast for the position. The inhabitants of his game only see him as bully though, judging him without cause because of the programming that gives him a purpose.
Just like the principles of gaming itself, Wreck-it Ralph embodies the idea of risk taking, not only for the characters but for Disney itself. The company so well known for weaving predictable but nonetheless charming tales hasn’t been known for attempting something new, at least not recently (unless you count Disney’s The Princess and the Frog). This departure from the norm shows that Disney recognises that stories can still be timeless in spite of their setting and Wreck-it Ralph certainly embodies the spirit of the Disney spirit while remaining safe.
As has become the tradition for animated feature films, an animated short is the precursor to the main attraction. Running before Wreck-it Ralph is a little gem titled Paperman, which is arguably a greater treat than what follows. In what can only be described as incredibly french, Paperman is the silent, monochromatic tale of a nameless gentleman who becomes infatuated with a woman that he meets at a train station – the occurrence of which happens when a gust carries one of his documents to her, planting it right on her kisser. It’s awfully romantic and is incredibly stylish in its old school setting and visuals, which appear to be a blend of 2D and CGI (using some or other new technology).
The short itself has been nominated for an Oscar and if that isn’t reason enough to get you to the film on time, mark my words when I say that Paperman is one of Disney’s greatest achievement in years, singlehandedly approaching a new audience with some old world charm and emotion that is usually compounded with words where none are required.
Wreck-it Ralph is one of those rare films that even with a very specific theme (and a geeky one at that) that has a universal appeal – there is something for children and one’s inner child but I have no doubt that those raised on the video games of old will take the most away from this.
The Bottom Line
Wreck-it Ralph is a departure from Disney’s typical fairytale/mythology films – it’s modern, cutting edge, but retrospective at the same time. Most of all, it has oodles of charm and character and regardless of its video game themes, the movie truly is for everyone. I applaud Disney on growing a pair, because just as they defy the anachronisms that have been a noose around their neck, this film proves that while something may be old, that does no make it obsolete.