Wreck-It Ralph is a film with a plot centered on video games, and it doesn’t suck. As if that statement wasn’t profound enough, not only does Ralph not suck, it’s actually quite good.
Gaming moviegoers don’t need to be reminded of Tomb Raider and Hitman to know what a rarity this success is. Ralph marks a comeback in the film industry, and in more ways than one.
The film centers around its titular character, Wreck-It Ralph. Ralph is a blue-collar, underappreciated everyman who dreams of being liked and respected by his peers. He’s also an arcade game villain with the anatomy and strength of Donkey Kong. After years of dissatisfaction being the bad guy, Ralph takes the controller into his own meaty hands and embarks on a fateful quest across the arcade. Ralph travels from game to game, including candy-coated kart racer “Sugar Rush” (an obvious MarioKart clone) and gritty military shooter “Hero’s Duty” (sound familiar?) in a unique vision of the traditional Hero’s Journey.
Ralph encounters several superbly voiced and memorable characters, such as endearing misfit Vanellope (comedian Sarah Silverman), nice guy Fix-It Felix (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer ), no- nonsense “dynamite gal” Sergeant Calhoun (Glee’s Jane Lynch), and madder than the Mad Hatter King Candy (Firefly’s Alan Tudyk). But it isn’t the supporting cast, the setting, or the stunning visual effects that make Ralph a good movie. It’s the heart.
Until Ralph, Disney Animation Studios had failed to make a memorable film since Mulan. They made a few decent flicks, but nothing that could hold a candle to half of DreamWorks’ creations or practically anything by Pixar. Disney has finally created an animated feature with enough sincerity and emotional depth to rival the likes of Shrek and Monsters, Inc. Not even close to Up, but hey, it’s progress.
Viewers who could care less about character emotion junk and just want to get nostalgic about videogames won’t be disappointed either. There are well over thirty allusions to games and gaming culture, ranging from the Konami Code to Leeroy Jenkins. The references aren’t forced or even necessary to the film’s story, non-gamers won’t feel amiss. In fact, it’s easy to miss most of them if you’re not paying attention to little details like graffiti on the wall. However, one of the gags has a potentially deeper meaning. When Ralph simulates Darth
Vader’s raspy breathing, were the creators giving early viewers a foreshadowing of Disney’s recent Star Wars purchase?
When it comes to the videogame industry, Ralph presents more than just a few shoot-outs. Just as the lumbering protagonist travels from game to game, so does the audience travel through the evolution of videogames as a medium of art and entertainment. Viewers take a look into the past of gaming with Ralph’s simple, 8-bit, blocky world reminiscent of Mario and Donkey Kong (circa 80s).
Soon viewers experience the dazzlingly colorful and artistic world of Sugar Rush, which is where games started to become a bit more complex in goal, mechanics, and visuals (circa 90s). Finally, viewers pass briefly into modern gaming with Hero’s Duty, signifying the widespread development of high-definition mature games for mature players. At one point, Ralph echoes the concerns of many modern game critics when he shockingly asks of his commander, “when did video games become so violent?”
Wreck-It Ralph is not a revolutionary, groundbreaking masterpiece, but I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. It will likely be this generation’s Toy Story, mashed with some elements from Tron. The expansive universe and commercial success of the film all but guarantee it a sequel. But until then, users will have to survive off of the first Ralph movie, an original film with remarkable replay value.