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Disney scores big with ‘Wreck-It Ralph’

Dylan Dobson, 4Play Editor
November 14, 2012
Filed under 4Play

“I am bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad.” So goes the mantra of the Bad Guys Anonymous group the title character of “Wreck-It-Ralph” attends. This mantra sums up one of the film’s many moral dilemmas about the ambiguity of heroism.  As one of the film’s many licensed video game cameos, Zangief of “Street Fighter” fame shouts, “Just because I’m bad guy, doesn’t mean I’m bad guy.”

Like Zangief, Ralph, the protagonist of the film does not feel that his status within his video game machine as the game’s antagonist makes him a villain. In fact, one could argue Ralph is more of a victim than the Nicelanders, the locals of his home game, “Fix-It Felix Jr.”

Every day, for the sake of the game, Ralph demolishes the cushy apartment building the Nicelanders live in, while Felix, the game’s protagonist, tries to fix it. At the end of the day Ralph is thrown from the apartment into a pile of mud. Felix is awarded for his bravery with a medal, while Ralph is forced to return to the garbage dump where he sleeps among a pile of pixelated bricks.

After not being invited to the Nicelanders’ party celebrating the 30th anniversary of their home game, Ralph decides to escape to another game so he can earn himself a medal, as well as the acceptance of the Nicelanders.

Ralph’s plan, however, proves dangerous not only to his fate, but the fate of the inhabitants of the games he enters. Games without a full cast appear broken to the patrons of the arcade, and are quickly decommissioned. And when a character is found in a game in which he doesn’t belong, people often write it off as a glitch, leading to the same result.

The plot of “Wreck-It Ralph” is extremely complex for a children’s film. Spanning three different universes, each with their own set of characters and sub-plots, there’s a lot to take in and to analyze. However, the writers have tackled what in other scripts would have been too much.

At one point, among the three video game worlds, it seems like the film’s crew may have stacked their plot like an oversized hero sandwich, and bitten off more than they could chew. Plot points have seemingly been abandoned and forgotten and one wonders where the film could possibly be heading.

Miraculously, however, everything is satisfyingly tied together in a very clean and logical way. This is done via one of the most surprising twists in recent cinematic history, which serves to act like a toothpick in the plot’s towering club sandwich, rather than a paltry deus ex machina garnish.

The film’s dialogue is intelligent, deliberate and well thought out. Despite a few slapstick gags, many of the film’s jokes serve not only to illicit laughs but to further the plot as well. It would have been easy to pack the film with video game references, and to exploit cameos for entertainment value, but the film avoids this succeeding on its own merit.

Led by John C. Reilly as its title character, the film’s voice cast is superb. I was initially skeptical of Reilly as Ralph, but his voice here is the perfect balance between sensitive and gruff, all while avoiding coming off as too silly.

Sarah Silverman plays the devilishly sweet Vanellope Von Schweetz in a way not too uncharacteristic of herself, so much so that one begins to wonder how many of her lines in the film were ad-libbed.

Rounding out the cast is “30 Rock” cast member Jack McBrayer as the simple Felix Jr. and Jane Lynch as Sergeant Calhoun, a space marine from “Hero’s Duty” who has been programmed with the most tragic backstory ever.

The dynamics between the characters and the cast that brings them to life works on multiple levels, aiding the film to accomplish the difficult task of blending the three worlds of its plot.

The visuals are nothing short of breathtaking. Each of the film’s video game worlds has a distinct design, color scheme and feel. The space marine-themed first-person shooter “Hero’s Duty” borrows from “Tron,” “Gears of War” and “StarCraft,” while the world of “Fix-It Felix Jr.” is blocky and distinctly 8-bit despite being impressively rendered with 3D-CGI.

The world of “Sugar Rush” looks sweet enough to induce more than a few canker sores, like the love child of “Mario Kart” and Candyland. The textures here are extremely impressive, from the smooth yet cracked veneer on the surface of the Mentos in the cola cave Von Schweetz calls home, to the impossibly glittery frosting on her cupcake racecar.

Though the film has received many comparisons to the “Toy Story” series, it is far from a copy-cat. Instead, “Wreck-It Ralph” treads turf similar to films like “The Iron Giant” that use fate and identity to discuss the topic of free will. It is distinctly philosophical and succeeds in holding not only the attention of children, but teenagers and adults as well.

Disney has done the unthinkable here, surpassing their other animation company, Pixar, which released the just-OK “Brave” earlier this year.

“Wreck-It Ralph” wrecks not only the competition for best animated film of the year, but brawls it out among those competing for best film of the year as well.