Walt Disney Feature Animation is at something of a crossroads right now. Traditional animation was briefly revived, thanks largely to the boundless enthusiasm of Pixar's John Lasseter; under his leadership, the studio released two excellent traditionally animated features ("Winnie The Pooh" and "The Princess and the Frog") that were hugely expensive and, despite their quality, box office disappointments. Since "Winnie the Pooh," the studio, known for dropping breadcrumbs about upcoming animated features years in advance, has been mum about the future of traditional animation.
At the same time, the computer animation side of the company seems to be finding its footing, based largely on the success of "Tangled." Interestingly, what "Wreck-It Ralph," the new film about a videogame villain (played with by John C. Reilly) looking to become the hero of his own adventure, will showcase is, in short order, the next phase of Walt Disney Feature Animation.
The glimpse into the future starts before the feature even begins, with the presentation of "Paperman," a brilliant black-and-white short film that I just saw at the Hamptons Film Festival (read the review here). But "Wreck-It Ralph" offers a different kind of breakthrough: Most people associate Disney with classic fairy tales, folk stories, and the like. But "Wreck-It Ralph," with its focus on videogames, is a totally modern, original tale.
It's being directed by an outsider, too, which is a pretty big deal. "Wreck-It Ralph" is helmed by Rich Moore, who is responsible for some of the more unforgettable episodes of "Futurama" (including the Emmy-winning "Roswell That Ends Well") and "The Simpsons" (like the Conan O'Brien-scripted "Marge vs. the Monorail"). His sensibilities are perfect for "Wreck-It Ralph," especially when Ralph slips out of his own videogame and goes "game-jumping," hopping into games that resemble the "Call of Duty"/"Halo" shooters, as well as a "Mario Kart"-like racing game called "Sugar Rush." For "Wreck-It Ralph" to succeed it needed someone with whip-fire wit and a crazy amount of energy, both of which Moore has in excess.
There's also that element of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" in "Wreck-It Ralph," where popular videogame characters pop up and interact with characters from the movie, including folks from "Sonic the Hedgehog," "Street Fighter," "Altered Beast" (!?), "Paperboy," "Joust," "Frogger," "Pac-Man," "Dig Dug," and "Super Mario Bros." This kind of meta-textual experimentation is almost unheard of, especially in a Disney film. And to the dissenters who say that this will simply be a watered-down DreamWorks Animation film with tired pop culture references and very little heart, trailers suggest there's plenty of emotional backbone to go around, and that the videogame characters here will be fully realized and totally engaging.
The folly for films based on videogames (and large-scale Hollywood entertainments that look like they were based on videogames) is that they always make you feel like you're watching someone else play while you're sitting there, passively viewing. God willing, "Wreck-It Ralph" will make you feel like you're inside the videogame, playing along the whole time. If it's as good as people I've talked to who have seen it suggest, it could be the first computer-generated Disney animated classic. And that's something to get really, really excited about. Bring extra quarters - Drew Taylor
For all the talk of the renaissance of Disney animation, not everyone's been as impressed by the company's recent films as Drew. There's no denying that "The Princess and the Frog" and "Tangled" were a step up from films like "Chicken Little" and "Meet The Robinsons," but for those of us who aren't animation buffs, they still left a certain something to be desired. Pretty, certainly, but formulaic, and still leaving a sense of the company chasing past glories, rather than breaking new ground.
Maybe we we were just spoilt by Pixar's extraordinary run in the 00s (although even that seems to be slowing down, after "Cars 2" and "Brave") And while there's a fair bit of promise in the trailers for "Wreck-It Ralph," we're not sure there's anything to suggest a classic to sit alongside "Wall*E" or "Up," let alone the best of 2D Disney.
For one, with its 8-bit video game references, it seems to fit right into the bullshit nostalgia that permeates so much of our pop culture these days. Gamers might get a shudder of pleasure when they glimpse Frogger or Q*Bert or Dr. Robotnik on screen, but will there be anything left for those of us who don't really know or care about those cameos? Not least the target audience of kids, who were born after the release of "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," let alone most of the games referenced here. And while Rich Moore's background on "The Simpsons" is a comfort, his work on "Futurama" is less so: the latter show's full of the kind of geek reference humor that sees us switch off quickly.
Drew brings up "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" which had a solid noir story at its base before populating it with cartoon cameos (most of which weren't as prominent as they seem to be here), but we've not seen much evidence that there's more to the backbone of "Wreck-It Ralph" than the same old Hero's Journey stuff we've seen many times before.
Also: Skillrex is doing some music for the film. - Oliver Lyttleton