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Review: 'Wreck-It-Ralph' Has A Great Concept But Fails To Level Up Into Something Unique

Reviews
by Kevin Jagernauth
October 26, 2012 10:57 AM
10 Comments
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Certainly, in some quarters, anticipation for Disney's "Wreck-It-Ralph" was high. With Pixar stuck in sequel mode, and with their original story "Brave" underwhelming this summer, many wondered if the Mouse House would step it up where their colleagues dropped the ball. With a seemingly fresh premise, new tunes by Skrillex and Owl City pimped on the soundtrack, nostalgia for the adults and a glossy adventure for the kids, the ingredients all seemed to be in place. Which makes it that much more frustrating that once you pop the quarter into the machine of "Wreck-It-Ralph," it reveals itself to be nothing more than a familiar formula dressed up in 21st century clothes.

As we said, the concept is compelling. Set in an arcade (though one wonders if pint-sized kids actually know what that is), the story follows the titular Ralph (John C. Reilly, in some pretty spot on voice casting), who has spent thirty years in the still popular "Fix-It-Felix" video game, playing his part dutifully as the bad guy, but getting weary of living in a trash pile in the offscreen world (instead of the apartment building he "wrecks" in the game), and not getting any appreciation for his work. As he tells his support group populated by other game villains, he just wants to be a hero for once. And he soon sees an opportunity to do just that.

When the arcade closes, the video game characters are free to roam, with the power bar used to connect their machines serving as a Grand Central Station of sorts, with the electrical plugs the portals into each game (again, clever stuff). So one evening, Ralph is knocking back a few at the bar in "Tapper" when he runs into a shell-shocked character from the futuristic, first person shoot 'em up game "Hero's Duty." Determined to finally be the good guy and win himself a much-coveted medal, he stuffs the man in a closet, steals his uniform and game jumps, a very risky thing to do. Why? If you die outside your own game, you don't get regenerated. And while he survives his stint in "Hero's Duty," his actions throw the whole arcade out of whack, unleashes a deadly virus, and soon he's in the (literally) candy constructed, "Mario Kart"-style racer "Sugar Rush" while "Fix-It-Felix" is in danger of going Out Of Order (i.e. unplugged and discontiued from the arcade) without him. And this is where the movie takes a sharp downward town.

For anyone hoping that "Wreck-It-Ralph" was going to be some kind of geek friendly, video game jumping blast, they are in for a major disappointment. The first third of the movie offers up the bulk of the requisite video game cameos -- Q*Bert! Pac-Man! Ryu! Sonic The Hedgehog! -- and has the most fun of just living and breathing inside the games and game world. But once the story settles in, it's the same conventional Disney stuff we've seen for decades. Perhaps in an effort to make sure both boys and girls can be involved in the movie, the rest of the film takes place in the very pink, chocolate, candy cane and sweets world of "Sugar Rush," a racing game with a team of girls as the drivers. As Ralph tries to fix the mess he's created, he becomes involved with the "glitch" Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), an outsider in "Sugar Rush" who is not only forbidden to race but also to leave the game. All while trying to get the bottom of the scheme that flamboyant King Candy (Alan Tudyk) is so eager to protect.

It seems once this storyline started up, the screenwriters grew decidedly less inspired. Plainly put, Vanellope is annoying, and while she's supposed to be a thorn in Ralph's side and get under his skin, she's not supposed to get under ours. And it certainly doesn't help that Silverman at one point is reduced to doing an extended sequence of "dooty" jokes. Seriously. But perhaps most dispiriting is that the narrative ultimately reveals itself to be yet another princess story (and this is not a spoiler, this is all set up fairly obviously early on). For all of the effort put into the gimmicky format, "Wreck-It-Ralph" is simply a variation on the same fable Disney has told over and over and over for decades. There is none of the story invention Pixar does at its best, instead it's the standard learn-to-embrace-who-you-are message with a dollop of princess magic, in addition to a throughly distateful product placement for Nesquik (Disney should really be ashamed).

Undoubtedly, the movie looks great. The videogame stuff, particularly power bar center where all the characters meet, is really inventive and fun (and frankly, a story more focused in that inbetween place between games would have made for a far more interesting movie). And the cast -- including Jack McBrayer (brisk and perky) as Fix-It-Felix and Jane Lynch (authorative), as the damaged and tough as nails sergeant from "Hero's Duty," who team up to find Ralph -- are the rare example of celebrity voices suiting their roles. As for the 3D presentation, perhaps the best compliment that one can give is that it wasn't distracting, but it's not necessarily special either. Overall, the technical accomplishment has been achieved at a high level, but the rest of the movie doesn't match it.

Perhaps "Wreck-It-Ralph" marks a half step out of the comfort zone for Disney. It's certainly atypical in many ways for the studio, with some pretty heavy gun violence and intense scenarios that we'd wager will frighten smaller children. And yes, the idea is unique. But they aren't quite ready to shake off what has worked for them for years -- namely making girls want to be special and popular, and boys strong and heroic. But that old fashioned approach distinctly clashes in the forward-looking "Wreck-It-Ralph," with Disney's classical thinking chafing against a concept that begs to be expanded to more than just a few winking nods to parents. "Wreck-It-Ralph" is diverting enough in the moment, with the originality of setting at carrying much of the weight, but once the credits roll, you won't be in a rush to select Continue. [C]

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10 Comments

  • matt | September 7, 2013 11:21 PMReply

    I agree the little girl drove me crazy!!! My son, wife, and I all lost intrest as they movie moved past the 20 minute mark. I really had high hopes for this one.... to bad it sucked. Anyway what happens when ralph wins? I mean he can't lose all the time because old video games like Donkey are hard.

  • waitwhat? | March 14, 2013 11:13 AMReply

    So... I guess I watched a different movie because I'm pretty sure Jane Lynch is a girl and she may or may not have been a character who literally ran a game called "Hero's Glory" and Sarah Silverman played a girl who was the original "main character" of her game, thus making her the "hero". And I'm pretty sure Wreck it Ralph casted less about being a hero and more about having a "family" and im also pretty sure felix was the same way. So either I saw a totally different movie or this article is complete and utter shit. Find something real to complain about instead of making shit up so you can keep your job.

  • Banjoman | October 31, 2012 6:41 PMReply

    "But they aren't quite ready to shake off what has worked for them for years -- namely making girls want to be special and popular, and boys strong and heroic."

    First BRAVE is called backward (in another publication) for emphasizing family, and now this? Film criticism is really on the decline.

  • Jeff | October 29, 2012 4:43 PMReply

    Yeah bc making the Females RACECAR drivers in a sugary sweet world is somehow empowering and not sexist bc we wouldnt want the girls sexuality to come into question by making the racers and their world a little more hard-nosed. Just like a woman dressing up as a slutty anything for Halloween is somehow more sexually empowering to a woman then just dressing up as maybe a doctor instead of a sexy nurse your way of thinking is what shamefully has girls wanting to grow up being princesses instead of president smfh

  • Craig Kandiko | October 29, 2012 9:54 AMReply

    While I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I enjoyed the movie a lot more. I took my 7 and 8 year old daughters who also loved the film. Yes there is a lot of pink in the Sugar Rush areas, but that's the point. I think it showed that even though video games are a male centric hobby, girls are also in the culture. Here is my review to compare. http://www.geekenstein.com/wreck-it-ralph-review/ I am a huge gamer, and I thought it allowed enough for all audience members to be entertained.

  • Fazha | October 29, 2012 2:57 AMReply

    "namely making girls want to be special and popular, and boys strong and heroic".
    Isn't that just two ways of saying the same thing?

  • steve | October 27, 2012 9:15 AMReply

    I took my 4 year old daughter to a preview. Having been a gamer back in the day I enjoyed it as did my daughter. I agree that it was a fun film. John C Rielly was great as was Jane Lynch, and the entire cast with one exception. Sarah Silverman's nasal voice, seemed too loud, and annoying. My daughter "likes her car, but not her." I've only seen her once on the Jimmy Kimmel show. She was annoying there as well. She is much cuter animated than in real life. I just think that Winona Ryder, or even Zoey Dashenal would have been a better choice for that character.

  • Patrick | October 27, 2012 4:57 AMReply

    I've seen this film and it is awesome.

    If cameos and pop culture references is all that works for you, maybe you should just stick to "Family Guy."

    Regardless, Wreck-it Ralph wasn't made for heartless hipsters with deep seeded issues. If you want a fun, heartwarming romp with a healthy does of nostalgia and laughs this movie is a pure love letter to Disney and gaming fans alike. And anyone who appreciates good storytelling and wonderfully written characters will love this film simply for how well it is crafted. The only reason someone could fault Wreck-it Ralph is if they had unrealistic expectations or serious emotional issues (or both as this review suggests.)

  • Ken | October 27, 2012 2:14 AMReply

    Agree with AVEEVA.
    I can care less about real character cameos; it seems like they were just put in to satisfy geeks like John La$$eter, who runs the studio. I am not a gamer, but I am a lover of great Disney films. This film may or may not satisfy me, but what seems to resonate with me, the author seems to loath, and what I find unappealing, the author loves.

    I sense a strong anti-female angle in this article. The annoying Vanillope, (and not the yelling, screaming characters who appeared before her??) the pink world of Sugar Rush ( "oh how terrible! That feminine pink!") and girls driving race cars! ("That MUST have been put in only to satisfy girls!" My answer to that: it's about time girls got recognition. Nobody would have complained if there was an army of masculine characters like, I dunno, practically every movie that has ever been made!!!)

  • Aveeva | October 26, 2012 4:29 PMReply

    Why are people wanting to see a movie full of video game cameos and go 'Hey look! It's thatguy from that game I played!' A film is suppose to be about the story and how well it moves along and what message it gives through.Not how many cameos they have to spark your excitement. Sure it is great to have them but they're not the main attraction.

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