It’s been a long time since I saw an animated feature in theaters, but I am so glad I set aside my usual biases and saw Wreck-It Ralph on the big screen! As a gamer and the occasional doodler, Wreck-It Ralph was a real treat.
Opening Short: Paperman
Like the beginning of every Pixar film, Disney opens the movie with the animated short, Paperman. Running at about 7 minutes, the short tells a love story orchestrated by the wind, and paper. Beautifully animated in a blend of two-dimensional hand-drawn and computer generated styles, the short plays like a silent era film. Black and white but for the red lipstick of the Paperman‘s love interest, motion and music drive the story. Paperman tells the story of a serendipitous meeting of a man and woman on a windy train platform in 20th Century New York City. Paper drives the story, as the Paperman uses paper airplanes in an attempt to communicate with the woman. In the end, the paper comes to life to bring them together. The way Disney manages to fill a mere 7 minutes with such a heartwarming story is absolutely incredible! Paperman has no shortage of the charm and wonder that is the hallmark of Disney animation.
Wreck-It Ralph is your typical video game villain featured in “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” Somewhat reminiscent of Nintendo‘s classic, Donkey Kong, Ralph spends his days destroying the “Niceland” penthouse, until the hero of the game, Fix-It Felix Jr., comes along to fix his destruction. When the player is victorious in fixing the broken penthouse, Niceland residents throw Ralph off of the roof and into the mud, awarding Felix with a gold medal. Ralph wants a piece of the pie, literally, as the penthouse residents celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary without inviting him.
Hijinks ensue and Ralph goes off to find his own gold medal, to prove that he too can be a hero, and that he belongs in the penthouse with Fix-It Felix and company. Despite the risks and controversy associated with “going turbo,” that is, jumping from one game into another, Ralph takes a journey through “Hero’s Duty,” reminiscent of Halo and Call of Duty, and launches into the colorful Candyland and Mario Kart inspired “Sugar Rush.” There he meets Vanellope Von Schweetz and King Candy where he learns a thing or two about what being yourself and doing what’s right at any cost, whether it makes you Vanellope’s hero, or King Candy’s villain.
Filled with lots of humor, some sappy moments, and a lesson or two about identity and morality, Wreck-It Ralph successfully appeals to a wide audience. Even after all the video game character references and cameos went by, it still kept my attention as an adult gamer. I lamented that so many children would never understand those references, but perhaps it will inspire young gamers to seek out the classics.
Characters (and Cameos)!
You can definitely tell which characters were the most expensive to license based on their absence or frequent appearance in the film. While Mario was cleverly referenced in a joke about his frequent inability to show up to the party (or castle) on time, he did not appear onscreen. The characters that appeared perhaps most frequently, however, were from CAPCOM‘s Street Fighter (Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Cammy, M. Bison, Zangief, Blanka) and of course, Sonic the Hedgehog. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sonic, but he sure does pop up quite a bit!
For all the cameos Disney couldn’t afford to include, there were definitely some obvious hints as to the inspiration for the character models and game design. From zombies to cyborgs, characters were faithfully designed according to the worlds that inspired them. I was most pleased that Disney represented young gamers in the “real” world with a female character, “Moppet Girl.” It was a welcome surprise to see her play both “serious” games like “Hero Duty,” and carefree games like “Fix-It Felix, Jr.”
As the feature film opens, Disney pulls out all the stops to immerse you in a video game world. The famous Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse appears, animated in an 8-bit style! That in itself highlights why Wreck-It-Ralph is such a feast for the eyes. As the story travels between multiple video game worlds and genres, and the “real” world in the film, the animators toy with different styles and textures. Even on mute, the film would have been entertaining.
Is it really a Disney movie if the characters don’t sing? While Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t really have a story or characters that invite sing-alongs, I couldn’t help imagining Bowser and Zangief joining in song about the joys of being a videogame villain. The musical themes for each of the different videogames depicted were true to their genres, from the happy, simplistic music of “Fix-It Felix” to the dark, yet epic action-oriented music of “Hero’s Duty.” You can get a few of them as ringtones on the Wreck-It Ralph website!
One standout theme was “Sugar Rush,” by mega J-PopstarsAKB48. It is equal parts infectious and annoying. The song stuck with me long after I left the theatre, for better or worse. The bubblegum pop feel of the song suited the game and the design of the characters lyrically, thematically, and stylistically.
My biggest gripe with the film is that Rihanna’s music, in this case, “Shut Up and Drive,” was considered to be at all appropriate for children’s film. Such a suggestive song catapulted me out of the scene, where-in Ralph teaches Vanellope how to drive, and set my inner monologue into overdrive. There are countless numbers of songs about driving that would be more family-friendly and lyrically relevant. The song and some suggestive humor, language, and violence were likely the reasons why the film earned a PG rating.
Wreck-It Ralph was a lot of fun, and is definitely a film that I want to revisit. I’m itching to take a dive down memory lane and play some retro games now. The Disney gamified website for Wreck-It Ralph, features a flash version of “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” There are also Wii and iOS games available for purchase!
Asia is a freelance writer at Girl Gamer Vogue.