Review: Wreck-It Ralph

As a gamer, Wreck-it Ralph was one of my most anticipated films of the year. The trailers and early reviews from the US suggested that it understood and respected gamer culture, rather than just capitalising on the medium’s successes, but I have to admit I was sceptical. Disney hasn’t had too much success with their recent attempts at animation and it’s a departure from fairy tales, their usual area of expertise. It felt as if this film would be  far more suited for their associates at Pixar, who could recreate the nostalgia of old-school gaming yet still make an enjoyable film, just like they had done before for toys in Toy Story. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Wreck-it Ralph is easily a match for a Pixar film and surpassed all of my expectations.

Similar to the best of Pixar’s work, the majority of the film is littered with nods to the older audience, mainly to gamers in this case.  There are cameos aplenty from everyone from Sonic to Q*bert and the sheer amount in the opening half hour is dizzying. At times I wanted to pause just to take it all in. They’re not just throw away gags either. The makers clearly understand the rich history of the arcade; everything down to the sound effects when characters jump and the jerky animation of the townspeople bring back floods of fond memories. The number of references does grind to a halt about half way through but it’s a better film for it. Instead of cramming in more in-jokes that would be lost on half of the audience, it relies on more traditional humour that hits all the right, if immature, spots.

When taken as just a kids’ film, it still has the perfect combination of bright colours and loud noises to keep even the shortest of attention spans satisfied. Sarah Silverman is suitably sickeningly sweet (in the best way possible) as Vanellope von Schweetz, the glitchy star of the racing game Sugar Rush, and she steals the show in every scene she’s in. The interplay between her and John C. Reilly’s Ralph is a joy to watch and although some may argue it was too cheesy, I thought it was quite touching at points. Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch round out the main cast as the do-gooder fix-it Felix Jr. and the battle-hardened Calhoun, who are equally brilliant and team up to make an even better partnership.

The characters are a joy to watch and the plot is good fun, but unfortunately it’s not much more. The film is essentially about Ralph’s journey to become a hero after 30 years of being a bad guy. I thought this would be a great excuse to visit as many games as possible, but the action is mainly confined to Ralph’s game, an old Donkey Kong like arcade cabinet, the frantic shooter Hero’s Duty, a not-so-subtle dig at the massively popular Call of Duty, and Sugar Rush, a kart racer similar to Mario Kart. As a gamer, seeing more worlds would have been great but I have to admit that it could have made the film a bit of a mess. The games that have been used are lovingly crafted and a faithful homage to their source material.

Wreck-it Ralph is one of the rare breed of kids’ film that can easily be enjoyed by all ages and is a must see for gamers. The high density of jokes aimed at the gamer crowd may put some off, but there’s enough fun, brilliant characters and genuinely touching moments to keep everyone thoroughly entertained.

Patrick Doolittle

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