Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
If this is how Disney’s treating the things I hold dear, lord almighty, do I fear for Star Wars.
Wreck-It Ralph is about the bad guy in a video game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. Quarter in and quarter out, Ralph spends his days wrecking a building so that the good guy, Felix, can come in to fix the damage and thus save the building’s residents. For a while there it was all fun and games, but after 30 years of getting chucked off a roof, Ralph has just about had it. He wants to be the good guy for a change, but since that ain’t gonna happen with things the way they are, he decides to start “game jumping” to prove the haters wrong. For those unaware of arcade bylaws, jumping to a game outside of your own is no bueno. As a result, Fix-It Felix, Jr. starts game jumping himself in the hopes of bringing Ralph back before their game gets scrapped.
Folks, I know how you’re feeling. I can already smell the backlash coming my way from that Verdict up yonder, and, believe me, I get it. I wish I had a better review to give ya’, and no matter how many times I look at it, that Verdict straight-up saddens me. Because of all the movies I’ve been looking forward to this year, Wreck-It Ralph was in the top two, right behind Django Unchained (couldn’t quite top our very first “Southern”). As a child of the ’80s, as a lifelong gamer, and as someone who’s seen so many of his favorite games get bastardized by film makers time and time again, Wreck-It Ralph looked like a turning point. “This could be it,” I thought, “the day gamers started making movies. This could change everything!” It was a beautiful thing, guys. Almost brought me to tears.
After all, the signs were all right there in the trailer. A protagonist named Wreck-It Ralph who might as well be the human version of Donkey Kong; Ralph sitting in a support group with Doctor Robotnik and Zangief (who’s kind of a push as far as bad guys go); and, bridging the generational gap, Ralph running around in a trigger-happy knock-off of Call of Duty-meets-StarCraft. It was a trailer after my own heart, and everything about it left me with the impression that it was finally the movie I’d been waiting for: a video game movie for gamers, by gamers.
Here’s what I ended up getting: a video game movie for gamers – who, due to their young ages, don’t have the mental capacity or motor skills to master any game outside of Wii Bowling – by gamers who stopped playing video games once things started evolving past Pong. Apologies for harshing anyone’s mellow with that statement, but references and all, inspired as it may be, Wreck-It Ralph is a ruse.
Although it does start off promising.
From the brief appearance of Metal Gear Solid‘s exclamation point, to Ken and Ryu grabbing a beer at Tapper‘s, I loved all the tongue-in-cheek nods to gaming lore that are jammed into the first half of this movie. If you’re out of the loop, it might seem overwhelming, and even if you’re in it, it gets overwhelming regardless. Still, at first introduction, it’s an instantly likable and convincing digital world with characters who’ve never seemed more alive and look so much better than I ever expected they could. The true-to-form character models of our leads, the way retro characters move and speak the way their 8-bit selves should – it’s all fantastic. Unfortunately, it’s also the silver lining. Well, that and Sarah Silverman’s voice acting.
Now, I’ve got me some problems with Wreck-It Ralph, and I’ll segue on over to ’em when the time is right. But the cardinal sin of Wreck-It Ralph that I haven’t been able to get past is that it’s far less a celebration and criticism of everything I’ve grown to love (and hate) about video games, and far more a vehicle to shill Disney merch to pint-sized Ritalin-junkies who don’t know any better. For example…
The first half of the movie takes place in a very recognizable video game world featuring very recognizable video game staples. It makes for a great transition from the family-friendly, retro world of Fix-It Felix, Jr. to the uber-violent, modern-day world of Hero’s Duty. For better or worse, video games have completely changed over the years, and if that very fact had been a focal point in the plot rather than an occasional punchline, it could have made for something great. Instead, the second half starts up and we’re transported to the world of Sugar Rush: a fictional kart-racing game that’s essentially set in Candy Land. Yeah, kart racing is a classic gaming genre and one that certainly deserves a shout-out in a movie like this, but the formula hasn’t changed a lick over the years and, from a gamer’s perspective, Sugar Rush is unrecognizable. Aside from maybe Twisted Metal, there’s never been much to take away from racing games of any kind outside of the best spots on the track to place bananas.
It’s a really weird transition from a genre like first-person shooters that’s chock full of talking points to one that’s as one-dimensional as they come. But, more importantly, what the hell does Candy Land have to do with video games? The only answer I can think of: kids. And on that note, here’s my thinking on how this movie came together:
The creative minds at Disney didn’t know what to do with themselves after Cars 2, so they evicted all their writers from the boonies of Epcot and got a crack team together to figure out what kids like. The geniuses on site came up with two things: video games and candy. Since no one there knows shit about video games, someone brings their teenage son in on the conversation, tell him they need his gaming expertise to make it authentic. He runs off some titles and points ’em in the right direction so they won’t look like complete noobs, then he finds out about the candy part and winds up dead in a ditch for his objections. With that taken care of, they put together a focus group of eight-year-olds, hop ’em up on Pixy Stix, and let them finish off the script. 10 boxes of half-eaten crayons later, and viola, Wreck-It Ralph is born.
For me, this explains everything. It explains the cringe-worthy training montage set to Rihanna of all people. It explains the shitty writing that’s so focused on pandering to the kiddies that it completely forgets the rest of us. It explains the ridiculously juvenile sense of humor that comes with realizing that “duty” sounds exactly like “doody,” that homeless people are an easy bunch to make fun of, and that when they sing that “Oh Wee Oh” song in The Wizard of Oz, it totally sounds like they’re saying “Or-e-o.” Dude, every kid who’s ever seen The Wizard of Oz has been making that “joke” since 1938. And why are we referencing The Wizard of Oz?!?! Dammit, kids!
It also explains the overwhelming sensation that, though this is set in a video game world, the only knowledge it has of the medium has been gained through fringe interactions. In gamer terms, it talks a good game, can probably pull off hadoukens like it’s nobody’s business, but it isn’t long before you realize that that’s all it can do. It is a poser, and when it’s time to walk the talk, posers are the first to go.
But at least its message is a good one. Kids, do as Ralph does and be whoever you want to be, and don’t let who you are be determined by anyone or anything other than yourself. I’m all for that, and Ralph gets it across. However, all these nerdy complaints of mine would be completely null and void if Ralph’s story had been at all special to begin with. I really didn’t care about the guy, I didn’t care about anyone he met along the way, and there wasn’t anything new about his development that kept me invested in his journey. I was just crap out of luck with this one, man.
So with all that off my chest, I’m guessing you’ve already written me off as the most heartless bastard this side of Billy Mitchell. I swear I’m usually much nicer, but this is one I just can’t sugarcoat. I’m so disappointed in the movie this devolved into, the emotional connection was microscopic, and I just didn’t enjoy it as a gamer or a viewer. And with a movie like Wreck-It Ralph, isn’t that the whole point? Ugh. I really wish I could lighten up about it, but when you’ve got studios out there like Pixar delivering gold on the regular, it’s not like I can brush this off and say I wasn’t the target audience. Good lord, I am the target audience, and for that matter, maybe that’s why I’m so critical of it. Wreck-It Ralph had the potential for greatness, yet squandered it for the sake of shilling. I mean, look at the Toy Story movies. One of the many great things about that series is the way it integrated real-life toys and childhood memorabilia without coming off like some shameless marketing ploy. They were so much fun and about so much more than toys, whereas this was a borderline chore that was all about the sweet, sweet CANDY! Because, lest we forget, kids love candy.
As much as I wish I wasn’t, I know I’m in the minority, and as much as I can respect why others might like it, I can’t help but feel a sucker. And what a crappy feeling that is.
At least Paperman was fantastic.