I’d like to start this review with an apology. I know I’ve taken a long hiatus without notice, and if you follow me on Facebook you know that I’ve promised a lot of reviews that never came through, and for that I’m sorry. My life got pretty overwhelming a few weeks ago, and I just lost the will or motivation to write reviews for the movies I was seeing. I’m sorting out all my personal issues now, so hopefully Popcorn Culture will get back on track very soon. Again, sorry for the lengthy absence. Anyway, onto the review.
Wreck-It Ralph is, more than any other movie this year, blatantly pandering to my sensibilities, not as a critic, but as a nerd. It’s a movie about video games made by people who understand video games. That seems like an odd thing to say. “They’re just trying to sucker me in by doing everything right!” I try to be cynical in my reviews. I try not to let my personality get in the way of objective statements about film. But I just can’t help it this time. Wreck-It Ralph, I don’t care if you’re flawed, because I love you and I don’t care who knows it.
Well, let’s start with talking about video games. I’ve never been much of a gamer, myself. I play video games, but they aren’t as important to my identity as film is, unlike many people. In fact, my view on video games is similar to how most other people view movies. You can rant about replayability and gameplay and graphics, but at the end of the day, I don’t care as long as I’m having fun. If someone told me that about film, I’d probably have an aneurysm, but I guess we all have our great loves. Now, that said, I know enough about video games to understand what Wreck-It Ralph is going for, and to get all the references that flew over the heads of the little kids in the audience. Wreck-It Ralph hits just the right level of video game references. Too little, and there wouldn’t be much of a point in making the movie at all. Too many, and they would overwhelm the story. There are plenty of references in Wreck-It Ralph, but most of them are surprisingly subtle, and the ones that aren’t are too funny to criticize. What’s most important is that the jokes are *gasp* original. These aren’t the same tired lines you’ve seen on the internet a thousand times that Disney is regurgitating to the general public. The jokes are remarkably fresh, considering how long these games have been around.
Mostly that’s because the world of Wreck-It Ralph is so original to begin with. The film has some really neat ideas to throw out there. It’s basically Toy Story plus The Iron Giant divided by Tron, an idea so brilliant, and yet so seemingly obvious. Of course, video game movies are notorious for being terrible, and in general not doing well at the box office. The winning formula for Wreck-It Ralph seems to be, again, that originality factor. They aren’t telling a story about existing properties with existing fanbases and baggage. There are cameos from well-known characters, but all of the leads are fictional creations. However, the games and the characters that come from them are could so realistically exist in an arcade today (if there were any arcades today) that them standing side-by-side with Sonic and Pac-Man is never disconcerting, and it never feels forced.
Part of the success of any movie rides on the voices of the characters, although most of the time these actors are taken completely for granted. Chris Rock can get up on stage at the Oscars and wisecrack about how easy it is to do a voice in an animated movie, but I have tremendous respect for voice actors given how difficult their profession really is. They have to convey an entire performance using only their voice. For that reason, I often scoff at the casting of celebrities in animated movies. You cast Jennifer Lopez so that you can put her name on the poster, but there’s nothing she can do that a talented voice actor can’t do even better, and for a smaller paycheck.
But when I look at the poster for Wreck-It Ralph, I don’t get disappointed. John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer, and Sarah Silverman are all the perfect actors to portray their roles. This isn’t just casting celebrities for the sake of it. It’s like the roles were written specifically for these actors. Reilly, as the titular Ralph, brings a Louis C.K.-esque exasperation to his role, as if every moment of his life is a chore just to get through, and every human interaction is exhausting in its predictability. Ralph is immediately sympathetic, and most of it is Reilly’s voice. Lynch, as a tough, no-nonsense soldier in a first-person shoot-’em-up, basically plays a PG-version of her character on Glee, but it’s effective nonetheless. McBrayer, as Fix-It Felix, Ralph’s amicable foil, is also essentially playing Kenneth from 30 Rock, but it fits the character so perfectly that there’s nothing to complain about. Silverman, as Vanellope von Schweetz, was the biggest wild card for me going in. Her presence in the trailers was cloying and irritating, but in the film the character is irresistible and adorable. Yes, she gets the poop jokes that have to be there to keep the kids entertained, but she’s actually an interesting character and her arc is the strongest in the film, even more so than Ralph.
In fact, all the characters are surprisingly well-rounded. Lynch’s Calhoun isn’t just a hard-nosed caricature of R. Lee Ermy, she has a tragic backstory beyond, “I was programmed to feel this way,” which would be the easy — and maybe even acceptable — way out. It’s indicative of effort put into the screenplay that most animated kids films don’t bother with. I mean, yes, the film basically has the exact same story as The Iron Giant, but the characters are so much fun to be around that it’s easy to overlook. Wreck-It Ralph isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious, or even abundantly clever, but it is heartfelt and a lot of fun. Maybe it’s not worth seeing if you don’t care about video games, but if you do, I think you’ll really love it.