For a film that could have coasted through its quieter moments on the sheer novelty of its concept alone, it’s something of a pleasant surprise to find that the videogaming influences of Wreck-It Ralph are the gravy over the dinner, rather than the main feast itself.
This is just the way it should be of course: the Toy Story films may have been about the secret life of toys when they’ve not being played with, but it was three substantive and interesting narratives that ultimately made the trilogy sparkle. With Wreck-It Ralph, the same is true. It’s not at Toy Story level, but it gives Pixar’s trilogy a real run for its proverbial money.
Because what’s particularly satisfying about Wreck-It Ralph is that if you took the videogaming elements out of the movie, the story would still work. Sure, it’d be a lot more basic and a lot less fun, but the core of the film is steadfastly about two outsiders, who find each other – without any mawkish romance in the way – and ultimately share their struggles with simply fitting in.
Outsider number one is Ralph, voicing by John C Reilly. Ralph is the villain in an 8-bit arcade game, Fix-It Felix, and the film – courtesy of an excellent opening sequence – pulls back to explore what happens to him and the others when the arcade closes. Basically, while everyone else is living the high life, Ralph gets to sleep in the rubbish.
But come the 30th anniversary of his game, Ralph has had enough. This is demonstrated exquisitely not by the scene that’s been replayed time and time again in the trailers – the wonderful moment where he attends a support group for game villains – but instead, by him going for a root beer with a very familiar bartender. It’s one of many, many instances of where Wreck-It Ralph gets the little details right. Heck, by the time this scene comes around, several other examples could also have been cited of how the film seamlessly weaves videogame culture in, without ever needing to show off about it.
The film follows Ralph’s journey away from his game and Niceland, through to the hustle and bustle of Game Central Station (where a veritable who’s who of classic videogame characters are to be found), into the dark, foreboding world of first person shooter Hero’s Duty, and then eventually into the land of Mario Kart knock-off, Sugar Rush. On the basis of how quickly and effectively the film gets to this point, director Rich Moore has instantly become the top choice should an adaptation of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree ever be required.
Things slow up a lot when the film reaches the sickly-sweet world of Sugar Rush though, which proves to be a double-edged sword. On the one side, it’s arguably the least interesting of the four different visual worlds presented in the film (although that’s as much due to the quality of the other three). On the other, it’s here we get to meet Vanellope, voiced by Sarah Silverman.
In a film bustling with quality, well-chosen voice talent, Silverman instantly becomes the highlight, curling her tones into those of a snarky, yet slightly vulnerable and relatable nine-year old girl. The relationship between Ralph and Vanellope always threatened to be the making or breaking of Wreck-It Ralph. Fortunately, these are two characters you can really root for, and frequently do.
It perhaps makes Wreck-It Ralph a little less of an ongoing videogame love-in than you might expect, but with one or two narrative surprises up its sleeve, it’s a consistently entertaining family movie.
Furthermore, it’s a film significantly enriched by its videogame coating. There’s a real sense of a passion for the subject matter here, from the small sight gags through to the broader inclusion of very recognisable videogame characters. Expect when the eventual disc releases come around for much freeze-framing to be required, to catch every little gag and reference Rich Moore and his team have woven in.
It was always going to be a hard job to satiate the needs of a Disney movie and the demands of a videogame-fed audience. Wreck-It Ralph, though, treads the line if not perfectly, then extremely well. It’s visually striking, consistently entertaining, and likely to leave you thirsting at the thought of where a second, even nerdier film could go.
Wreck-It Ralph is out on the 8th February in UK cinemas.
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