dir: Rich Moore
Yes, it’s school holidays time. It’s Christmas time. It’s that time of the year where I’m not going to the cinema at all odd hours of the day or night in order to squeeze a film or two in a week as well as keeping all the juggling balls of life and work up in the air.
No, this is the time where I can stride into a cinema in the middle of the day with my head held high, with a huge tub of popcorn (which I otherwise never buy), holding hands with my daughter. The problem, of course, is that I can’t exactly take her to screenings of The Master, Lincoln, Holy Motors or Hitchcock without it rightly being considered a form of abuse.
Especially The Master. Forgetting some of the content for a moment, inflicting that level of tedium on a kid should be a criminal offence.
So bring on the highly animated kids movies, so we can all be happy. Well, so we can be somewhat happy, I guess. There’s always the trade-off between what entertains a kid and what a parent can sit through without wanting to chew their own arm off in order to escape from the theatre.
Wreck-It Ralph may not have the Pixar branding to give it the seal of approval and guaranteed quality, but it’s a tremendously enjoyable flick all the same, in fact it’s better than anything Pixar has put out since Toy Story 3. It’s not a competition, wait, it is a competition, always, surely, competition is a great thing.
Beyond that comparison, it’s actually trading on and treading a similar path as the Toy Story flicks: the simultaneous concept that these arcade game characters are ‘alive’ when no humans are watching, and nostalgia. It’s not children’s nostalgia, because they don’t have anything to be nostalgic about yet, but that of their parents.
There is a real pop cultural perfect storm of 8-bit gaming and dated musical aesthetics permeating the media lately, or at least it has been for the last bunch of years. I noticed it in children’s entertainment about six years ago, and I’m pretty sure it’s got nothing to do with the kids themselves. Kids themselves aren’t the ones making stuff like Yo Gabba Gabba or Adventure Time, but it’s the parents latching onto these kinds of entertainments under the guys of “it’s what little Susie really loves, it’s not for me”, despite the fact that the cues and references are ones the kids couldn’t possibly possess yet, since they’re not our age.
My daughter had a ball for most of this flick, and I enjoyed it a whole hell of a lot too. It doesn’t warrant or justify too much deconstructive thinking about it, since I wasn’t saying stuff like “how can the toys think and say stuff, since they don’t have brains or vocal chords?” whilst watching the Toy Story movies, I’m not going to be debating and dismissing the personhood of video game characters here either. It was really enjoyable, it looked a treat, and it gave me at least two characters to like and enjoy watching as they went upon their various adventures.
Ralph is the villain in a Donkey Kong-like retro video game that sits in some American arcade today. The machine has been there 30 years. For 30 years, every time a kid pops a quarter into the machine, Ralph has gone on a destructive rampage atop an apartment building, only to be constantly thwarted by the game’s hero, Fix-It Felix Junior, whose magic hammer fixes everything (except a broken heart). Ralph’s sick of it. He’s sick of being the villain, he’s sick of being thrown down into the muck below when he loses, and living in a literal dump, and he’s sick of being alone, reviled and loathed.
Where’s his parade? Where’s his cake?
Nowhere. And nothing is ever going to change unless he takes drastic steps to usurp the entire established order.
As voiced by John C. Reilly, an actor who so perfectly embodies the various put-upon, downtrodden, dismissed and disregarded feelings in most of the characters he’s ever played, Ralph is not a unique character in the history of storytelling. What I like about him, though, is that he’s not really a villain who wants to change his fundamental nature in order to get what he wants. He is, after all, as the programmers made him. He’s not really that interested in walking the hero’s path in order to grow and mature and learn stuff about things, and come to terms with stuff. He wants to achieve his goal (get a hero’s medal), without actually having to become a hero. He wants the adulation and respect that befit heroes, but his only way of getting there is by being the total villain that he is.
And what a bastard he is, too. His selfish actions risk upending the entire established order of this fantastical electronic analog (yet somehow digital) realm, where all the characters know each other and hang out and have feelings and such, but have to stick to their own games, less their games be completely shut off.
Ralph’s passage through the various other games, some retro, or vintage, and other’s ultra modern, allow for the lovingly rendered landscapes to vary tremendously, spanning both the changes in technology that occurred over the years, and to depict the contemporary brutish landscape of dark violence and murderous destruction summarised by a Halo-like came led by the impressive and fearsome Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch). The sheer selfishness of Ralph’s actions results in bugs from Calhoun’s game getting to infect some of the others, which threatens to completely and utterly destroy everything everywhere etc etc.
What plot there is doesn’t really matter, or at least shouldn’t really matter. There’s action aplenty, as you would expect from a completely CGI animated movie, and it’s relentless, but the characters are what really shine in this flick. Ralph’s a likeable palooka, but it’s his interactions, and his relationship with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, surprisingly able to stop her mouth from forming those words that the Bluest Stand-Up Working today craves to say) that matters the most. Essentially, he falls in love with this bratty girl, and this doesn’t make him want to be a better person, but it changes his motives, at least, but who’s to say what kind of love is right or wrong in this crazy, neon world?
In conjunction with their great relationship, the even more wrong but oh so right relationship that develops between Fix-It Felix and Calhoun had me weeping tears of mirth. His aw shucks persona coupled with her hard-bitten battle-scared drill sergeant like ways made me laugh quite frequently.
My daughter didn’t really understand what Calhoun was or was meant to be, as in she thought this tough chick with a shock of white Bieber hair in battle armour was a robot with a mannequin girl’s head, and she really hated the stuff with the evil cy-bugs, but loved all the rest of it. Not sure it made any sense to her, any more than it did to me, but she gave it a big thumbs up. She of course loved Vanellope to bits, and has, since we watched the film, repeatedly asked me in her best Sarah Silverman voice “Are you a hobo?” at very random intervals.
The graphics are superb, as you would expect, and the transitions between the various games represent and look like completely different worlds. I’m not sure if I agreed with or bought the overall message of the flick, but it’s not like that shit really matters, does it?
In the end, if you have to be a villain, be the best villain you can be, and don’t complain about it, you wuss, is, I think, the first profound message. The other is that the Rightful Monarch of Any Land Must Come Back to Power or the World Will End, which is the kind of argument royal families have been making for millennia, much to the chagrin of the cake-eating hordes outside their palaces.
The kids don’t care about any of that. They just care about fun. We saw it in 3D, and it looked superb from beginning to end, and didn’t even give me a headache in the slightest, which is a bit of a first.
If you have to take some kids to the cinema these school holidays, either because you’re a weekend dad, a bored shared-custody parent who can’t think of anything else to do on a sunny day, or you like watching these flicks more than the kids do, which is a bit worrying, you could do way worse than Wreck-It Ralph, and not much better.
Still, you’re looking at dropping a 50 minimum for the honour of the whole experience, and you’ve got to ask yourself, are any kids really worth this much expense? Honestly?
8 reasons why of course my kid is worth it, but I don’t know about the rest of yours out of 10
“I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good, and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be then me.” – keep searching for that higher power, twelve-steppers – Wreck-It Ralph