Movies based on video games have always been a very sad thing to behold. From old Nintendo tie-ins like the Super Mario Bros. movie and The Wizard to more “movie-ready” flicks like Tomb Raider, it’s known to most people that video game-based movies are almost as bad as movie-based video games. Almost.
However, just as more recent movie-based video games have been receiving some critical success (such as Avengers: Battle For Earth), so too have video game movies been getting more and more promising. Though not prefect Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was considered decent by most accounts, and pre-production buzz for the Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed movies is extremely positive.
Before these films even get off the ground, however, Disney has decided to release a little animated comedy marketed as an nostalgic video game arcade version of Toy Story.
Wreck-It Ralph follows the titular Donkey Kong-esque arcade baddie during a low point in his life. After many years, Ralph has grown tired of always being treated poorly (read: being hated by his co-workers, feared by patrons of other games, unfairly suspected by security, and always overshadowed by his game’s hero, Fix-It Felix, Jr.) just for doing his job, the very thing he’s programmed to do.
After being shamed at a party only possibly because of him, however, he decides that he will show the denizens of his game that he deserves the praise of a hero by winning a medal in first-person shooter Hero’s Duty. However, a freak accident that lands him and a mindless monster in a Strawberry Shortcake-esque mascot racer, eventually setting the stage for the rest of the movie’s story.
Though the movie is cliche to a fault at times, falling into feature animation tropes that makes the story predictable and, at times, distracting from the experience, the film’s tale is a solid one. Sticking to a theme of finding happiness in spite of unsupportive situations (making Wreck-It most similar, surprisingly, to movies like Office Space), the film manages to give each major character their payoff while building to an exciting climax with multiple moral lessons to be gleaned.
This is all facilitated by the strongest and most diverse cast seen in a Disney movie since Lilo & Stitch. Seriously. The movie not only features a lovable oaf, obnoxiously adorable little kid, nice but confused middle-class worker, and ass-kicking female space hero, but it manages to give them all their own ark to make them each equally interesting.
The diversity in the characters must be praised as well. Though many sang Disney’s praises when they created their first African-American princess in The Princess and the Frog, that movie and other recent Disney flicks still made all of their characters very conventional in their attractiveness and appeal with race being the only diverse aspect. Disney has created characters diverse in size, personality, and beauty before and it’s nice to see them returning to it in a way that would make Pixar very proud.
Most importantly, however, is that the characters are all extremely well executed. Though they’re not classic in the vein of the Toy Story gang, they hold the movie for its full 100 minute run-time and never get boring or annoying.
Ralph’s world is also worth mentioning as it is, undoubtedly, filled to the bring with many great story ideas revolving around its basic concept of an arcade of fully living game worlds and characters connected by a common power source. So long as the movie does well, it’s very likely that we’ll see either a sequel, TV show, or series of short films which, so long as the execution is good, is definitely not a bad thing.
The biggest concern most people had going into Wreck-It Ralph was with all the video game cameos touted in its marketing. And it is true that the movie is filled to the brim with shout-outs to both characters and styles found in old arcade, Atari, and NES games, from the 8-Bit Disney intro at the beginning to the appearances of Bowser, Sonic, Ryu, Pac-Man, and many other popular game characters.
The film never dwells on them, however, and aside from the villainous Alcoholics Anonymous scene touted in the trailers and a small side-story involving Q*bert, none of them take much time, if any, from the main story. They are simply there to make the movie more enjoyable and, for that, all the cameos work really well.
From technical and aesthetic viewpoints the film works well enough. Though the graphics aren’t Pixar-level beautiful, they’re good for what they are and work to create a fun aesthetic translation of old video games into a CGI animated feature.
Wreck-It Ralph is not without its problems, however. Though not as jarringly bad or tonally inconsistent as in films like Up, there are a number of juvenile jokes that could be done without. Though they never make the movie stop being funny, they do make it seem cheap and, honestly, were the “duty/doodie” jokes that important to include?
The soundtrack, however, is the film’s lowest point, with bad compositions and poor use of pop songs often hampering the experience to the point where they become very, very noticeable. It would have been nice to see them stick with the arcade aesthetic and go the route of the Scott Pilgrim video game, hiring a chiptune artist like Fighter X, Albino Ghost Monkey, or Anamanaguchi to create the score. But they didn’t, and what they did do definitely detracts from the experience.
The question on everyone’s mind, however, is whether or not Wreck-It Ralph is the first great video game movie ever made. And the short answer is no. It’s not the first great video game movie ever made, because its not a video game movie.
Wreck-It Ralph isn’t a video game movie. It’s a love letter to video games, calling on all the things that made old arcade classics great wrapped in an actual movie. It’s not trying to take a video game, or even video game design concepts, and translate them and their interactivity to film. Rather, it’s simply trying to make a good movie about video games. And that’s why it succeeds.
Overall, Wreck-It Ralph is a very good movie. While it doesn’t ascend into the pantheon of animated classics, it is one of the best animated movies of the year and, with a great cast of characters and surprising thematic depth, will keep you entertained and intrigued.
And, most importantly, it kept me smiling for its entire run time. And, for a movie like this, that’s all it really needs to do.
Though it has its faults, Wreck-It Ralph is a strong animated film that uses video game nostalgia as the metaphorical cherry-on-top. Not a classic, but a very fun ride.
Images Used under Fair Use for the Purpose of Commentary