RogerBW's Blog

Wreck-It Ralph 19 January 2019

2012, dir. Phil Johnston and Rich Moore; IMDb / allmovie. Ralph is the villain in a Donkey Kong-like arcade game, Fix-It Felix Jr. – and, like most video game characters in this world, a thinking person too. He's tired of being the bad guy, and sets out to prove that he can be good.

Of course, it isn't as simple as that: an attempt to win a medal goes awry, and Ralph soon finds himself working with Vanellope, an outsider in a sweets-themed and very pink racing game. It's a romp across a group of ideas which, while explored a few times in film, benefits from not being tied to any major video-game properties; there's nothing constraining the writers from doing whatever version of a first-person shooter they feel like, and so it's the game that we might remember, rather than the game we might actually play. (Also, unlike quite a few video-game films, it remembers that watching games is a lot less fun than playing them, and while the experience is inevitably a passive one it keeps the actual gameplay-style footage to a minimum.)

There was definitely a place for more criticism of some of the silliness that's accepted as standard in video games, but that would be asking for something extra that probably wasn't in the filmmakers' brief. This is a Disney film, after all.

Though one of the great moments here is one that doesn't happen: while all these game machines are placed in a single arcade, and are played by human beings, there's never a moment when the inside world makes contact with the outside world. When things go wrong in a game there may be an "out of order" sign stuck on it, but this isn't a story about the outsiders meeting the insiders. Nobody outside the game-world suspects its existence, and that's the way it should be.

It's not just a parade of game references and in-jokes: sure, those are there, but you don't need to get them to enjoy the film, and the directors don't bother with laboured explanations. It's a character-driven story first, and a video-game film second, and that's what makes it really stand out.

On a technical level there's attention here to details that most films wouldn't even have: characters from different games of different eras are drawn and animated in different styles and even framerates. (The oldest games get a bit of an upgrade here so that things aren't too jarring.) A mid-credits sequence shows further adventures of the principals, rendered in low-detail graphics.

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