Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Vine: Wreck-It Ralph

Thirty years stuck in the same deadbeat job would be enough to drive anyone bonkers. Wouldn’t you want switch things up a bit? Take a chance on a new life? 

Call it mid-life crisis, or call it just plain common sense, but either way, this is the premise for Disney and Pixar’s latest animated sensation - Wreck-It Ralph – a love letter to underdogs wrapped in a pixelated package of retro gaming goodness.

Yes, our titular troubled soul (beautifully voiced by John C. Reilly) is in fact an 8-bit bad guy from an old school arcade game. Fed up with wreaking havoc on an apartment block, only to watch goody-two-shoes Fix-it Felix (Jack McBrayer) swoop in with his golden hammer and win the adulation of the residents – and a coveted hero’s medallion – Ralph decides to mess with the programme, and see if he can’t refashion himself into a champion in some other game.

Cleverly seizing the classic ‘hero’s journey’ for his own crafty, enthusiastic ends, director Rich Moore (Futurama,The Simpsons), soon has downbeat Ralph happen upon the infectiously energetic Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman)– a wannabe racer from a Mario-Kart crossed with Japanese-anime inspired game called Sugar Rush – wherein the two bicker like bratty siblings before banding together to help Vanellope realise her racing destiny.

Anyone who grew up within a controller cable length of a gaming console will need to see this film. Let alone arcade enthusiasts. For Moore has taken the clever Toy Story conceit along with the same level of love it poured into your childhood favourites, and directed it towards the 8-bit, N64, and X-Box worlds of our collective gaming culture. It’s an unspeakably splendid blend of nostalgia, homage and peppy Pixar entertainment. And while some gamers may be disappointed to discover that new creations clearly take centre stage, there is still an awful lot of fun to be spied with the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Bowzer, and Chun Li (to name but a few). 

Indeed Moore and his team do a wondrously impressive job of crafting four distinct gaming worlds within the film. There’s Ralph’s 8-bit existence – complete with the juddering, staccato rhythms of its comparatively simple characters. Then there’s Hero’s Journey: the first super-slick, Halo-cum-Aliens-inspired world Ralph visits (“When did video games get so violent and scary?” Ralph asks in a fun but pointed admonishment). Vanellope’s land of Sugar Rush certainly lives up to its name, with its diabetes coma-inducing confectionary surrounds sure to set your stomach rumbling. Finally there’s the arcade terminus – echoing Grand Central Station – that provides the gateway between games, as well as the pursuant warning: die outside your own game and it’s Game Over, for reals.

This glorious attention to detail – completely with sight-gags galore – is rendered in superb 3D. 3D that acknowledges the technological rules of each world, and 3D that sucks you into each game, but more importantly, into Ralph’s gigantic, misunderstood heart.

Enriching the experience further is the film’s pitch-perfect cast. Quick-witted yet world-weary Reilly hits every note with Ralph, and speedily squeaking alongside him is Silverman, who gives computer glitches a good name with her delightfully precocious rendition of Vanellope. The leads are hilariously well supported by the scene-stealing likes of Jane Lynch – who is given all the best lines as the ball-busting Sergeant Calhoun in Hero’s Journey – alongside Jack McBrayer’s tremulously ebullient Felix, and the show stopping Alan Tudyk as the Mad Hatter inspired, daffy dandy King Candy. 

With four worlds and 190-odd characters, it’s a testament to the writers and Moore’s direction that Wreck-It Ralphdoesn’t wander off track. Instead, the dazzling layers of colour and movement (and old gaming favourites!) combine to deliver an uproariously entertaining film for the young and…nostalgic. But don’t go in expecting a Toy Story 3 style end-of-childhood catharsis (breakdown? Surely I wasn’t the only one inconsolably crying?), as Moore proves to have a lighter touch on the heartstrings: Wreck-It Ralph is more likely to send you out of the cinema wanting to seize the day, rather than call your shrink. 

Or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just want to collect your coins, turn around, and head straight back in for another visit to this fabulous cinematic arcade.

Post script:
Be sure to arrive in time to see Pixar’s glorious black and white short Paperman, which will whisk you back to an old-fashioned meets cute 1940s New York with soaring stationery results. 

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 26 December 2012

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