Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Some movies you see to be challenged, to witness great acting, to inspire thought-provoking discussion after the end credits roll. But then there are movies you see just for the pure old-fashioned entertainment value. Wreck-It Ralph is one of those movies.

All the Disney non-Pixar movies were suffering in quality for years and years, starting with 2001's Atlantis and ending with 2008's Bolt. For these seven years, we animation buffs turned to the Pixar movies for quality entertainment, to movies like Finding Nemo and Ratatouille. Yet somehow, only recently, the shift in quality has changed. Last year's Cars 2 was a disgrace, and next year's Monsters University is another Pixar sequel (or prequel) nobody asked for. The Princess and the Frog, on the other hand, was solid, Tangled was an enchanting delight, and now we have Wreck-It Ralph, a smart, funny, and touching animated film that takes the lives of video game characters. Video game enthusiasts will go nuts for this movie, and the rest of us will cheer for the full-fledged return of Disney Animation.

While it's a notch or two below the best of the Pixar movies (Toy Story 1-3, Finding Nemo, Up), Wreck-It Ralph is a ton of fun, and a real crowd pleaser. John C. Reilly, perfectly cast, voices Ralph, the "villain" of an arcade game who has spent thirty years destroying a tall apartment complex, only to be tossed off the top of the building when the "heroes" save the day. He has no friends, he sleeps on bricks, and he's never given his due for what he adds to the game. Therefore, he makes his way not just to therapy, but to the video game universe's central station, where he straps on a uniform and tries his hand at different games, in different modes of play and graphics. He ultimately finds himself in a whimsical racing game, where he befriends a pixie girl Venellope (Sarah Silverman) who has become a glitch in the game and needs his help to reclaim the character who was once hers.

The first half of Wreck-It Ralph is the most effective. I don't know how it took until 2012 for a film to go into the lives of video game characters, but it was well worth the wait. The screenplay is similar to Toy Story in that the characters do what they're supposed to all day on the arcade screen, but as soon as the kids go home and the lights go out, the characters breathe lives of their own and interact with each other, even with characters from different games. We see Ralph interact with Qbert, Bowser, Pac-Man's nemesis, and more. It's these more loose, faster paced scenes, filled with the building of this amazing world, where the movie really shines. I loved Ralph's character development, how he wants to be loved but doesn't know how to be, how he expresses his feelings in a support group for villainous characters, and the game he's tied to has quite the setback when he doesn't return to fulfill his role. His entry into a heavily intense game of war and violence is well-realized, too, with a female warrior character voiced to perfection by Jane Lynch.

The second half of the movie works great too; it's just more standard fare. I was secretly hoping Ralph would jump around to different games, certainly more than just two. For the last forty-five minutes or so, he stays put in a racing game, and the film focuses its attention on building the relationship between Ralph and Venellope. It's sweet and charming, and the rousing conclusion is fantastic, but it doesn't offer as many surprises as the film does in its opening hour.

Overall I had a lot of fun at Wreck-It Ralph, and I know you will, too. So many adults especially blow off animated films, like they're just for kids and not worth per suing, but a good story is a good story, and Wreck It Ralph tells a great story. It's the kind of movie you need to drag your boyfriend or husband or cousin or best friend to see, even if you're twenty-one and up, even if you don't have any kids. It's a blast, and it's proof that Disney Animation, which seemed to be losing its way for a few years, is back in grand style.

And one more reason you have to see this movie? For the animated short that plays before it. Paperman, directed by John Kahrs, is one of the most charming pieces of perfection I've ever seen. Hand-drawn, black and white, with a simple nail-biter of a love story that nearly brought me to tears, Paperman is a joy. Don't miss it.

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