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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Disney has done a lot of catching up in the past few years. In 2009, their animated feature film The Princess and the Frog drew massive cultural interest, opening to fantastic reviews (84% on Rotten Tomatoes) and solid box office (over 260 million worldwide), as well as a few Oscar nominations. 2010’s Tangled performed similarly well, with an Oscar nomination of its own and very high praise (90% on Rotten Tomatoes). It also did well at the box office, though it was massively budgeted at well over 200 million dollars. Even minor Disney releases like 2011’s Winnie the Pooh drew high praise from critics (though disappointing box office numbers). Wreck-It Ralph, which opened this past weekend, continues Disney’s recent trend of quality feature-length animated films, and is quite possibly the best animated film of the year.
Wreck-It Ralph is the story of Ralph (John C. Reilly), the villain of a classic arcade game from the 1980s called Fix-It Felix, Jr. – think Donkey Kong, Jr. for reference. Fed up with his ho-hum everyday experience as a bad guy and hated by the denizens of his game, Ralph seeks redemption by “game jumping” to a Call of Duty-like first-person-shooter called Hero’s Duty. Through circumstances, Ralph ends up stranded in Sugar Rush, a Mario Kart-like racing game, where he must team up with the mischievous Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), the tough-talking military hero Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), and even his “nemesis” from Fix-It Felix, Jr., Felix, Jr. himself (a well-cast Jack McBrayer) in order to save Vanellope’s world from a mysterious arcade hero of yesteryear gone bad.
Wreck-It Ralph just plain works – gorgeously animated characters come together from multiple videogame worlds in a feast for the senses. The story is interesting and well-told, the voice performances top notch, and the melding of arcade worlds just plain brilliant. The many various characters from multiple videogame companies is reminiscent of something like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, for instance. I want to go back and watch it again just to see the character cameos I missed the first time around. That the filmmakers (including director and longtime Futurama and The Simpsons alum Rich Moore, who also gets a story credit) are able to so brilliantly weave cameos in and out of the story and not have it distract or become gratuitous is also notable.
John C. Reilly is the real star of Wreck-It Ralph and must be singled out for high praise. His performance as Ralph is hilarious, heartbreaking, and incredibly deep. While the bulk of the actors (including McBrayer, who is also great) perform ably, Reilly really brings Ralph to life in perhaps the best voiceover performance since Tom Hanks as Woody. The story structure of Wreck-It Ralph is another high point. The animators earn high praise from me for incorporating so many different worlds so well. Having the various videogame characters meet at the Tapper game for a root-beer after a long day in their games is hilarious and very clever, for instance. The subtleties of a game like Hero’s Duty (which melds something like Call of Duty with something like the Resistance series) stand out in stark contrast with the candy-coated world of Sugar Rush. Each world is just so unique and well-animated.
Simply put, there’s a lot to like about Wreck-It Ralph. It has a lot of heart, big ambitions, and asks some pretty complicated questions about life for what is ostensibly a film targeted at children. Ralph himself is a loveable and interesting character, and the supporting cast is full of fun and entertaining people as well (I was quite surprised I liked Vanellope as much as I did, as the character had great potential to end up being annoying). Director Rich Moore ably navigates the many worlds the film has set up for itself, and the final product just ends up glowing. Wreck-It Ralph is probably the best animated film of the year, and I can’t wait to watch it again and again.