More than one movie has tackled the world of videogames. In some cases the result has been fun and in some cases not so much. With Wreck-it Ralph, not only has Disney tackled the world, but they have done so in truly brilliant fashion.
Directed by Rich Moore, Wreck-it Ralph is the tale of Wreck-it Ralph, the bad guy in a Rampage-but-reversed videogame entitled Fix-it Felix, Jr. Ralph, however, isn’t content with this life of eight-bit evil. He hates the fact that not only does he lose every time someone plunks a quarter into the machine, but that even when the arcade is closed Felix and those Felix saves won’t hang out with him. It is an intriguing concept and, the movie is so good that you probably won’t even think to yourself that very rarely in an arcade game does the bad guy ever lose. The villains may lose for a while, but arcade games tend to be built so that the player dies and has to keep popping in quarters.
But, as I said, you probably won’t even think about that as you watch, and that’s for a number of reasons starting off with John C. Reilly’s fantastic voice-over work which humanizes Ralph no matter how evil he may be in-game. For better or worse, Reilly has played a poor schlub before, will probably play a poor schlub again, and has his schlub-voice down pat without it ever sounding phoned-in. Watching the movie, you will want Ralph to win even though he is the villain.
The movie also works because, for the most part, it is extremely clever. Throughout Wreck-it Ralph, we get to see different videogame worlds all of which look different. Expertly, the film’s animators have given older games a more flat, old, look whereas newer titles exhibit drastic graphical leaps. The Fix-it Felix Jr. game, as an old title has old school graphics, but when Ralph leaves the game to hang out with other villains to try to come to terms with his lot in life what we see is completely and totally different. Eventually, Ralph decides that he simply can’t take it anymore and goes off in search of a shiny gold medal so that he can be a good guy (within his game world when the quarters aren’t flowing), and finds himself in a kart racing game helping another outcast, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), be accepted in her title. Vanellope’s kart title, Sugar Rush looks completely different than Fix-it Felix Jr. and other games we see each sport their own look and level of graphics.
I would argue that in the world of Sugar Rush the film does get a little bogged down. Wreck-it Ralph is best at the moments where Ralph is struggling internally and at its most clever when Ralph hops from game world to game world. Ralph is a hero on a journey, but the film isn’t brilliant (it is good, but not brilliant) on the narrative steps of that journey. The candy-laden Sugar Rush is an incongruous and fun place to momentarily have Ralph, and as much as Ralph helping Vanellope and thereby himself may push the narrative, it just takes up too high a percentage of the movie. It may have been far more interesting to see Ralph take Vanellope to yet another game where they could grow and learn together.
To be very clear, I think the movie works even here in its less great moments, but I also think there may have been more interesting ways to go.
The question I really keep coming back to with Wreck-it Ralph is what exactly the message of the film might be. It seems clear that it was made by people who love videogames and want to share that love, and it is immensely interested in finding a place in our hearts for videogame villains. One of the scenes that appeared in trailers and which will stay with people for a long time after watching the movie is Ralph’s trip to his Bad-Anon support group. The room is filled with videogame baddies all of whom believe that just because they act bad doesn’t mean they are bad. Think Jessica Rabbit’s “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” except they mean it. Then though there are the videogame baddies in the larger Ralph universe who are actually baddies, so maybe they’re going for more of a Terminator – “no fate but what we make for ourselves” thing. Or, I could just be over-thinking the whole thing.