I remember the first day I played Mario Kart 64. I played as Donkey Kong because I was yet to discover that Wario was the better character. It was less than ten minutes between my younger brother (it was his birthday present) opening the box and us racing around Luigi’s Circuit. Ten minutes.
Thanks to Wreck-It Ralph, I can now imagine what it would have been like if that ten minutes instead lasted two hours. Freak me sideways.
Wreck-It Ralph is a difficult movie to describe because it’s three mini-plots wrapped up into one film.
Ralph is a video game baddie. In a moment of existential crisis, he attends a support group for other baddies where he learns the mantra that it’s good to be bad, being bad is okay, and it’s okay to be him. For the film to end, Ralph must explore this mantra, whether he agrees with it, or whether there is another way for him to live.
Then there’s the story of Ralph trying to find acceptance within his society. He is told that if he receives a MacGuffin called ‘A Hero’s Medal’, he will be rewarded with a penthouse and invited to live among the community. For the film to end, Ralph must find this medal and return.
Then there’s the story of Vanellope. Introduced about half way through the film, she steals the Ralph’s medal in order to enter a race in order to win the right to be considered a real person… or something.
In short, it’s a beautiful trainwreck of interviewing plots. Vanellope enters the race, and then we explore Ralph’s story about coming to terms with his role in a programmed universe for about an hour or so. Fortunately, there was enough time between registering for the race and the actual race. They never would have had three quarters of this film if the logical thing (‘Okay, time to race!’) had occurred. They even have to make a car for her. For Jove’s sake.
Nothing about Sarah Silverman’s voice doesn’t annoy me. For an hour, the audience has to endure her trying to sound even more infantile than she already does. Why does Vanellope sound like her intellectual development was stunted? Could it be due to the entire world in which she lives being made out of sugar? You need to eat your eight serves of fruit and veggies, girl.
The film runs well and truly out of steam by the time a training montage appears. Acknowledging this, characters end up acting in particularly strange ways in order to keep the plot moving along. Oh, it turns out a bad guy did something that nobody can remember… but wouldn’t visitors from the other video games realise something was whack? Oh, it turns out the King (who is excellent, by the way. The voice actor — one of the non-events from Firefly — did an amazing job of impersonating Ed Wynn’s Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland — although more people would recognise him as Uncle Albert from Mary Poppins) can give Ralph what he wants without all this Mario Kart gibberish?
What makes the film tank? It tries really, really hard to be clever and insightful but, like most Disney morals, makes for uncomfortable thinking. We are the way that we’re programmed. If there isn’t a princess ruling everything, the world is somehow immoral. We need to accept our lot in life.
It’s also a film that really doesn’t know who the target audience is. References don’t make sense to kids, and yet the pre-teen market appears to be the target audience. The film doesn’t work — as some children’s film try — as having two messages: the big shiny distracting message for the kids, and the innuendo, implied message for the adults. But the video game characters are all from my generation, so there’s no connection for the current generation of children. Perhaps that says something (terrible) about modern gaming.
The film most like it is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? At the heart of that film was an extremely clever trick: it associated Roger with well-known cartoons, making it feel like we were peering into a parallel universe a little bit like our own, except that Roger was just as famous as Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Droopy Dog. The trick doesn’t quite work in Wreck-It Ralph, where Ralph’s game is presented to us alongside characters from Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog, Altered Beast, Pac-Man, &c., &c., &c. But the emotions that we have towards those characters never rubs off on Ralph like it does with Roger.
Which is a shame, because without that key ingredient, the other particularly clever ingredients go to waste. Despite being modelled in 3D, the characters in Ralph’s game move in Game and Watch style rhythm, for example. There’s a post-apocalyptic glow to the gaming universe when the orange ‘Out of Order’ is posted by the human owner of the arcade. And references. Tonnes, and tonnes of references.
All of that being said, despite noting every single (and there are many) flaw in this film and the fact that the film is, ultimately, extremely stupid…
… it is also fantastic fun.
There’s something absorbing about the world presented. You’re overcome with nostalgia for the characters who make cameo appearances in the world-between-gaming-worlds that you forget that you’re watching a shitty film and start to think about those games instead. Many of the jokes work as one-liners. Action pieces are engaging fluff and don’t drag too much. And, it must be said again, the Mad Hatter King is simply fantastic.
In conclusion, wait for it to come out on television.