After four months, Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph has finally made it into U.K. cinemas. In fact, it was released just over a week before Valentine’s Day, which is odd because it’s not the kind of film that would typically be considered romantic. It does involve a romantic subplot but the characters and the story are certainly far more geared towards children than teenagers or young adults. Perhaps they were trying to appeal to parents with children as a way to get out for Valentine’s Day but wouldn’t most parents just get a babysitter and go see something more stimulating? That’s not to say that Wreck-It Ralph isn’t a good film or good night out. I saw it on Valentine’s Day myself. But the logic behind the scheduling is utterly enigmatic.
Special mention should go to the pre-movie short, Paperman, which is actually romantic. It’s in black and white, much like original Disney animation was, although it’s sharper due to modern technology but where it really shines is in the story anyway. There are plenty of romantic comedies and love stories that could learn from this short and how it shows two characters meet, make an initial impression and persist in their efforts to meet again. The catalyst did turn out to be a bit more usual than expected but it was still a wonderful short.
But this isn’t about Paperman, it’s about Ralph, the villain in the arcade game Fix-it Felix, an old style game reminiscent of Donkey Kong. Ralph is having a bit of an existential crisis and decides that, just for once, he would like to experience the glory of being the hero. He’s challenged by the citizens of his game to come back with a medal. The boon for achieving such a task is the penthouse suite, allowing him to escape the literal dump he presently resides in.
Surprisingly, he actually finds and wins a medal quite easily. There’s some initial difficulty searching for a medal before he finally finds a drunken soldier from Hero’s Duty, a kind of Call of Duty meets Time Crisis arcade game. The film does an interesting job of meshing the life inside the game with what’s going on outside. For instance, in Hero’s Duty, the player is represented by a monitor on wheels and Ralph gets reprimanded for interrupting with the player character. A more dire example is the terror that the ‘out of order’ sign strikes into the hearts of the characters when Ralph abandons his game.
In the background there’s the recurring fear that Ralph may be going turbo, which has nothing to do with Street Fighter II Turbo, although Ken and Ryu do have cameos in the film. Instead, Turbo was the lead protagonist in an old arcade racing game who took the introduction of a new arcade racing game rather badly. He, like Ralph, leaves his game and jumps into another. His presence in the other game causes both games to be put out of order. The cast of Q*bert also appear as out of work characters who have lost their game. Intelligent viewers might make a connection between this tale and the big climax in the modern racer, Sugar Rush.
Ralph’s game jumping also has consequences other than possibly shutting down his own game. One of the mechanical insect enemies from Hero’s Duty jumps from its game to Sugar Rush along with Ralph and proceeds to cause havoc. Strangely enough, these baddies don’t seem to have a conscience or higher thinking, as Ralph and the other bad guys do. Like a plague of locust, they multiply and sweep through areas eating and destroying everything in their path. The only method of defeating them lies in creating a giant fly zapper to destroy them all. Jane Lynch’s character Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun describes them as a virus but that could just be her programming talking. It would be interesting to see whether such a thing as a computer virus actually exists and how that affects the characters, or if what we call viruses are simply the result of characters jumping from one game to another.
This being a kid’s movie, however, there’s never really any threat that the characters won’t succeed or eventually save the day and learn some kind of lesson about team work and the importance of self. Where Wreck-it Ralph stands out is in little details, such as using Sonic as a public service announcement or finding Mario’s mushroom in the lost and found box. There are moments such as those which are definitely there just to give the adults something to chuckle at but it is effective. It is fun to watch the film and pick out all the nods to old style gaming and outside references. The racing game Sugar Rush takes place in Candyland where sweet and chocolate allusions abound, so viewers who aren’t well versed in gaming (although that would beg the question of why you’re walking a film based on video games) can still have fun picking out the real world nods throughout.
Wreck-It Ralph is a good film. It doesn’t quite reach the greatness of more popular Disney films or more recent Pixar films but the characters are interesting and there is pretty much something for both adults and children to enjoy, although kids will have more fun. There’s certainly a lot that could be explored in a sequel if they do decide to make one and plenty more games that could be included. It might be enjoyable to find out if console characters are different from the arcade counter parts, like how every toy in Toy Story is a separate individual, or are they different strands of one consciousness. There are certainly a lot of potential possibilities to explore. Let’s just hope they don’t wreck it.