Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2012

Wreck-It Ralph

A clockwork villain

The bad guy tries to overcome his predetermined fate in Disney's pleasant but uninspired 'Wreck-It Ralph'

Wreck-It Ralph
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Rich Moore
Screenplay: Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee
Starring: The voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Ed O'Neill, Raymond Persi and Mindy Kaling
Rated PG / 1 hour, 41 minutes
(out of four)

Wreck-It Ralph is a charming enough movie hampered with the misfortune of having a great premise which it is unable to live up to.

A video-game villain suffers an existential crisis and abandons his own game in search of a self-determined fate. The setup is rife with possibilities, but the movie itself can only scratch the surface. There's an adventurous spirit that's conspicuously missing. Nothing surprises us; nothing jumps off the screen. The filmmakers play it straight down the middle, apparently satisfied with the path of least resistance.

Every characterization and setting is exactly as we would expect it to be. In fact, let's try an exercise. I'd like you to close your eyes and imagine a video game. Imagine Mario Kart meets Candy Land. OK, have you got an image in your head? Good. You can open your eyes now. That image you have in your head is exactly what the fictional Sugar Rush game in Wreck-It Ralph looks like. Exactly. To a T.

As far as I'm concerned, the movies are a place where imaginations can (and should) run wild. But director Rich Moore is merely content to reinforce our most obvious expectations. To be fair, the worlds he and art director Ian Gooding create are lovely enough, and the characters written by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee are enjoyable enough. But there's nothing especially exciting about any of it. Instead there's an almost mathematical efficiency. The filmmakers must have thought, "What would this fictional video-game world actually look like if it were real?" and proceeded to manufacture it in terms of its hypothetical accuracy, instead of taking the opportunity to create something unique - some kind of idiosyncratic take on this universe. Where's Bo Welch when you need him?

I even noticed this in some of the voice casting. Jack McBrayer as a squeaky-clean innocent, Jane Lynch as a comedically no-nonsense authority figure. Maybe it's perfect. Or maybe it's far too conventional. After seeing how much of the rest of the film played it safe, I'm inclined to believe it's the latter.

That's not to say the film's charms are to be dismissed. As I mentioned, the premise is great, so its opening scenes are in many ways the best ones. We are introduced to Fix-It Felix Jr., an 8-bit arcade game that's been going strong for three decades now, surviving in the arcade even as dozens of others have come and gone.

But 30 years is a long time, especially if you're Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly, providing the perfect blend of sad-sack humanity, comic fatalism and full-hearted optimism), who's been doing the same thing, all day every day, his entire life. He gets angry and smashes a building. He smashes and smashes, and every time, the angelic Fix-It Felix (McBrayer) comes along with his magical hammer, fixes all of Ralph's damage, and assists the residents of the building as they toss Ralph off the roof.

This is Ralph's life. He'd probably be more content with his lot if only things didn't get even worse after hours. When the lights go off in the arcade, the characters - think Toy Story but for video games - go about their lives, which typically consists of fulfilling the predetermined fates their original programmers put in place for them. Which means Fit-It Felix gets to hang out in the penthouse with all his well-to-do friends, while Ralph is relegated to a trash heap that he dispassionately calls home.

When he intrudes on Felix's 30th anniversary party one night, Ralph clumsily and accidentally wrecks the penthouse and is kicked out yet again, despite his claims that he has what it takes to be a hero rather than a villain. Mockingly, the mayor takes him up on his claim, promising Ralph that he'll give him a spot in the penthouse if he can somehow earn a gold hero's coin.

And so Ralph sets out to do just that, first making his way quite naively into a first-person shooter called Hero's Duty (where he gets involved with Sergeant Calhoun, voiced by Lynch) and then into the much more innocent (and appropriate, given Ralph's gentle temperament) Sugar Rush. There, he forms an unlikely alliance with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a glitchy character barred from participation in any races by the odious King Candy (voiced by Alan Tudyk), who in both voice and appearance resembles the Mad Hatter from Disney's Alice in Wonderland.

Wreck-It Ralph is most enjoyable for its earnest affection and nostalgia for video games (both old and new), and for its voice performances, notably Reilly, who imbues Ralph with an infectious enthusiasm and passion. I only wish that enthusiasm had caught on with the filmmakers, and sparked something more imaginative than what they ultimately came up with.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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