Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (2012)

51. Wreck-It Ralph

It took me a while to warm up to “Wreck-It Ralph” in two different ways. When I first heard the premise of a Disney movie set inside the world of video games, about a villain trying to prove himself a hero, I couldn’t help but sigh a little bit. Didn’t sound particularly inspired. Trailers began to hit and, with its cameos of established game characters and absurd sense of humor, this was revealed as something of the video game-version of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” As the critical praise and immediate fan love started to pour in, I actually found myself getting excited for “Wreck-It Ralph.”

Similarly, the movie itself didn’t impress me right out of the gate. The film goes a long way to establishing its world very quickly. The arcade is its own little universe. The eight-bit visuals are cool and John C. Riley’s voice-over is both regretful and amusingly bitter. The way a surge protector power strip becomes a train station struck me as uncommonly clever. It’s not that there’s any particularly egregious about the first act but parts of it definitely feel perfunctory. The Bad Guy Self-Help Group read brilliantly on paper I bet and, if all the jokes that scene hadn’t been plaster over all the trailers and TV spots, I probably would have found it brilliant too. The scenes of Ralph alienating the residents of his own game are fairly predictable, however. At this point the film feels very much like a typical kid’s flick. (Even if a certain part of my brain gets excited just seeing Robotnik and Sonic on the big screen.)

Things pick up once the plot gets really rolling, though still slowly. The Hero’s Duty set-pieces are a pretty spot-on parody of modern first person shooters. Surprising for a quote-unqoute kid’s movie, the movie is still laying down narrative tracks this late in. Important plot points are still emerging and, best of all, we’re introduced to Jane Lynch’s Col. Calhoun character. Lynch spits out hilarious, intentionally ridiculous hard boiled dialogue, biting into every line like a pro. The movie doesn’t spend much time in this setting. (I suppose even a parody of M-rated games are a little too strong for Disney.) The main arc of Ralph taking responsibility for his actions, the Sugar Rush setting, the smartly merged Felix and Col. subplots, all starts to come together.

My main problems with the opening scenes aren’t that they aren’t interesting, so much as they aren’t funny. The humor starts to come with the new setting and, mostly, with Ralph’s interaction with Vanellope. I’ve never been a huge fan of Sarah Silverman’s schtick. “Adorable girl says offensive things” can only go so far. However, her snark, adorableness, and decent delivery find a good home in the character. Silverman and Reiley have a great back and forth, so much so that it wouldn’t surprise me if their dialogue was recorded together. Naturally, the two outsiders form a friendship and each redeems the other. This is expected. What isn’t expected is that the friendship will be so touching. That friendship is inevitably challenged. While that scene arguably pitches the drama at a little too high a level, it’s still very effective. What I’m saying is the character’s relationship forms the entire emotional backbone of the film’s latter half.

Sugar Rush becomes the setting for the rest of the movie. It’s a great playground for the animators. Beyond the vivid colors, the setting is versatile enough to provide plenty of sight gags. Who knew that you could get so many laughs out of candy puns? It’s no surprise that the Sugar Rush racers have become something of a meme in of themselves, since each one is such a unique design. Once the big race starts, what a fantastic device for a finale, you really begin to appreciate how much effort went into crafting this playground. You wouldn’t expect the political dynamics of a video game to be this interesting either. Alan Tudyk, completely unrecognizable with a big queenie voice, does a great job of taking a character, the King of Candyland, who would be impossible to take seriously and turn him into an intimidating villain. The level of seriousness goes up even more for a finale you wouldn’t expect to be as exciting or dark as it is. In addition to that, I think the romance between Fix-It Felix and Col. Calhoun might be the first BDSM relationship in a kid’s movie ever. Expect those two to inspire some freaky fanficiton.

How much I like the movie is probably because my expectations weren’t exactly high. As I’ve made clear, the movie is shockingly likable despite not doing a single damn new thing. I’m not shocked that the internet loves it, given the number of classic gaming in-jokes. You’ve got cameos of Pac-Man, Bowser, practically all the most well-known “Street Fighter” characters, Kano from “Mortal Kombat,” a Dance-Dance Revolution cabinet, Frogger, the Dig Dug guy, a “House of the Dead” zombie, Q-Bert, even down to obscurities like “Battle Toads” Dark Queen and Tapper. Aerith and Sheng-Long are mentioned in blink-and-miss-it graffiti. The Contra Code is a plot point! Even if the public hasn’t quite embraced them to the degree they did in the nineties, I’ve got to say Disney has been on something of a roll with their Animated Features here of late. Let’s see the trend continue. [Grade: B+]

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