More Than Just 8 Bit References: The Joys of "Wreck-It Ralph"

I think we've reached that point where Disney Animation is giving Pixar a run for its money. I know, I know, the same people are running the show, but Pixar's influence on Disney is showing.  While Pixar's films are still feature the some of the best looking computer animation, Disney films are really improving the stories they tell. Not everybody saw Winnie the Pooh last year, but I assure you that it was excellent. That was when I noticed the infusion of Pixar into Disney Animation. It felt that the artists knew what kind if film they wanted to make (a true follow-up to the classic Winnie the Pooh movies), the characters really got to shine, and we even got a fun credits sequence.  All of this holds true in Wreck-It Ralph. 

Warning: This is a post-viewing discussion of Wreck-It Ralph. If you haven't seen it yet, turn back now.

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As a fan of both, it was somehow still hard for me to believe In a Disney movies about video games. The initial trailer got me very excited, but come on, there was way too much to mess up here. It seemed like too much of a task to make a film that appealed to everyone who held a controller with less than ten buttons, while also delivering the family film that Disney is expected to release. It felt like a no-win situation. Most likely, I assumed that this would end up appealing mostly to 12 year olds, disappointing the adults that came for Mario jokes. On the other hand, if this felt like 90 minutes of geek references it would have no appeal to the kids in the audience. In either case, surely the adults who never played games would be out in the cold.

I'm glad to say I was wrong. I think Wreck-It Ralph deserves the praise it’s been getting because it meets and exceeds the expectations of the nerds and the kids. We even got a hefty dose of Candy Land to make sure non-gamers had plenty to enjoy. I was surprised that the Sugar Rush portion of the film was so much fun, as I thought it would wear thin. Cart racing was a good gaming genre to incorporate, and who doesn't love a few candy references to go with their Konami codes? Plus, the climax of the movie hinged on Mentos and Diet Coke! When these filmmakers ventured out of the gaming space, they made sure to hit areas of common interest. It's a smart move in helping your movie appeal to a broader audience while expanding what appeals to the fans. 

But let's not lose sight of all the great video game references and jokes in here.  The Fix It Felix game was a great setting for our story, and I liked how the motive handled the explanation of why the characters look 8 bit (the screen). Even if our characters looked great, there were still plenty of moments where they carried the traits of their era (particularly Fix-It Felix's dancing or work with the hammer). The trailer may have given too much away, but I loved the villain support group. That's a TV show I want to see. 

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Apparently some people thought that some of the bigger video game characters should have been included (aka Mario). I like the fact that we saw a lot of secondary characters. What we saw felt more like references and never seemed as distracting as a cameo from our favorite plumber would have seemed.

Speaking of characters, I felt this was another strong suit of the movie. To start, the voice acting was great. John C. Riley, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, and Jane Lynch were all perfectly cast. I wish that animated films didn't rely so heavily on celebrities for these roles, but it’s hard to argue with these results. I felt connected to these characters, and each had their own set of issues to overcome. OK, maybe Calhoun’s story was a little thin and over-the-top (husband-to-be killed on wedding day), but that was played up well for laughs. I expected to watch Ralph grow and empathize with him, but we got to see Felix grow as well. I’m not so sure that we saw Vanellope grow, as much as gain acceptance, but that’s ok, because not only is her relationship with Ralph the heart of the movie (anybody else find that scene where Ralph wrecked the car a bit tough to watch ), but Vanellope might be my favorite character to be added to the Disney cast of characters. While Disney’s princesses have a tendency to be sit around and be perfect until their prince saves them, Vanellope’s imperfections (or should I say “glitches”) are her secret power-up.

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That brings me to my main issue with Wreck-It Ralph. King Candy didn’t do it for me. I liked his plan of rewriting the code of the game, and understand the whole “going turbo” thing is what creates the urgency in the story. I just didn’t find him all that interesting or memorable. I’m a villain guy (see my call for a TV show based on the support group scene); so it bugs me when the villain doesn’t seem that strong. However, I don’t think this matters. Our heroes are so good that we didn’t need a super-villain. Besides, Ralph should be the best “bad guy” in his own movie.  Those people in the tower were pretty nasty anyway.   

Last but not least, we got an 8-bit credits sequence. I loved this at the end of Wall-E, and I love it here. It was the icing on the cake. It’s not sophisticated, but I’ve had trouble summing up Wreck-It Ralph better than calling it “a big bag of happy”.

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