Since the release of the first computer game, Pong in 1972 there have been a raft of new and ingenious ways to play virtual games. Now that games are reaching 4 decades in age there has been a growing movement among a certain generation to play ˜retro games.’ Disney, drawing from the popularity of retro games, has created Wreck-It Ralph, an animated film that supposes that characters from arcade machines are real and they live and interact with one another in the multi-socket plug hub known as Game Central Station.
Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the antagonist in a retro arcade machine that is approaching it’s 30th birthday. Disheartened that he was not invited to the celebrations for the games hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) he decides to leave his game and try and become a hero in another game. After failing in the latest first-person shooter called Heroes Duty, he accidentally crashes a spaceship into Candy Rush where he meets Venellope (Sarah Silverman) an outcast racer who is refused entry into the games races because she is a glitch. Working together they plan to enter the race, hoping that completion will lead to Venellope being accepted as a racer and Ralph as a hero.
Like all good animation, Wreck-It Ralph creates a fictionalised world that is interesting and sticks by its own internal logic. Thus games are filled with characters who are aware that their jobs are to ˜act’ as avatars for the players and where any problems with the game play may result in downtime, or even worse, removal. This is the fate of old school gaming character Q*bert and friends, who saw their game removed. It gives a real sense of threat in a world where death can be countered by a ˜extra life’ or two.
Q*bert isn’t Wreck-It Ralph’s only real game cameo as keen eyed observers will notice plenty of recognisable characters from Street Fighter’s Zangief to Pac-Man and the ghosts. In fact most of the big characters make an appearance with the exception of Mario. But that’s more likely because the game Fix-It Felix is obviously inspired by the original Donkey Kong game starring the Italian plumber. It’s this keen attention to detail that shows that the makers of Wreck-It Ralph actual have an interest in their source material. So while the actual narrative may be a standard buddy road trip film, it retains an element of unique freshness.
The voice actors are excellent with each giving their individual characters a real sense of believability. There are neat touches like having Jane Lynch’s battle veteran from Heroes Duty being cursed with the ˜saddest backstory’ in game history. It sounds preposterous, but fits within the confines of the story to give actual depth to her character. While Reilly and Silverman have excellent chemistry as the childish Ralph and Venellope, forced together by their own failings and pushed into a position to become accepted.
It’s not perfect though and fails to reach the highest levels of animated glory, in part because of the off-putting product placement. Anyone who has seen Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold will have a heightened sense of product placement in films and there are some that get away with it. Wreck-It Ralph sadly falls down here and the quirky characters and beautifully detailed scenery is often scarred with a conveniently placed drinking cup, or heavy-handed mention of a popular sandwich shop. While this sort of advertising is simply a given in today’s film-making environment, in Wreck-It Ralph it leads to other, more sinister thoughts.
It’s tough to truly through yourself into the narrative when there’s a sneaking suspicion that there is a shady business behind the scenes trying to push their goods upon an unsuspecting audience made predominantly of children. This then leads to a closer examination of characters like Venellope, who start to look dangerously like the kind of character that corporations think kids want to see. Fortunately there is still enough laughs and quality to keep these thoughts beneath the surface.
While Pixar have struggled since the move back to Disney, the Mouse House have upped their game to meet the increased quality coming out of Dreamworks and Wreck-It Ralph is no disappointment. Mixing the retro game love with great characters and a funny script and Wreck-It Ralph further proves that animation is one of the most competitive and rewarding styles of film-making. Plus, who doesn’t love a film with Frogger in it?