It’s here! The second to last review in the Disney Vault is here, and it’s a bit of a downer because Wreck-It Ralph isn’t necessarily astounding. After the massive Tangled and the subdued, but charming, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-It Ralph is a bombastic ode to video games and finding life’s purpose. The issue is the bipolar division of the movie into a meta-take on games, the conception of “retro,” and dare I say existentialism turns into a cutesy movies about racing and candy with an annoying side character blown up to leading star status.
Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is a video game villain for the game, Fix-It Felix, Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer). In thirty years Ralph hasn’t been invited in for shindigs or cake with his fellow game neighbors, and just wishes he was the good guy. He comes up with a plan to leave his game and win a hero’s medal somewhere else, culminating in disaster for his game and others who believe he’s gone “Turbo.”
Wreck-It Ralph’s failure is in hewing closely to Disney‘s recent belief that there are movies for girls and movies for boys. We touched on it with the drama in Tangled’s history with changing the title and adding a male protagonist to appeal to males. Wreck-It Ralph is pronounced in its desire to appeal to both genders, causing an unbalanced and semi-satisfying movie. When the movie focuses on Ralph and the video game world, it’s an immersive and creative experience. The various video game “cameos” are ingenious and appeal to casual gamers of either gender. Just because you don’t know who Qbert is doesn’t mean you won’t know who Sonic the Hedgehog is. The various games act as neighborhoods with all transportation taking them to Game Central Station.
The first thirty minutes deals with Ralph’s way of life, the way the town is constructed, and the issues inherent in being a bad guy. When all the villains converge at a villain support meeting, the audience bonds with Ralph; he’s a man who can’t escape what’s been coded into him because society refuses to believe he can be anything else. In fact, you end up hating the residents of his game town more than anything. It’s unspecific whether this is a problem strictly in the town of Fix-It Felix, or if it’s everywhere (a brief Mortal Kombat sequence in the beginning shows the hero/villain pair going out for a drink), but they treat Ralph like garbage; he literally lives in a dump. Oddly enough, Wreck-It Ralph gets political commentary within the world of Fix-It Felix. The various well-to-do Nicelanders live in an expensive high-rise where Felix (who has inherited a magic hammer, and his heroic abilities, from his father) is celebrated. Cut to Ralph, a guy whose worked hard everyday but is continually labeled by society and told he cannot do anything to make his position in life better, and you have the entire political world of 2012 in a Disney movie!
Had Wreck-It Ralph followed this track: following Ralph as a hero who seeks to prove he’s more than this imposed identity, the movie could have been intelligent for kids and adults. Unfortunately, this is unceremoniously dumped once Ralph enters the candy-coated world of Sugar Rush. At this point, the rest of the movie focuses on cloyingly adorable Vanellope Von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman). Your enjoyment of the movie lives or dies on your enjoyment of Silverman’s character and the noticeably dumbed down world of Sugar Rush. The social commentary is there with the character of King Candy (voiced by Alan Tudyk), but it’s a contradiction of everything Wreck-It Ralph establishes in the opening. Since the story is confined to Sugar Rush for the remaining hour, gone is the intricate world established in Game Central Station. The only creativity is playing “Guess The Junk Food” throughout Sugar Rush, although a few of the moments are cute; the Oreos mimicking the sentries from Wizard of Oz (“Or-e-o. Oreo”) and the “devil dogs” being Hostess Devil Dogs.
Sarah Silverman doesn’t grate on me compared to others, although she is an acquired taste. Vanellope is certainly cute, and Silverman has a few mean-spirited wisecracks, but how many jokes can be mined from poop and underpants. Her entire character is the annoying five-year-old who giggles over the word “doody.” With Pixar being at the forefront of understanding kids aren’t stupid, Disney utilizing juvenile humor like this is a decline. There’s no laughs found unless you’re five which immediately distances you from events and there’s little reason for Vanellope to be a character who can make a remark about “fat folds” and then spend two minutes joking about poop. Disney’s always known to keep their cutesy characters as sidekicks, but once Vanellope arrives Ralph becomes the sidekick in his own film! It’s hard to understand Disney’s dumping of their titled character, but I wonder if they’re going under the belief Vanellope will attract little girls. If so, the use of bathroom humor immediately negates that (if we’re following this logic, little girls don’t like poop).
The second and third half of the movie should be retitled “Vanellope and Wreck-It Ralph;” it’d be more accurate. Ralph, Fix-It Felix, Jr. and the tough-talking Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) are where Wreck-It Ralph excels. Unfortunately, the script genders the movie to appeal to both genders, and ends up hobbling the narrative working so well prior. Wreck-It Ralph is an enjoyable movie, but you’ll forget it immediately after watching it.
NEXT WEEK: The final Disney animated movie, Frozen
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.