Is there any geek who honestly didn’t plan to buy or rent this movie? After watching it for the first time, I have to say, it’s a far better video game homage than I thought, saddled with a somewhat odd story and ending.
In an arcade, there’s a game called Wreck-it-Ralph. It’s a mixture of several games; the cabinet is a carbon copy of the classic Donkey Kong arcade game, the way Ralph climbs up the side and to the top of a building is very like Midway’s Rampage, and there’s also a Crazy Climber vibe to it, with all the windows. In this game, the characters actually live. When the arcade closes, they all drop character and socialize. It’s very well done.
Ralph, the villain, is feeling ostracized by everyone else in his game. When he tries to crash a party, he gets so mad at everyone, and himself for only being a villain that he leaves the game, “going turbo,” as it’s called. He enters the first-person shooter “Hero’s Duty,” earns a medal, and promptly loses it in a kart racing game called “Sugar Rush.” In order to get it back, he has to help a glitched character enter a race. But the clock is ticking on his old game, and to prevent it from being forever out of order, the mario-like hero leaves it to find him…
First off, the game homages are great. Hero’s Duty is a fusion of Halo, Metroid Prime, and Gears of War; Sugar Rush is probably the weakest homage, but you can still see little Mario Kart homages in it too. The interstital world, sort of a Grand Central Station for games, has the bulk of the references, and you’ll see characters from Sega, Namco, Capcom, and others there.
The animation is pretty good too. They had the rough task of trying to adapt characters from radically different art styles into one unified style, and it works fairly well. Each character reflects their own game, but they don’t jar together like you think they would. It doesn’t always work; Penelope for one doesn’t change much, while Ralph’s 3-D model doesn’t really catch his Donkey Kong styling as well. But it’s good enough that it won’t drag you out of it.
The plot is probably the worst offender. The idea is good, but as other people have mentioned, the main focus of the movie is just in one game, Sugar Rush, and it doesn’t really resonate with gamers as much as the opening. I think this is partly because it’s based around a generic kart game, and any gaming references are subtle.
It’s also partly due to many of the characters not being all that likable or memorable. Fix-it Felix is grating, and Sgt. Calhoun is kind of purposeless in the film. Penelope-some people think she’s sweet, but she’s really kind of annoying, and not enough to carry the majority of the film.
Finally, the plot careens a bit around. SPOILER marking, so skip the next paragraph or two if you haven’t seen the movie.
I think the biggest problem is that at heart, it has a message of “It’s okay to endure a bad job so far as you have a kid you love” or “It’s better to change yourself instead of changing your job.” Ralph goes back to his game, and back to the same role. It’s slightly changed-he gets some other abandoned characters to help him in the bonus round, and his fellow characters aren’t ignoring him any more, but you get the sense that it’s really only tolerable because he can see Penelope from his game now and then.
I mean, it’s fine for Penelope to get everything she wants, and in a REALLY annoying scene, is revealed to be a princess. What is it with Disney and every single female main character being a princess? But Ralph is stuck doing the same things over and over to keep his game running, and only inside he is different. It feels like advice for dads who have to deal with a crappy job that they can’t escape; think of your children, change your attitude, and be a good guy. It’s not that it’s a downer, but the contrast between what Ralph and Penelope or even Felix get grates a little since he did save everyone.
The last issue I have is that it’s fairly frightening for young children. Towards the end, the tone gets a little serious, and the final form of the big bad is a little grotesque. How he meets his end (multiple times!) is chilling, surprisingly. There’s one hilarious homage to Mortal Kombat’s Kano which is sort of funny considering it’s actually more violent here than it was in the original game it came from, due to the hi-res models.
I liked it though. When it comes to videogames, Disney had so many chances to get them wrong. They managed to make a movie about gaming though that acknowledged its history, and felt like the games that inspired it. It’s not perfect, but even Sugar Rush feels like a kart racer, and there never was a point where I griped about “hey, they did this!” when it came to games. Some of it was inspired, like the representation of what the player looks like in a FPS, or what Halo would look like if one of the grunts really didn’t want to be there.
I’d give it seven out of ten stars. Not perfect, but far better than other movies like Madagascar 3.