Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph (2012) movie poster

director Rich Moore
viewed: 11/02/2012 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Wreck-It Ralph is a Disney digital animation film about an old school video arcade game villain (circa the early 1980’s) who has wearied of his typecast life and strives for more.  He comes from a digital universe when pixels were fewer and designs very simplified, a la Donkey Kong, but he is lives in and is rendered in a digital universe that is trying to match its studio brethren Pixar dot for dot in quality.  His escape from his own game, in quest of a “hero” medallion, which would give him credence in his own world (so he believes) sets him  on his personal adventure in utterly foreign worlds.

It’s a cute concept, creating a world which all video game characters share, old and new, and like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), gives opportunity to bring “classic” characters from across the digital universe into a single space.  Of course, licensing only goes so far, so you get Q*Bert and Pac-Man and even Sonic the Hedgehog.  It’s a cute concept and it’s cute in execution.

But the film earns its real merits in its own characters.  Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, is a more well-rounded character than a lot of titular animated heroes.  And Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by Sarah Silverman, somehow manages to be more than the annoying cutesy thing that she looks like in the trailers.  Really, during the first half hour or so, I was thinking it was relatively unremarkable but I found myself really enjoying it by the end.  The kids liked it, too.

The film is challenged with some of the very typical shortcomings of kid-oriented feature animation, in that boiling down a “moral to our story” the creators spell out such things as “just be yourself” and other positive aphorisms with the depth of a molecule of so.  And while Ralph’s crisis is an identity crisis, of learning to love his role (or at least earning respect from others, since it’s not him that has the emotional hill to climb), he comes to realize that the most important thing he can find is the friendship of little Vanellope, who is an outsider like himself.

What’s kind of interesting is that this medal he seeks, whether a medal or a medallion or merely a gold coin, is a symbol in all of the video game universes he enters (and clearly it is a common trope of games).  It could represent accomplishment or money or status, but it’s ultimately a transferable symbol.  Vanellope steals it to use to earn her way into a car race in her universe, even though it’s a prize that Ralph games from a sci-fi fighting game.  In a sense, there is nearly a critique of the goal, the hapless, endless striving for some representative token, immaterial as a lot of code, immaterial as all of the worlds of video game universes.  Ultimately it’s the esteem he earns in a non-golden award, being Vanellope’s “hero” that helps him accept his place in the universe.

The film isn’t really all that deep, but oddly, it’s not far off from being a bit more existential if they had prodded it in that direction.

As a movie, Wreck-It Ralph is actually pretty good.  I’m not sure how it managed to affect my sentiment, but I wound up liking it.

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