Monday, November 5, 2012

I'm Gonna Wreck It!: Wreck-It-Ralph Review

We saw Wreck-It-Ralph on Sunday and everyone in our party enjoyed it. It's the story of the titular Ralph, a video game villain who, on the 30th anniversary of his game, is tired of being hated for doing his job, which is destroying a building, so the hero of the game, Fix-It-Felix, Jr, can repair it. The Nicelanders, whose building Felix repairs, throw him a party, to which Ralph is not invited. Ralph crashes it, things go badly, and the Nicelanders tell Ralph they'll throw him a party if he can earn a medal. And Ralph abandons his game and goes looking for one.

In the movie, all the games in the arcade are linked by "Game Central Station", which was a cornucopia of cameos. We saw Chun Li chatting with princesses from the Mario series. Ralph gives a cherry from Pac-Man to a homeless Q-Bert. Ryu buys Ken a beer at Tapper's. I really like the shared universe of the movie. I've seen it likened to Tron, but I think a better comparison is Who Framed Roger Rabbit (with dashes of Scott Pilgrim and Toy Story to flavor) a movie that unifies number of disparate properties under a single multiversal umbrella.

Ralph learns that completing the game in Hero's Duty will earn the winner a medal, so he sets off to do that, encountering Jane Lynch's Sergeant Calhoun, the tough as nails commander of the force in the game. I don't care for Glee, the property for which she's best known, but I don't think I've ever been anything but tremendously entertained by any role I've ever seen her perform. She doesn't disappoint here either.

After an abortive attempt to play the game as intended, Ralph climbs the tower where the medal is housed and thereby triggers the victory sequence. (He declares "Shiny!" on seeing it, and I'm inclined to take it as a nod to Firefly, particularly in light of Alan Tudyk's presence.) Unfortunately, he awakens a Cy-Bug (the ravenous adversaries of Hero's Duty) and it gets stuck in an escape pod with him as they rocket out of the game. He lands in Sugar Rush, a candy themed go-kart racing game that I would absolutely play.

The Cy-Bug sinks into a candy bog, Ralph goes to retrieve his medal from a peppermint tree, but Vanellope von Schweetz beats him to it in order to buy her way into a race. Meanwhile, Felix and Calhoun do the buddy movie odd couple thing as they too enter Sugar Rush in pursuit of Ralph.

The malevolent King Candy (Alan Tudyk) doesn't want Vanellope to race, but through Ralph's intervention, she bakes a car and enters the race. Unfortunately, the Cy-Bug has laid thousands of eggs by this time and its offspring swarm the game.

And by this point we're getting into spoiler territory, so click on the button if you've seen the movie or don't mind being spoiled. Or you could stop here and look at this cute picture of Lily with the cast.



Random thoughts on the movie

The animated short at the beginning of the movie, Paperman, was really extremely well done. The music reminded me of the music from Flower.

The coming attractions:

Croods: You could not pay me to see this movie. By the numbers stinker, but I'm sure we'll get the Dreamworks face!

Dinotime: Impossibly generic. Oh! And Rob Schneider! The Poor Man's Adam Sandler. Chew on that for a minute.

Smurfs II: Our local library had one of those shelf-clearing sales that libraries occasionally hold, and I picked up anthology of short stories about different takes on Hell. It was pretty good. I remember that one of the stories was about this director and his movie star wife who were killed in a car accident, only they didn't realize it until the end of the story. Things got more and more miserable and frustrating and the movie they were making got more and more terrible. One of the details that sticks with me is that they were filming a movie at their home, but they had to drive to the studio and then be shuttled back to their home because of the studio's deal with the Teamsters. The movie they wind up creating was an absolute abomination that never would have been created in a world with a just and loving God, and I think something like this is the only explanation for the existence of the Smurfs sequel.

Oz: The Great and Powerful: This actually looks pretty good. James Franco and Sam Raimi! Yes, please! Also, the promotional art looks very nice.

I usually hate John C. Reilly. He is the kind of actor whose presence will keep me away from a movie (q.v. Adam Sandler), but this is the role that justifies his existence. I would go so far as to say that his performance has caused me to reassess him.

On the other hand Sarah Silverman, whom I usually like, was lackluster. She wasn't bad. She was fine, but she was the weakest of the main cast by a considerable margin, and there are just so many voice actors out there who could have done a better job.

As I said above, Lynch was characteristically great. I jotted down her one aphorism, but I'm not sure that I got it right, "A selfish man is a mangy dog who chases a cautionary tale." She's never overused, and never has a moment on screen where she's anything but perfect.

Jack McBrayer as Felix was Kenneth the page as a video game character, but it worked. He was mostly the straight man, but hey, comedy needs a straight man, and he does the job extremely well. The mannerisms for all the characters were very good, but his in particular were outstanding.

Also, I'm loathe to say anything nice about a Firefly alum, but Alan Tudyk is pretty good as King Candy.

Though I like both her acting and her writing, I was kind of disappointed to see Mindy Kaling's name in the credits. I'm not a big fan of stunt casting in voice acting, and while she was fine, she didn't add anything,  I'd have preferred to have the role go to a less established voice actor.

The pacing was great and it was very tightly plotted. There was actually a lot going on, but it all tied together very neatly. And something I really appreciated was a number of transitional scenes. The one I'm thinking of is where Q-Bert sees Ralph in the suit of power armor in Game Central Station. That eliminates the moments of fridge logic where the audience stops and says, "Wait, how did Felix know to look for him there?" I love that kind of thing. It was barely more than a few seconds long but it really works to sell the movie as something that actually happened.

There were a lot of neat details. King Candy's combination is the Konami Code! That's awesome. The baking of the car mini-game was a lot of fun to watch too. I liked the Rampage gameplay from Fix It Felix. One of my favorite movies is Scott Pilgrim versus the World and this had the same wealth of details that will be missed by nearly everyone in the audience but are there for the careful viewer. (And too other things reminded me of Scott Pilgrim. The first was the logo in the beginning, and the second was that Calhourn says "Bullroar!" at one point and the only other time I've ever heard that phrase was from Todd in Scott Pilgrim.)

I remember Vonnegut's rules on writing where he said "Everyone should want something, even if it's only a sandwich." Every one of the has his or her own goals, and they overlap and conflict and make for a richer movie than they would be otherwise. Vanellope and Ralph each want the medal, and I'm pleased that the filmmakers gave her a reason other than peevishness for having her go after it. Likewise, Felix and Calhoun each have their reasons for entering Sugar Rush, and the fact that these reasons are not the same provides a little friction to their relationship.

It looks like the movie is on track to be a real commercial success, but I hope that they refrain from making it into a series, because it gets so much right the first time and part of the charm is it's uniqueness and I think capitalizing on that would only diminish it.

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