Wreck-It Ralph Review
A wonderful premise if not quite ruined then at least squandered or not quite meeting its potential, that would be my assessment of Disney's animated feature Wreck-It Ralph. Despite coasting into a pleasant enough groove with moments of real humor, the film too easily loses itself by forging ahead with a plot that feels spread too thin, unfocused and secondary to the initial set-up. What begins as a fresh idea brimming with potential soon enough drifts into more familiar territory. Just when a Disney cartoon comes along that seems like it has a somewhat unique concept it ends up reverting back to the old, tired formula built around crises, villains and moral lessons.
The movie's plot seemingly begins as one thing and then adds a set of curious wrinkles along the way. The title character is the requisite bad guy in a video game where his task is to destroy a building as the hero Fix-It Felix, Jr. comes along to repair it and save the day. After thirty years of this Ralph has gotten tired of his role and wants to feel like less of an outcast. Perfectly voiced by John C. Reilly, the large and burly Ralph comes across as a very likable kind of guy who is simply doing his duty in the game and cannot understand why he must sleep among trash and bricks, with a tree stump as a pillow, when Felix is consistently celebrated with medals. The picture begins with Ralph at a Bad-Anon meeting alongside other video game bad guys like Bowser and the Pac-Man villain Clyde. It's a funny, inventive way to establish what's going on and provide some necessary exposition in the process.
What really pushes Ralph over the edge is not being invited to or even wanted at a party thrown for Felix. In thirty years Ralph still hasn't enjoyed the taste of cake. He's been deprived of basic amenities and culinary delights just because he's the bad guy, and that's really worn on him. At this point the viewer can throw support Ralph's way and wish him the best. Refreshingly, this never is to the detriment of Felix, whose voice is provided by the always innocent-seeming Jack McBrayer. He comes across only as a naive goody-goody rather than sickening. As the film's plot kicks in, Ralph ventures through a couple of different arcade titles since the characters inside these video games can move back and forth across the different machines located inside the particular arcade featured in the picture. That in itself is a neat and necessary turn which grounds the film to an extent as well as allowing it to zoom along plotwise.
New characters emerge as a result of this sort of game jumping, including a female military leader voiced by Jane Lynch and a down on his luck Q-bert. A shift in the second half lets yet another game, called Sugar Rush, completely dominate the movie. And here's where the reservations with the overall experience are most felt. Ralph becomes de facto guardian and hero to young Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who's spunky and mischievous. She's also classified as a glitch in her game, cursed with more or less unpredictable pixellations or outages during play which threaten to push its status as out of order in the arcade. If her role is expanded within the game she might ruin it, according to the leader King Candy (given voice by Alan Tudyk in a memorable fashion that brings to mind Ed Wynn's Mad Hatter). This whole thing seems made to establish a call for acceptance and an emphasis on some vaguely subtle reassurance that we're all important cogs in the machine.
Other than an awkward message being conveyed, the film loses strength here in the second half as it becomes indebted to an unsatisfying plot and fails to take advantage of the potential found earlier in the picture. Just as he was in his video game, Ralph becomes a secondary character in his own movie. The entire Sugar Rush turn hogs the spotlight and we're left with heroes and villains of the sort that we've seen countless times before, in a movie that previously seemed to promise just the opposite. It's no longer primarily a gaming-oriented film but one that just happens to have that element in the background. And it takes a bit too long to get there also, running a good ten minutes or so more than it really should (even with the credits going for nearly the final twenty). By the end, we might have to remind ourselves of the picture's clever strengths - and they are apparent at times - just to make peace with the turns it ends up taking.
As usual, Disney has come up with several different releases for the home video bow of its latest feature film. The one being reviewed here is the four-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition containing 3-D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy discs. However, since I'm not on the 3-D bandwagon the discussion will mainly revolve around the included Blu-ray. It's dual-layered and playable on machines from all regions. Somewhat annoyingly, Disney has adopted a method of packaging in which two discs are stacked upon one another on each side of the internal sections of the standard BD case. So the 3-D Blu and Digital Copy occupy the left side of the inside of the case and the DVD and regular BD are on the right. This allows the case to be the standard width of a normal Blu-ray package.
Using a wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio (and not the 2.39:1 promised on the back of the case), the HD transfer looks pristine and popping with color. Detail and depth shine with the best of Disney's animated offerings. It may seem too simple to just declare it as essentially flawless and move on, but that's exactly what I'm inclined to do.
Audio options lead off with an English DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track. Here we have a busy but well-executed feast for the ears that ably uses video game sounds for inspiration. It's filled with depth and separation among the channels, coming together to allow dialogue and the musical score to settle in nicely in the overall mix. Dubs are available in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and French DD 5.1. Subtitles can be accessed in English, English for the hearing impaired, French, and Spanish, and are white in color. The DVD loses the French options and substitutes a Dolby Digital 5.1 English mix for the main track.
The bonus material found here isn't quite exhaustive but there's certainly enough to keep us busy for a bit and entertain in the process. The recent winner at the Academy Awards for Best Animated Short, "Paperman" (6:34) has been included on all of the discs (and is in 3-D on that format). It's a very sweet, wordless exercise that should strike a chord in many viewers.
There's also a nifty making-of featurette called "Bit by Bit: Creating the Worlds of Wreck-It Ralph" (16:40). Director Rich Moore and his team of animators discuss the thought processes behind the film and its handful of different environments. We also learn at the beginning that it was John Lasseter who initially approached Moore about making a movie that had its background in video games.
Some Deleted & Alternate Scenes (15:26) can be accessed either individually or using a Play All option. Rich Moore provides an introduction and participates in commentary tracks explaining the reasoning behind these bits being left out of the movie. There are four in total - Ralph in Hero's Duty Prison, The Maize Maze, Vanellope's Volcano and Extreme EZ Livin' 2 - and they really exist more in early storyboard stages than finished animation.
Retro-looking (fake) commercials (2:39) for a few of the video games created for the film are neat to watch. These short clips for "Fix-It Felix, Jr." (0:34), "Sugar Rush" (0:32), and "Hero's Duty" (1:01) mimic the tone and style for contemporary ads of each respective game. There's also a strange commercial for the "Fix-It Felix Hammer" (0:32) that sort of doubles as an ad for the Wreck-It Ralph movie.
Also definitely worth a look are the intermission pieces, collectively called The Gamer's Guide to Wreck-It Ralph (9:23), which can be accessed upon pausing the feature. Chris Hardwick introduces trivia and tidbits from the gaming world that serve as little Easter Eggs within the film. There are a dozen of these in total. Those not wishing to have them pop up when the feature is paused can go to Set-Up on the menu and turn off the intermission.
Disney's expected assortment of previews can be found either upon inserting the disc or through a menu option. The Sneak Peeks include looks at the upcoming Pixar productions Planes and Monsters University and advertisements for Blu-ray editions of Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and a Mulan two-pack.