Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love: Wreck-It Ralph

With the arrival of its much-talked about trailer, Wreck-It Ralph quickly skyrocketed to the top of my 'must see' list for 2012.  There was little chance of it falling flat, and indeed the film is generally quite a successful blend of elements.  Disney cribs from the 'behind the scenes' stories Pixar made successful in Toy Story and Monsters Inc. to add new, happily nostalgic life to the arcade. It's situated at a strange place in the animation cross-hairs: clever but not terribly smart, sometimes too sweet,sometimes too sour, built with Pixar-styled themes but boxed in a slightly more Disney framework, slightly underdeveloped but well-meaning. Wreck-It Ralph aspires to greatness and is legitimately delightful, but falls just short of being much more than an endearing distraction. Still, the Disney corporation has been on a roll this year, and it's safe to say that Wreck-It Ralph deserves the third nomination in the Animated Feature category come Oscar time (after Brave and Frankenweenie, of course) it's bound to receive.
Ralph (John C. Reilly) has spent 30 years playing the building-crushing villain of a Donkey Kong-esque game called 'Fix-It Felix'.  Unfulfilled, misunderstood, and cruelly treated by the other characters in the game, Ralph has started to question his place in the world.  He's attending Bad Guys Anonymous and trying to reconcile his unhappiness with his place in the world, but the final straw comes when the game's townspeople throw an anniversary party lauding medal-winning Felix (Jack McBrayer) and fail to invite Ralph, he abandons his post and decides he wants to be the hero for once in his life.  What I've described, of course, is the story outlined in the advertisements.  What Wreck-It Ralph actually is is something significantly more complicated. While the early scenes create ample opportunity for clever cross-overs and creative appropriation, the further along the story goes, the further its characters get from their basic motivations.  The action moves to the candy coated, mouth watering sandbox of the Sugar Rush go-kart game (which I really hope Disney releases for PS3 (if they haven't already)) and Ralph's accidental friendship with sprinkle-haired sprite Vanellope (Sarah Silverman).
Sugar Rush changes everything.  Its aesthetic all Strawberry Shortcake-style tarty brats, candy Kings, donut policemen, mentos, cola and heaps of glorious gloppy frosting.  The animators took the Choco levels of Mario and amped-up absolutely everything into a cavity-inducing world beyond even Willy Wonka's wildest dreams, and the dessert puns fall in line one after the next. Vanellope pulls focus here, and suddenly Ralph's reason for leaving all but disappears.  Take a second to breathe and you're like...so...how did we get here?  So, yes, I'm tempted to call it overplotted -I'm sure many will settle on that as a definite- and the truth is that even though I love the Sugar Rush landscape and a great many of the literal eye candy opportunities it offers, the jumpy, constant readjustment of the story's focus is, I think, the thing that prevents us from building a real connection with the film.  There's something a touch too artificial, a little bit too self-aware, and perhaps too skittish about Wreck-It Ralph.  It's cute enough, but something just isn't there... 

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