The Best Wrecker!
Think of this film as the electronic gamer geek's equivalent of Pixar's Toy Story, where the characters in the games come alive in their respective consoles when all the humans in the arcade had gone for the day. Traversing one another's world through electronic means such as cables, switches and control stations, those of us who had grown up in the 80s and 90s will find this a nostalgic wet dream come true, with countless of easter egg style appearances of famous games we had once played growing up, peppered with characters whom we had once upon a time commandeered through countless of adventures against the on board computer's AI, defeating scores of enemies that usually don't possess too much intelligence, bring programmed to be repetitive, or at best increasing its speed and response in order to force us into conceding the token used to activate the game.
Ah, those were the days, which were vividly relived in how Wreck-It Ralph took time and effort in capturing those 8-bit gaming heydays. The story centers around the titular Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the default villain in the Fix It Felix Jr. game, where he wrecks a condominium because its developers had unceremoniously booted him out of his favoured slack spot, only for the hero Felix (Jack McBrayer) to come along, repair the damage with his magic hammer, and boot Ralph from the rooftop. You can imagine if these characters are real, just how dead end the job is, especially when accolades go to the hero, while you the villain remain forgotten, or largely ignored, just because well, you're the bad guy. Ralph has done this for 30 years, and in his rare appearance in the Villains' Annonymous meeting chaired in Pac-World, he confides his desire to be admired and appreciated instead, only to be earnestly advised by the likes of Street Fighter's Zangief (director Rich Moore himself) and Zombie (Raymond S. Persi), that what matters is what's inside, not labels.
And truly that's the simple message that goes out to the audience of various ages, the older ones here to witness Toy Story in an electronic environment, while the younger ones undoubtedly charmed by the colours and designs that resemble one big arcade game that comes with different default built-in games for the variety on display, be it the violent first person shooters in outer space, a saccharine sweet car racing game with all female competitors, or the good old 8-bit styled games where the characters' motion isn't that smooth, to reflect the lack of refinement and limited technology in games that we grew up with. The story is surprisingly very much layered, with multiple easy to follow sub-plots that deals with Ralph's search for acceptance, his acquaintance with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), an outcast like himself for her being the glitch in her world, and his friendship with Felix, and not forgetting the threatening adversaries that come in the form of a fast-breeding bug, a crazed King Candy (Alan Tudyk) that was more than meets the eye, and from the real world, the danger of having one's game labelled Out-of-Order.
The filmmakers here, with first time feature director Rich Moore at the helm, had built a world complete with the necessary rules befitting of something that exists online. If one's game is Out of Order, then the characters will be forced to abandon it and live as nomads of sorts in electronic limbo, or go out permanently with the game. And mortality is reminded again through Sonic the Hedgehog's announcement that if they were to perish in someone else's game world, they will perish permanently. It may be sombre-sounding, but with Moore having cut his teeth from Futurama and early Simpsons episodes, these are naturally masked with a sense of wit and humour, with a story geared toward an encouraging theme of learning to accept and being oneself, and not doing things to seek the approval of others. And the partnership between Ralph and Vanellope is set to endear, despite them being loggerheads when they first start out. I suppose it helps when one of them is a hulking giant with impossibly huge hands, and the other being the wide-eyed child who defies her world's establishment bent on disallowing her to partake in a race. You can see why they click, being outcasts of their own world, put together in an Us versus Them situation.
The characterization here is primarily what makes this film stand out, and many can identify with Ralph during times of insecurity, or having that yearn to belong and feel accepted. And perhaps this film inspires us a little that despite how we look on the outside, it doesn't really matter so long as we stay true. You'd come to admire the effort to clear rights and put in iconic characters from the days of old computer games, and it's certainly a hoot to imagine them up to something else outside of what they were built or programmed for, with the filmmakers throwing a challenge to everyone in trying to identify the multitude of characters and games they had put in to pay homage to. This alone begs multiple viewings just to roam the corners of the vast landscape painted, to spot something that others may not have already, and call it in.
Wreck-It Ralph has everything, from themes of friendship, romance, action, comedy, mystery, and an incredibly moving ending that makes it a surefire winner. I'm going to stick my neck out and put my vote behind this as the best animated film this year to have come out of the Hollywood machinery, with plenty of heart and soul even if the characters are supposed to be made up on bits and bytes. With a little bit of luck since the environment has been set, perhaps we may even see a sequel or two (hopefully not direct to video) for further adventures of this big friendly giant.
The short animated film Paperman that precedes Wreck-It Ralph is a joy to behold and watch, so make sure you're not late for the screening. It's a romantic film that has a lot to do with serendipity and chance, and how through a little Disney inspired magic, two strangers who met each other earlier in the day, get to come together again thanks to paper aeroplanes. There's hardly any line of dialogue, but there's plenty of emotion put in here together with a labour of love that makes this a tough one to beat, holding its own against feature length heavyweights, thoroughly moving with plenty of feeling.