By now, you know that Wreck-It Ralph is an amazingly awesome animated film set in a video game world. What you may not know is that while it’s fun and funny, it’s also an elegantly written story laced with genuine pathos. It engaged me on an emotional level as much as it engaged my funny bone and my nerd brain.
Critically speaking, it’s really not an original plot. Ralph’s part of your archetypal “grass is greener” tale, following a classic hero’s journey. He’s Dorothy, Neo and Simba. Despite that, “Wreck-It” is still fresh and smart. And I think it’s destined to overtake “Shrek” as our culture’s most celebrated “funny for parents” film, something that Disney/Pixar typically excels at.
It’s undeniable that, while kids will absolutely love this film, it is made with those of us who grew up playing Donkey Kong in the arcade (or, in my case, at the dentist’s office). It very much felt like it was made specifically for me—from the appearance of Q*Bert to the amazing puns to the konami code.
Here are some things I really, really loved about Ralph. (Warning: Spoilers below!!)
Tribute. The film is an affectionate tribute to gaming and nerd culture. The three games invented for the film are each rich and lovingly crafted—they seem like games people would really play. (And hopefully we’ll get to!) Take Fix-It Felix: the whole world is so impeccable. All of the minor characters move in a very jerky, stop-motion style, which is both hilarious and representative of games of that era. Additionally, everything in the game is like a giant pixel, from Ralph’s square fingers to the angular way the cake icing splashes. The film’s creators thought through all of the details and put the time and care into getting them right.
Programming. I was really charmed by how intrinsically meta the whole “Wreck-It Ralph” world is. Each character is profoundly affected by his programming—each is a total product of the game environment. But at the same time, they’re each able to acknowledge that the programming is what makes them tick, that they’re in a game. Some of the funniest and sweetest moments come when the characters step out of their program and become more self-aware.
Casting. Let’s get this out of the way: Jane Lynch!!! She is absolutely brilliant. It was as if the role were perfectly constructed for her and her tragic backstory. (Heck, maybe it was.) Not only is she a total bad ass, but the gags around her character are some of the funniest in the movie. Alan Tudyk was also absolutely brilliant as the sinister King Candy—I’m a huge fan, but I barely recognized his voice for the edge of insanity he brought to the character. And did anyone else squee with nerdy delight over the deep, scary connection between his character here and his character on “Dollhouse”??? Total love. Overall, it really felt like they got the actors perfectly right.
Invention. A film set in a video game world sounds like a great idea, but without a ton of ingenuity, “Wreck-It” easily could have fallen flat. “Grand Game Central” and the train system bring the film into our own world of mobility. “Bad Anon” is such a classic real-world trope taken to totally hilarious levels. The “first-person shooter” is brilliant and so completely explains what we’re seeing when we play video games. Ralph’s world is ground-breakingly imaginative at every step of the way.
Girl Power. Sneer at me all you want, but this film is chock-full of subtle feminism. The “princess” (who, of course, actually turns out to be a Princess with a capital P) is a smart and smart-alecky never-say-die type, and I really love that. I wonder if Vanellope’s short little body will be joining the panoply of Disney Princesses. Either way, I adore her. It’s always great when you get a little girl power from your main character, but even more, I totally love the little nerd girl who’s playing “Hero’s Duty” throughout much of the film. She’s like, “screw that candy-coated racing game … I am going to kick some bug ass.” It’s such a subtle celebration of lady nerds and hopefully it puts a subconscious bug (see what I did there?) in the minds of thousands of young girls everywhere. Seriously. She’s kind of my hero.
Just awesome, top to bottom. I loved every second of it, and I can’t wait to see it again. I think my absolutely favorite sight-gag was the Oreos. What was your favorite gag? Your favorite part? You favorite character? Tell us in the comments below.