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For decades, Ralph (John C. Reilly) has played the bad guy in a popular videogame called ‘Fix-It Felix.’ In a bold move, he embarks on an action-packed adventure and sets out to prove to everyone that he is a true hero with a big heart. As he explores exciting new worlds, he teams up with some unlikely new friends, including feisty misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). (From Disney’s official synopsis)

Wreck-It Ralph
Upon release everyone kept comparing Wreck-It Ralph to Pixar’s films. There’s no question that the screenplay, credited to writers Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee (though anyone that knows anything about feature animation knows that there’s no way the screenplay was crafted by only two people), was structured around the classic ‘Pixar formula’ – a high-concept question children may ask themselves enacted by a pair of unlikely friends. Everyone was so happy that Disney was following the lead of the company (a company Disney owns) that dominated the feature animation landscape for years. I want to agree, since Wreck-It Ralph is, overall, a very entertaining, sweet, well-made film, but it’s also hard to ignore the plagiarism or the fact that it might’ve been more exciting had Disney found a new formula to work from. Tangled and The Princess and the Frog had their problems, but were, generally speaking, charming and modern takes on the princess formula.

The Pixarian elements Wreck-It Ralph has borrowed are pretty darn specific – it’s effectively Toy Story meets Monsters Inc.. Toy Story speculates on the possibility that our toys come to life when we aren’t looking, then, through two sequels, questioned the existential life of creatures created for the sole purpose of entertaining us. Monsters Inc. wonders what life would be like for the monsters in our closets if they were just doing their job for a corporate-run world that is stuck in its ways. Both films also feature characters challenging the status quo almost by accident. Wreck-It Ralph contemplates the possibility that our modern toys (videogames) come to life when we aren’t looking, wonders what life would be like if entertaining us was merely their job, ponders the existential damage of such a life, and revolves around a character who challenges the status quo only to accidentally change it for everyone (for the better, naturally). The villain is also hidden throughout most of the film as a jolly mentor, ala Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc.. The high concept plot of Wreck-It Ralph is well-served by an additional gimmick – the inclusion of recognizable characters from real videogames, not just copyright-friendly approximations as many expected when the film was first announced. It is to videogames what Roger Rabbit is to classic animation and the nostalgia factor really works in the film’s favour. These are cheap jokes that don’t necessarily serve the story, so I hate to admit it.

Wreck-It Ralph
Director Rich Moore is sort of a lightweight Disney equivalent to Brad Bird, who was an out-of-house coup for Pixar on The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Most of Disney’s animated films (and Pixar’s, for that matter) are directed by in-house people that worked their way through the system over the years. Moore was a mainstay of television animation, specifically some of the best episodes of The Simpsons, The Critic, and Futurama, the latter of which has an obvious influence here (he also directed some episodes of Baby Blues and Drawn Together, but we won’t hold that against him). Moore isn’t the auteur Bird is (mostly because such a thing is nearly impossible), but his influence on the picture is felt in a consistent sense usually missing from most of Disney’s other, recent animated releases.  He keeps Wreck-It Ralph moving beyond its Pixarisms and heavy-handed morals (be yourself, social outcasts, and everything will be okay!) with a strong sense of personality, which is certainly in keeping with his work on television. The problem with Johnston and Lee’s screenplay is not dialogue, characters, or universe building (though we’re only given a mere glimpse of the possibilities their videogame world promises), the problem is the overall framework of the story. The plot borrows so much from Pixar it often neglects to do anything original from a narrative standpoint. It’s really just set pieces and funny conversations/arguments surrounded by predictable plot points. Sometimes, it feels too patterned, a little empty, and a little drawn out, but the smile-inducing charm of the imagery and the well-drawn personalities keeps the production moving towards honestly emotionally moving places. Kind of like a Pixar movie.

Good animation is expected from Disney, especially with all this money at their disposal, what sets this film apart is the adorable ways the animators switch up their style to fit the characters we already know so well. Within their games, these characters look and move like we expect, but within their more consistent shared visual universe, their motions separate them. For example: newer game characters move smoothly without repeating their movements too often, while the ‘Fix it Felix Jr.’ guys move choppily and are limited by only a handful of animation cycles. The big action sequences are also well done, including some super-complex background motion, more momentum, and weight than many live-action set, CG-heavy action movies. Unfortunately, I’m quite fond of the Wachowski Siblings’ Speed Racer, which kind of already did the candy-coloured, maniac racetrack thing – and did it better. The giant food imagery also recalls the superior and similar Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – a film that successfully swipes pieces of the Pixar formula without losing its sense of identity.

Wreck-It Ralph

Video


This Blu-ray combo pack includes Wreck-It Ralph in both 1080p 3D and 1080p 2D, and both versions are framed at 2.35:1. I’m still not ‘in the money’ enough to have a 3D set-up, so this review pertains only to the 2D transfer. In short, it’s great and exactly what we should expect from one of Disney’s CG animated releases. The major value here is found in the diversity of the various game universes. The brief glimpses of the outside world are generally more ‘realistic’ and heavily textured with finer additions, like dust and the intricacies of the machinery. Within the games, detail levels depend on the game’s age and type (the characters even talk to each other about HD vs. SD graphics). ‘Fix it Felix Jr.’ is soft and simple (aside from a very moodily-lit sequence where Ralph sees his game on the verge of being turned off), ‘Hero’s Duty’ is dark and spooky with spectacular detail and a limited palette, and ‘Sugar Rush’ is incredibly, sickeningly vibrant and complex in terms of patterns, rather than textures. ‘Sugar Rush’ takes up quite a bit of screen time, so it’s more or less the base for the transfer. Even here in 2D the crystal clear environment has major depth of field and a strong use of deep and shallow focus. Everything here glows, too, which should wreak havoc with the sharpness of the lines that make up the patterns, but the transfer is good enough to maintain a soft-yet-strong edges without any major artefacts – there’s no banding effects in the soft blends and no edge haloes. The brightness of the incredibly warm ‘Sugar Rush’ environment creates blocking issues on the included DVD copy, but are never a problem for this 1080p transfer.

Wreck-It Ralph

Audio


This DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound is expectedly rich, dynamic, and crisp – again, as expected. I’m sure electronics stores across the country will be happy to use this disc while demoing their latest audio receivers. The sound design matches the production/art design in that it changes depending on location. The base world is reasonably dry with multi-channel enhancements and echo effects to maintain a sense of immersion. ‘Fix it Felix Jr.’s’ environment is generally flatter and quieter, depending on poppy, largely centered embellishments. The brief zip through ‘Hero’s Duty’ is an overwhelming bit of action movie noise, including all manner of creepy critter sounds and laser beam firing. The ‘Sugar Rush’ environment is generally less aggressive, until we get to the climatic racing sequence, which features every manner of directional enhancement as the vehicles zip through frame, dodging dangerous candy elements that tumble by the audience’s head, all without losing the more delicate buzz of the cute little candy engines. The music, which is both of the traditionally symphonic and the electronic variety, also changes with the game style just as the animation. Some of it is poppy, simple 8-bit stuff, some of it is big, bouncy electronica (one tune via Skrillex), and the rest of it is more typical Disney adventure stuff.

Wreck-It Ralph

Extras


The extras begin with a ‘Disney Intermission’ option. It’s a good thing this is listed on the box art, because there’s no way to access it from the special features screen – you have to pause the movie. Here, nerdy comedian Chris Hardwick will point out a handful of the film’s videogame-related in-jokes (9:30, HD).

The extras start properly with the Oscar-winning animated short film, Paperman (6:30, HD), the sweet, silent story of a man trying to get the attention of a pretty lady with the help of paper airplanes. Up next is Bit by Bit: Creating the Worlds of Wreck-It Ralph (16:40, HD), a brief behind the scenes with director Rich Moore, producer Clark Spencer, writer Phil Johnson, art directors Mike Gabriel and Ian Goodin, effects supervisors Cesar Velazquez and David Hutchins, lighting directors Adolph Lusinsky and Brian Leech, animation supervisor Renato dos Anjos, Sugar Rush design lead Lorelay Bove, and visual development lead Brittney Lee, who describe the genesis of the project and their very obvious intent on re-creating the Pixar formula with special emphasis on the design of the film’s various videogame universes. It turns out that Moore was brought on the project by Disney animation head (and co-founder of Pixar) John Lasseter, who was the one with the idea for a videogame-themed story.

The disc also features four alternate/deleted scenes, including an introduction and optional commentary from Moore (15:30, HD, presented mostly in moving storyboard form), four very clever faux-videogame trailers (2:40, HD), and trailers for other Disney releases.

Wreck-It Ralph

Overall


Wreck-It Ralph sometimes feels a little undercooked and a little too familiar, but it’s awful sweet and, unlike most recent, popular animated releases, I’m open to a sequel. There’s more here to explore and further adventures wouldn’t necessarily feel like cheap cash-ins or unwanted vanity projects. I suppose I’d rather Disney moved on to redefine themselves as something other than another Pixar, but, failing that, we could certainly do worse. This Blu-ray release is unsurprisingly strong on the audio/video side of the equation, but some fans are likely going to be disappointed by a rather small number of extras, including a brief featurette, deleted/extended scenes, and the Oscar-winning animated short, Paperman. A commentary or longer behind-the-scenes documentary would’ve been nice.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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