Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph (2012) CGI movie review

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: seamless blend of multiple art styles, solid characterisations, emotionally rich narrative, nostalgia laden setting and soundtrack, heart warming underlying themes, numerous video game references and cameos

The Bad: CGI seems mediocre at times considering the movie's high budget

When the lights go off at Litwak's Arcade, it's just the end of another day on the job for all the video game characters.  Like any working stiff after a days work, they go home and party, visit friends, chill at a bar. Using Game Central Station, characters can leave their own game and live their lives until the Arcade reopens the next day. One such life is that of Wreck-It Ralph, the "villain" in the game "Fix-It Felix Jr". Having become disenfranchised with never getting the love and recognition the "good guy" does, Ralph decides to leave his game and enter another game to win a medal hoping that doing so would finally win him acceptance among the other characters in his game. He journeys through Game Central, to a "First person shooter" game called "Hero's Duty" where he unwittingly unleashes a "psy bug" virus into another game, a kart racing game called "Sugar Rush". Along the way, he interacts with well known video game characters, unwillingly causes a near disaster, uncovers a hidden conspiracy and finally finds acceptance in a most unlikely friend. 
Wreck It Ralph is to video games what Toy Story is to children's playthings.  The story itself feels familiar; we've seen variations of this family friendly, all ages appeal type of story in many previous films from disney and pixar, just in a different narrative setting. Yet director Rich Moore (better known as director of many Simpsons episodes) present this tale in an ingenious and fresh way. He cleverly uses the CGI format to tap into the boundless imagination and joy that one finds in video gaming. Some of the characters even move in that jerky fashion as seen in old games and designs span the whole gamut of evolving styles from cartoony retro to stylised modern. There is a smart play on irony here too: real life gamers play games to escape, to become another character that they are not in real life, and yet the characters themselves are unable to do that since they are programmed to be who they are and nothing can change that. Escape from reality is precisely what Ralph tries to do.  

Key to the appeal of the movie is it's characters. Although lacking in "A-list" hollywood cast members, the voice acting is top notch. Every role is infused with that much personality and emotion that, like any good movie, you forget about actors or their roles and just see these characters as characters. Ralph himself is very easy to relate to; the outcast misfit trying to gain acceptance and to come to terms with a purpose for which to use his talents. Not surprisingly, this sounds like the stereotypical profile of the big sized socially inept gamer boy. Another perspective is that he represents the adult reality; a working stiff who has grown jaded of his job and just wants to escape into another game world. Along the way he meets the annoying Venelope Von Schweets who is the very definition of the word "brat". Yet Venelope herself is a character with many layers and below the rude bratty exterior lies a little girl who, like Ralph, just seeks acceptance for who she is. her happy go lucky nature easily represents the inner child without a care in the world yet forced to grow up under less than ideal circumstances. Ralph and Venelope play off each other with perfect chemistry, allowing for one truly heart wrenching scene near the movie's climax. 

Cheeky pokes on video game genre stereotypes and at how gaming has evolved through the years. From the simple pleasures of 8-bit platformers to cutsey kart racers to high definition badass First Person Shooters (FPS). Even the characters within those games are parodied. For example, Sgt Tamora, a character in the FPS Hero's Duty gets a tragic backstory so common in such characters. Fix It Felix Jr speaks in an overly polite style with dated slang, further highlighting his game's retro status. Special mention goes to the music score by Henry Jackman who combines orchestra with electronic synths. It goes from a purely electronic simple melody for the retro games, segues into j-pop inspired tunes for the candy inspired Sugar Rush kart game and even lampoons the heavy metal style music in science fiction FPS games. 

There is something truly nostalgic here and it is just oozing from the art style, the music, the very concept of the show. The film's only shortcoming is it's animation which looks surprisingly mediocre considering it's 165 million dollar budget. Perhaps a lot of the money went into buying the rights to use characters in cameos like Zangief and Bison from Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog, PAC Man, and other famous video game characters. Another let down is the misleading advertising campaign. Posters and wallpaper featuring all these famous characters walking next to Ralph, or even featured more prominently than the true main protagonists, implying that their role in the film will be a substantial one. Alas, all we get are cameos that never last beyond a minute.

Yet something about the story just tugs on the heartstrings of the inner child. Gaming adults and pop culture enthusiasts will have a thrilling time picking out all the little references and homages while children and children at heart will be amazed by the colorfully creative repackaging of a familiar story. The game world is a world of unlimited potential. Who knows if we might see Ralph, Venelope and their friends move beyond the arcade and into the world of internet Cyber gaming! Now THAT calls for a sequel and fast!

*****************************Review End******************************

Go For it: if you want to see what could possibly be the best video game movie that is not actually based on a video game, if you love heartwarming tales of friendship and if your inner child craves something to take you back to simpler days of youth
Avoid it: if you never did like family friendly animated stories in the first place.

Entertainment: A
Story: A
Characters: A
Animation: B-
Art: A
Music: A
Voice work: A
Replay Value: A
"Brains": C+