Thursday, 20 December 2012


Walt Disney Studios Films
Opens Boxing Day

The video game industry has become the largest entertainment industry in the world, expected to gross an estimated $68 billion in 2012. It's no wonder Hollywood wants to get in on the action. Not that that a new occurrence: films based on video games, and games based on films have been produced for a good two decades now.

Wreck-It-Ralph isn't based on a video game but it taps into the gamer's world, particularly those of a certain age who spent a good deal of time and pocket money in games arcades in the 1970s and '80s, whether fighting space invaders or simply helping a frog successfully cross a swamp. I was never much of a gamer as a child and I am not at all today (after all, I am an adult), but that didn't affect my enjoyment of Wreck-It-Ralph. With its nostalgia, splendid visuals and delightful characters, it's an entertainment to be enjoyed by gamer and non-gamer alike.

Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the bad guy in an arcade game called Fix-It-Felix; basically, Ralph wrecks stuff and Felix (Jack McBrayer), well, you know. But as he laments to his Bad Guys Anonymous group (populated by a collection of villains from various generations of games), he doesn't want to be the bad guy any more: Ralph wants to be a hero.

And the best way to become a hero, as Ralph sees it, is to earn a medal. Or steal one (he's a bad guy after all). Venturing out of his game and into a modern warfare one, Ralph does indeed steal a medal, but his escape into another game, the appropriately named Sugarland -- a child's paradise and a dental hygienist's nightmare -- sees him lose his newly acquired bling as well as unleashing an alien virus.

The animators have done a great job of creating each gaming world with its own aesthetic, including the movement of the characters; some fluid, some jerky depending on the type of game they inhabit.

In Sugarland, Ralph meets Vanellope Von Schweetz (a by no means saccharine Sarah Silverman), a character in the car racing game who has been banished because she suffers from a glitch. Or so she believes. Candy isn't the only source of rotten in Sugarland, and Ralph and Vanellope form an initially uneasy alliance in an attempt to get back his medal and get her on the race track, both fates lying in the hands of Sugarland's King (Alan Tudyk).

Reilly and Silverman make for a perfect odd couple pairing; neither is your typical heroic or lead actor type and so neither has to conform to 'good guy' typecasting. Both Ralph and Vanellope are likeable in spite of their flaws: he's aggressive and she's annoying. Naturally they will come to an understanding and a softening in their ways, but the spark between the two provides a great deal of the humour before the denouement.

Meanwhile, Ralph's absence from his game has seen the arcade owner shut it off and preparing to send it away to be decommissioned. This sends Felix out in search of Ralph, teaming up with Calhoun (Glee's Jane Lynch), a tall blonde commando who takes orders from no one and no BS either. She's aware that should the alien virus take hold in Sugarland it is only a matter of time before the rest of the arcade's games are infected.

Ultimately, Wreck-It-Ralph is a story about self determination: about becoming the character you want to be and not the one you were programmed to be. Ralph wants to be the good guy, the hero, and initially believes that all one requires to be a hero is a medal. But he soon learns that a hero - and a friend - is judged by their deeds and not what's pinned to their chest.

And you could view Vanellope as differently-abled: her glitch prevents her from being seen as one of the others and from competing. But Vanellope has a big heart and a will to compete; her glitch makes her differently-abled not disabled and her determination to race, to prove herself not just equal but worthy should inspire the little ones (or the little one in us all).

It's been an underwhelming year for animation. Actually, a lacklustre two years, with 2011 highlighted by the Oscar-winning Rango and little else. 2012 has seen a small collection of good animated features -- ParaNorman; Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, both stop-motion -- of which Wreck-It-Ralph is arguably the best. It's certainly the most accessible, and with its colour and movement for the kids, and nostalgia for their gaming parents, it should please on every level.

Note: Be sure and get to your session of Wreck-It-Ralph on time for screening before it is the short film, Paperman, a black and white gem that, sans dialogue, reduces a rom-com to mere minutes and imbues it with so much more heart than any Hollywood film of said genre has for a good few years.

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