I’ll admit it, Wreck-It Ralph was my second choice of movie this evening. Work commitments kept me from a one-off screening of Pablo Larraín’s No. Not to be deprived of entertainment of some kind, and with a blog to keep updated an’ all, I decided to give Disney’s latest a go, hoping that it would tap into that same endearing retro-cool that made Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World one of the most enjoyable movie experiences of the last few years. And whilst SP under-performed at the box office, it has retained a devout cult following and is perceived, more-or-less, as a success. It’s clear that the makers of Wreck-It Ralph are eager to cash-in on that same market. The Big Bang Theory is huge. ‘Geek-chic’ is definitely IN. Surely Scott Pilgrim‘s reference-savvy audience can be wooed over? Unfortunately, if not unsurprisingly for Disney, cashing-in has taken priority here.
The latest CG ‘toon from the Mickey Mouse company tells the story of Ralph, the ‘baddie’ from an arcade game celebrating its 30th year. In the movie’s world, all game characters are real and, once the day’s chores in front of the screens are done, they relax and interact in a whole netherworld inside the machines’ circuits. With three decades under his belt as a stock goon causing mayhem on the blockiest of tower blocks, Ralph is feeling reflective. There must be something more to life than getting beaten by the good guy – in his case cheery builder Fix-It Felix.
A snappy opening narration sets this up for us, and sure enough the opening ten minutes or so offer up a bevy of nods to classic game characters of yesteryear – including a smart sequence in a support-group for Ralph and his fellow video nasties. Equally pleasing are the winks to the other tropes of retro arcaders – pixellated firework displays and jerky-motioned character movements. However, no sooner has Wreck-It Ralph set its
hero villain on his quest to ‘discover’ himself, than the movie wanders into more formulaic Disney territory, displaying a deeply unsatisfying lack of ambition and squandering a great deal of potential.
I’m not suggesting that 100 minutes of knowing references would’ve made a satisfying movie experience. Far from it. But it’s rather as though writer/director Rich Moore has marked that box as ticked before moving on to, well, something altogether mediocre. Having gatecrashed a candy-pop Mario Kart clone, Ralph teams up with ‘glitch’ Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). Here the film languishes; the ‘zany’ outcasts trying to prove themselves just as capable as the shallow popular characters in a well-worn scenario dotted with easy-to-swallow but relatively weak snatches of humour and character-arcs so old that they’re barely worth paying attention to.
And that phrase ‘cashing-in’ raises its ugly head again thanks to some unnecessary and invasive product placement. Are pointedly placed adverts for the likes of Nesquik, Coca-Cola, Oreos and Mentos worse than nods to Sonic The Hedgehog, Pac-Man and Street Fighter? Is it hypocritical to condemn one set whilst praising winks to the other? Perhaps, but still there’s a sense of imbalance here, of Disney at-it-again; fashioning a product whose entertainment value is secondary to its marketing potential. Wreck-It Ralph has dollar signs for eyes – something not liable to endear itself to the market it’s trying to corner.
I’ve dialled down my own anti-corporate rhetoric these past few years; blissful apathy has lulled me from the no-banner-waving No Logo idealism I once touted. Who am I to bemoan a production company coining it on their products when I own my share of coveted Studio Ghibli tat? But still, this hollow husk of a film made me weary. Ghibli movies engage me emotionally; here… there’s nothing. Nevertheless I’m sure Wreck-It Ralph will be fondly received as another fun success story.
Maybe I’m really the wrong person to talk about a movie like this. Perhaps the fact I’d rather have seen a Pablo Larraín film speaks volumes. I generally don’t like these CG animations, not even the hallowed Pixar creations. I find them too often crass or self-congratulatory when they’re not outright pandering with, ugh, American sass. I don’t like my cartoons sassy. Wreck-It Ralph isn’t as sassy as some, but neither is it as inventive, endearing or particularly interesting as others. Nor, for that matter, is it particularly impressive to look at when compared to some of its recent contemporaries. I simply didn’t care what happened in this picture and before long I just wanted it to be over. I stayed ’til the end, just in case. Did it do anything to surprise me? No it didn’t.
A few brief playful moments and sight-gags aside, Wreck-It Ralph is, generally speaking, a wreck.