The Newt Review: Wreck It Ralph
Once every thousand years* a film will arise from the ether to grace mankind with its presence – a film so brilliant, so near-flawless, that it captures the hearts of all who view it.** This time, that film is called “Wreck-It Ralph”.
On the surface, Wreck-It Ralph seems like a simple cartoon aimed at video game fanatics and their kids. The story follows the titular arcade game villain as he faces the 8-bit equivalent of a midlife crisis: he’s been the bad guy for thirty years running, and the thankless job just doesn’t appeal to him anymore; he wants to try his (incredibly large) hand at the role of hero.
That premise alone doesn’t set Wreck-It Ralph very far apart from the pile of other bad-guy-wants-to-be-good stories Hollywood’s turned out in recent years, but the care and ingenuity the creative team at Disney poured generously into every aspect of the movie showcases the story’s full potential and rockets it far above not just its cartoon peers, but just about every other film that’s come out this year.
The first thing about Wreck-It Ralph that will impress you is the animation. Every locale Ralph visits has its own look and feel, and the worlds within the arcade machines are all gorgeously rendered. That’s not even mentioning the characters, each of whom are designed to unique perfection, from their look right down to the way they move and the facial expressions they use.
Secondly, and even more impressive in my mind, is the masterful execution of the “characters living inside arcade consoles” concept. The world behind the screens is built with engaging depth, fully developed with its own set of rules and idioms, and that world reveals itself with an easy familiarity as the story moves along, never leaving you confused or dumping too much information on you at once. All three of the games in which Ralph and company spend most of their time are uniquely delightful, covering the gambit of arcade games from 8-bit classics to first-person shooters to a ridiculously sugary kart racer and opening up countless opportunities for clever video game-related humor.
While there are a lot of excellent video game nods and in-jokes for nerds like me, though, the most wonderful thing about Wreck-It Ralph is that it never loses sight of its most important mission – not to strong-arm in a ton of gags or evoke as much nostalgia as possible, but to tell a compelling story. I don’t want to spoil any of the joy of watching each twist and turn unfold, as most of the major events in the story took me by surprise when I watched, but I can’t emphasize enough just how compelling the story is. Blew me away at every turn, and nearly made me cry more than once.
Also, as an aside, Vanellope Von Schweetz is the best example of character writing to hit the screen in some time. I fully expected the hyperactive little girl in the trailer to be the obnoxious thorn in an otherwise-enjoyable movie’s side, but she quickly became one of my favorite characters and stayed that way right up to the end. I can’t stop geeking out about it, honestly. A cartoon sidekick with depth and range? Unheard of!
Yet Wreck-It Ralph is just that: an unheard of, original, top-notch movie in a world ruled by sequels and formulas. I could go on for hours, but I think you get the point. Get out there and see it. You won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll likely be echoing the question in the catchy end-credits Owl City tune as you leave: When can I see it again?
*May not be a literal thousand year period
**Okay, most of that stuff is hyperbole