It’s been a tough couple of years for the House Of Mouse. Avengers-revolvent success aside, 2011 and 2012 have marked a decidedly modern low point for the Californian institution, with John Carter falling hard and Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides failing to salvage that particular franchise, while Cars 2 and Brave mark creative lows for their Pixar imprint and the Classic Disney animated film is nowhere to be seen. Wreck-It Ralph follows in that latter tradition, and joins the canonical likes of Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, Bambi and The Aristocats in the main line of top-tier Disney productions. While there is much to like about director Rich Moore’s feature debut, ultimately it’s more befitting of a place alongside the studios more forgettable fare than the bona-fide masterpieces.
Wreck-It Ralph sees the titular character, a video-game villain fed up of being the bad guy, challenge the path upon which he has been placed. He wants to be the hero, and to be appreciated by those around him, and in doing so wreaks havoc on all he passes. What follows is the typical Disney protagonist “journey” of one coming to terms with ones own status, as told to varying degrees of success in Toy Story, Brother Bear and Aladdin, amongst countless others.
Aesthetically there is much to admire of the world of Wreck-It Ralph. Ralph’s homestead is ground in the stylistic tropes of the 16-bit era of the video-game visually (even if the gameplay mechanics are more befitting of an earlier era), with it’s 2D sprites turned 3D just as soon as gamers eyes be averted. The wider environment is suitably colourful and varied, as per the conventions of the medium being replicated. From the cartoon racer (read – Mario Kart), to the hyper-realistic first-person shooter (read – Call Of Duty, Halo), and via iconic figures of video game folklore such as Street Fighter II’s Zangief and M. Bison, and Bowser of Mario fame, Wreck-It Ralph is a rich experience. It’s in the plotting where it threatens to fall apart though, with a second-act structural stutter grinding the whole thing to a halt. In place of the first act’s leisurely structured world-building is instead a relatively dull story, lacking in scope and stylistically overly familiar.
Moore’s background was partly spent working on Matt Groening’s Futurama, and while that show may not be quite as post-modern or knowing as some of the other shows that it’s predecessor The Simpsons went on to inspire, it remains a curious property from which to make the transition to Disney’s flagship strand of timeless animated films from. While the tale isn’t presented in as extreme a temporally crippling pop culture language as something like the Dreamworks Shrek franchise is, it does skirt dangerously close towards doing so, with the layering of references and in-jokes enough to see the film labelled “Easter Egg – The Movie” by this reviewer upon leaving the theatre.
Craig Skinner, friend of Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second, has written an engaging piece examining what he has deemed to be the politics of Wreck-It Ralph. It makes for an interesting read, and can be found here.