It seems Disney can’t make a bad animated film but Wreck-It Ralph just doesn’t live up to hopes and expectations.
I was really excited when I saw the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph, the latest Disney animated movie that looks to give video games the Toy Story treatment. The previews showed the main character, Ralph, dealing with his life as a bad guy by going to an AA-like meeting with other bad guys from various video games. Finally, a movie about video games that isn’t a movie version of a video game! Despite my Nintendo upbringing, good old fashioned arcade games are probably some of my favorite titles and I was excited to see what seemed like a smart-yet-cute movie tackle the subject. Unfortunately, Ralph left me a little underwhelmed.
Now, before I dig into the movie and lay some spoilers on you, let me do you a favor and tell that you if you’re thinking you want to see Wreck-It Ralph because of the all retro video games, you’ll be very disappointed. Yes, there are several references to old games and consoles but many of them you’ve already seen in the trailers. I was hoping to find references spread all throughout the film but it just wasn’t so…at least not to the levels I had hoped. I didn’t want a bunch of cheap gimmes, which would have been easy to do, but I was just expecting more. Honestly, you could take out all the real world references in Ralph and the movie would be able to stand on its own. In some ways this might be good but for video game fans like myself, it’s not.
SPOILER ALERT: Time to dig in a little more so be forewarned that there will probably be some spoilers mixed in.
If you haven’t seen the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph, take two minutes and give it a look. Not only will see just about every game reference, you’ll also get the gist of the movie so I won’t have to talk about it.
So all Ralph wants is to be is a hero. He’s just as important to the arcade game as the good guy is. I mean, you can’t have a good guy without a bad guy, right? Ralph takes matters into his own (giant) hands and leaves his Donkey Kong inspired game and tries his luck at some more modern games. This was easily the best part of Wreck-It Ralph as we’re shown the Grand Central Station of an arcade – the power strip. Yes, video game characters can leave their own games through the power cord into the surge strip where they can mingle with the other characters and even visit other games. Seeing all the characters hanging out together is pretty funny and the only time during the movie when you can put your video game fandom to the test as you try to identify all the games they’re from.
Unfortunately, this gathering of video game all-stars doesn’t last very long. The setup for Wreck-It Ralph happens very quickly and within the first half hour you’ve seen nearly all the classic games you’re going to see. After that most of the movie takes place inside a game called Sugar Rush, a girlie Candy Land-inspired Mario Kart clone. There Ralph meets the other main character, a Powerpuff Girl named Vanellope. Ralph and Vanellope bond as they discover they are both outcasts in their own games. Tender moments ensue as well as your standard issue Disney lessons of life and knowing yourself. I’m not knocking the insightfulness Disney lays out in Wreck-It Ralph, every story needs a one but for me it felt a little forced…but maybe that’s because I wasn’t distracted by real world video games. Compare this to any of the Toy Story movies that are filled to the brim with real world toys, allowing you to get lost in your childhood memories while you’re watching an otherwise great story…this also makes you want to watch the movie again and again just to see all the toys. This isn’t the case with Wreck-It Ralph. I was hoping to see Toy Story for video games but that didn’t happen.
After the movie I started to think about seeing Wreck-It Ralph as a kid…say a 12-year-old version of myself…and I’m not sure I would have liked the film. For one, the movie is almost two hours long, which is an eternity for an anxious child. However, the one thing that would have turned me off as a boy was that Wreck-It Ralph comes off feeling like a movie for little girls. Yeah, Ralph is the main character but he ends up spending most of his time in Candy Land helping a little princess. The video game moments that speak to action-minded boys are brief and the setting just doesn’t help things. As a boy, I would have felt duped…heck, as an adult I feel kind of swindled. Where Toy Story and even Cars delivered quality entertainment for the children and the adults, Wreck-It Ralph goes light on the adult draw and spends that timing talking the children.
Whereas the Toy Story series and even Cars have found their way to my permanent movie collection, I don’t see Wreck-It Ralph ending up there. Ralph should be one of those movies I want on my shelf just because it’s a video game movie, but I don’t feel like that will be the case. I don’t doubt Wreck-It Ralph will be a success in the long run, adding another stable of characters to the Disney machine (along with Star Wars now). The story, the animation and the characters in Wreck-It Ralph are all great – this is a good movie – it’s just not the movie I was hoping for.