Rich Moore | 101 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | USA / English | PG / PG
Disney’s 51st and/or 52nd animated classic (depends who you listen to) is, essentially, Toy Story with video games. Arcade games, to be precise. Turns out that all the characters from said entertainments hang out in the plug bar that powers them all, though behind-the-scenes they’re not necessarily like their characters — most of the villains are pretty nice guys, who have Bad-Anon (Bad Guys Anonymous) meetings to share their woes. But as the game he stars in reaches its 30th anniversary, Wreck-It Ralph has had enough of being an outsider, and when the other characters in his game imply he’ll be included if he can win a medal — which he can’t, because he’s a bad guy — he sets out into other games to try to get one.
Cue fun antics as our hero careens through various other games, right? Wrong. He goes to… two. OK, we see glimpses of a few more, and the Bad-Anon meeting takes place in Pac Man, but essentially he pops into one game to get said medal and introduce an apocalyptic MacGuffin, and then another for the rest of the plot. That latter game is Sugar Rush, a candy-themed cart racer. I’m pretty sure the production team must’ve spent the entire production eating candy for “research”, because the gaudy world and much of the film’s pace has all the idleness and restraint of a kid on a sugar high — i.e. none.
Unfortunately, despite the rarely-filmed milieu of video games, it’s all a bit predictable — like I said, it basically does with video game characters what Toy Story did with toys, both in terms of the story and its themes of acceptance. At least one wearing subplot had me involuntarily exclaim “oh get on with it!” out loud (and I was watching by myself). The pace rarely lets up, and at 101 minutes that becomes tiring. When it does give you a break, you kinda wish it would get a wriggle on, because it’s obvious where things are going and it’s wasting time getting there. Of course, most mainstream films (especially kids’ movies) are going to follow broadly the same arcs — however bad it gets we know the hero will win, etc — but the trick is to make you enjoy the journey, not long to arrive at the destination. I spent most of the third act almost drumming my fingers as I waited for it to get to the latter.
For fans of retro — and indeed current — computer games, there’s plenty of cameos and references to be excited about, both in terms of familiar faces (various characters from Sonic, Mario and Street Fighter, for instance, amongst many others) and clear riffs on other franchises and genres. I’m not really a gamer though, so while I recognised many of them (from the days when I did engage in such pursuits) there wasn’t exactly a thrill in it. I think that pleasure of recognition, and some almost in-joke-level bits, can lead certain viewers to enjoy the film more than it otherwise merits. That’s nice for them, but does nothing for the rest of us.
Wreck-It Ralph isn’t actually a bad film. There’s a fair bit of inventiveness with the concept, and the makers have worked hard to establish a world with rules (though your mileage may vary on how successfully they’ve done that), but it descends into a breathless, sugar-fuelled, reheated runabout. I imagine young kids will adore its colourfulness and its energy, and won’t be bothered by the over-familiar plotting and life lessons; but, beyond nostalgia for arcade gamers, I don’t believe it has huge amounts to offer a grown-up viewer.
Wreck-It Ralph debuts on Sky Movies Premiere at 1:45pm and 7:15pm today, and is already available on demand through Sky Movies and Now TV.
This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2013. Read more here.