Wreck-it Ralph | Rich Moore | 2012 | ★★★★
Last year, as I was nearing the end of my Disney marathon with films like Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, The Princess and the Frog, and Tangled I wondered what had happened to the Disney that took risks and made films like Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi. I’m not saying that Disney’s recent output in bad, I actually love all of those films I mentioned, but there is no denying that after the World War II package films, Disney was never the same. Most of the films since then just lacked that feel of them existing solely for the art, for the sake of being original and unlike anything out there at the moment. While Disney is no doubt counting on Wreck-it Ralph to make money, not only in theaters but also in merchandise, the film just has a freedom about it, as if director Rich Moore was given the script and was allowed to just go wild with it. Despite going through various creative stages, it didn’t have the baggage that productions like Tangled (decades of false starts, new technology for the hair), The Princess and the Frog (return to hand-drawn animation, first black princess), Meet the Robinsons (60% of the film had to be scrapped), and Home on the Range (terrible film that was hand-drawn animation’s last hope before John Lasseter came in) had. And the end result is the most artful Disney film in decades, and one of the most amazing films in many years.
Wreck-it Ralph tells a story in the vein of Toy Story about video game characters coming to life after the arcade where they live closes for the night. In of these games, “Fix-it Felix, Jr.” lives Wreck-it Ralph (John C. Reilly), who is the villain of the game. However, after having done his job for 30 years, Ralph is starting to feel depressed about his life because although he is doing the job he was programmed to do, the other characters in his game don’t even respect him enough to invite him to celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary. And so, to prove that he’s more than just a villain, he travels outside his game to earn a hero’s medal. His first stop to achieve his goal is go to “Hero’s Duty,” a first-person shooter about soldiers trying to stop an alien bug invasion. But some things go wrong there and he winds up at “Sugar Rush”, a “Mario Kart” style game, and there he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a glitch in the game who’s trying to prove that she is as important as the actual players in the game. And so, to get his medal Ralph decides to help Vanellope win the game. But things aren’t quite what they seem in “Sugar Rush” and it will be up to the two of them to find out what that is and prove that they are more that what they are programmed to be.
Wreck-it Ralph is, for my money, the best film Disney Animation Studios has produced since Bambi. I may be the only one to say this, at least at this point in time, but this film is a masterpiece in every regard. The script, although it may not have the most original premise or moral, gives us one of the most fully realized worlds in many many years. It has its own set of logical rules that are never broken, not even to give us a happy ending. Speaking of “happy endings,” the emotional scenes feel completely earned, and it never feels like they are applying cheap tricks to extract a few tears from the audience. Also, at times it gets surprisingly dark for a modern animated film. Although it’s done for humor, I was shocked that in one scene a zombie has his heart pulled out in a very non-chalant manner by another character. Yet, I loved that they found room for such dark humor.
Also, all of its main characters are as thought out and developed as the world they inhabit, and they all fit right in with its rules. Actually, there is barely any room to complain about character development. The dialogue is also damn good. Sure, it’s not Aaron Sorkin dialogue, and there are more potty jokes that some might be able to handle, but it never feels fake, or like they are trying to pander to its audience.
Part of the success of how the dialogue has to do with the fantastic voice performances that the entire cast gives. Reilly succeeds as Ralph not only because of the physical similarities between him and and his character, but because of the gravitas and honesty that he brings to his performance that makes the emotional moments of the film work perfectly. Jany Lynch and Jack McBrayer play variations of their respective characters from “Glee” and “30 Rock,” but that doesn’t mean that their work is lesser. Alan Tudyk plays King Kandy, but you would never know if his name wasn’t in the credits. He just sounds so different, and he plays him with such gusto. But the best performance in the film is given by Silverman. To some she will no doubt sound annoying since she does play an annoying child, but as her story progresses and we get to know more about her, Silverman brings an emotion to her voice that is so out of character for her that more or less makes the last act as great as it is.
The thing that seals the deal for me, though, is the extreme attention to detail that went into the design of this world. The first thing that grabbed me about the design is how the characters in “Fix-it Felix, Jr.” move around once we are inside the game. The don’t move like regular characters, but rather, the still move the way we see them from our point of view during the game. Also, the designs of the worlds of the other games Ralph visits, although inspired by games like “Halo,” “Mario Kart,” and even “Candyland” are so damn beautiful. In fact, I’d go as far as saying the designs of Wreck-it Ralph are to CGI animation what Sleeping Beauty’s are to hand-drawn animation: they set a new bar that will be hard to match.
Wreck-it Ralph is just perfection, for me anyways. It not only met my expectations of this being the most audacious Disney film since the first five films they released, but it also surpassed them by being the second-best film the studio has ever made. Just amazing.