Friday, November 02, 2012

A Worthwhile Retro Romp In WRECK-IT RALPH

WRECK-IT RALPH (Dir. Rich Moore, 2012)
It’s not the first time that the great John C. Reilly has been animated - Jake Kasdan’s WALK HARD featured Reilly’s Dewey Cox character dabbling in psychedelics with the Beatles bringing on a YELLOW SUBMARINE-style hallucinatory sequence (“I like being a trippy cartoon!”), and Reilly was the sole comic relief as a scared stitch-punk in Shane Acker’s dreary 2009 sci-fi CGI-concoction 9 - but in WRECK-IT RALPH, it’s the first time he’s been properly animated with such purpose.

Reilly lends his voice to the title character, an oafish villain in a Donkey Kong-ish video game called “Fix-It Felix Jr.,” who decides during his game’s thirtieth anniversary that he doesn’t want to be the bad guy anymore. 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, also appropriately animated, voices the games’ hero, who is constantly celebrated by the tenants of the apartment building for fixing what Ralph, uh, wrecks.

The game is located in the fictional Litwak's Arcade, alongside other parody/homages to classic ‘80s video games, such as the violent war game “Hero’s Duty,” and the seemingly set in Candyland go-cart game “Sugar Rush.” There are also many amusing cameos from real game characters, including Frogger, Q*Bert, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Clyde, the orange ghost from Pac-Man.

Told that he’d have to win a medal to be accepted by the residents of his game, Ralph leaves through the wires of “Fix-It Felix Jr.” to the arcade’s master power strip called Central Game Station, where all the various video game characters interact with one another after the establishment closes, in a TOY STORY style (not to mention the similarities to the world where cartoon characters live among us in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?).

There’s also a bit of PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO happening like when its noticed that Ralph is missing from his game and the arcade manager (voiced by Ed O'Neill) puts up an out of order sign. Since this means that the videogame is broken and will be unplugged, Felix goes after Ralph.

In one of the funniest scenes, Ralph tries to get a medal in “Hero’s Duty,” ruled by the stern Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (Jane Lynch), and succeeds despite how chaotically over the top the game is. Ralph exclaims: “When did video games become so violent and scary?!!?”

In the next game Ralph hits, “Sugar Rush,” his medal is stolen by Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by comedienne Sarah Silverman, who's plagued with a programming code glitch which makes her as ostracized in her video game world as Ralph was in his.

Silverman's Vanellope has a persona tailored to her patented cute snarkiness, and her penchant for crude bathroom humor - her riffing on the name of the game “Hero’s Duty” (sounds like ‘doody,’ right?) gets some good mileage (“Why did the hero flush the toilet?' ‘Cuz it was his DUTY!”), and she and Reilly exude likable chemistry bouncing off each other in their exchanges, with both comical and emotional impact.

In several smaller parts that stand out, Mindy Kalling has a few choice moments as a racing rival of Silverman's, as does Alan Tudyk as King Candy (the film's real bad guy), and is that Skrillex putting in a cameo as the DJ at Fix-It Felix's 30th anniversary party? Why yes, it is.

The sprightly, inventive, and neatly nostalgic WRECK-IT RALPH is one of the few recent animated kid’s films that uses pop culture referencing to its advantage, with genuine affection towards its inspirations. When Reilly's Ralph realizes, and says touchingly, that ‘retro’ doesn’t necessarily mean outdated and unnecessary, it can mean that something’s “old but cool,” it’s obvious that director Moore (who helmed many classic Simpsons episodes), and screenwriters Phil Johnston (CEDAR RAPIDS), and Jennifer Lee honestly feel the same way.

Whether they grew up in the age of 8-bit, or have been weaned on the high resolution graphics that dominate the game world now, folks of all ages should take to the worthwhile romp that is WRECK-IT RALPH. 

It looks like Disney, whose 52nd feature-length animated film this is, has taken more than a few cues from Pixar (including having a charming animated short play before the movie - John Kahrs’ “Paperman”), and made, via a mixture of hand drawn and CGI, a much sharper and hipper film than their last few features (I barely remember TANGLED or THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG).

It’s good news indeed that the Magic Kingdom’s movie makers can still mazimize on a promising premise, get so many laughs and thrills out of it, all the while poignantly pulling the heartstrings. It goes a long way to make up for the kind of crap that too often passes for family entertainment these days.

*Cough* “Hotel Transylvania” *Cough*.

More later...

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