Far from the high-concept log line it could so easily have become, Wreck-It Ralph is a miraculous film of the sort Walt would have made if he were still around today. In reading that back, I realize it could sound like hyperbole. However, if you isolate the film’s modern trappings and really look at the characters and the story that connects them, this is a film that would have easily held a spot next to the Disney classics. Sure, based on the very concept of the story, it might not be as timeless as a Pinocchio or a Peter Pan, but in terms of telling a story that is equal parts thrilling, hilarious, and emotional, this is a film that easily holds it’s own.
If you’re reading this, then it’s a safe bet that you know the concept. Ralph, an 8-Bit video game bad guy, has an existential crisis and sets out to prove he’s more than his villainous programming by traveling between other games. Along the way, he encounters several different characters, some pre-existing and some created for the film. It would be easy to classify this as a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” of the video game world, and while there is a certain amount of joy in trying to spot all the references, there is a lot more to the film than that.
The core of the film centers on the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz, a “glitch” he encounters in a fictional game called Sugar Rush that is essentially Mario Kart meets Candyland. Vanellope’s status as a glitch prevents her from fulfilling her greatest desire, to be a racer. While Ralph is running from his purpose in an attempt to redefine himself, Vanellope has no purpose at all, forced to live out her days yearning to be more than she is physically capable of. The screenwriters did a masterful job in developing these characters in such a way that their individual setbacks complement each other, leading to the type of emotional investment usually reserved for the best of Pixar.
Of course, in a film like this, there is a certain expectation to see the different worlds the games have to offer. There are three primary games in the film, Fix-It Felix, Jr., which is Ralph’s game, Sugar Rush and Hero’s Duty, a riff on first-person sci-fi shooters, aka Halo. Every game has it’s own unique style, and the animators have managed to accurately convey all three of these games as their own separate entities, entirely independent of each other. Fix-It Felix, Jr. is an old 8-bit game, Sugar Rush feels like a 90’s throwback, and Hero’s Duty is the modern, high-def, extremely detailed game of today. As elements from each of these games cross over into the other worlds, the scope of the film goes far beyond what one would expect. It is this combination of terrific character work, story and high-concept world building that makes this film so special.
Disney has just released the film in an Ultimate Collector’s Edition that features the Blu-Ray, the Blu-Ray in 3D, the DVD and a Digital Copy. As per the norm with computer animated released, not only is the animation stunning on Blu-Ray, but the clarity of the 3D enhances the experience far beyond having things just jump out at the audience. Considering all of the different worlds the filmmakers take us to, it’s quite an experience to make these journeys with the depth that the 3D provides. The picture is stunning regardless of whether you watch in 3D or not, but if you have the 3D television, that’s definitely the way to watch this film.
As for the extras, they have included the Oscar-winning animated short, Paperman, which if you haven’t yet seen, is a masterpiece that snuck in and quietly changed the future of animation as we know it. It’s not often that we get to see a new style of animation, but this combination of traditional animation overlayed with computer generated imagery is unlike anything seen before. Also included is a documentary called Bit by Bit, which is interesting, but not Earth-shattering. The filmmakers briefly discuss the evolution of the film in terms of story and animation. Also included are several short commercials for the various games in the film, presented as if they were made in the corresponding year of the game’s release. Part of the joy of these ads is watching them in chronological order, seeing how the jokes bleed from one to the next. Finally, the most interesting extras are the deleted and alternate scenes. The film initially had some very different elements, including an entirely different story arc where Ralph ends up running away to a game described as The Sims meets Grand Theft Auto. It’s a fascinating what-if, but the filmmakers made the right call in cutting this. The story works much better as is.
(Enjoy this Wreck-It Ralph Concept Art Slideshow)
Pixar raised the bar in animation, and Disney has finally caught up. While this isn’t actually a Pixar film, it has all the elements that make Pixar so successful. It’s a cliche, but this really is a film for everybody. Kids and adults alike will fall in love with the world that is created here, and Wreck-It Ralph will rightfully earn it’s place as a modern classic.