Wreck-It Ralph: Disney’s New Animated Feature

Disney’s new animated feature, “Wreck-It Ralph,” based on the arcade-game-adventure, boasts a great first reel, a decent middle one, and better than average finale.

Like other Disney animations, “Wreck-It Ralph” is made for viewers of all ages and generations, who should be pleased, if not really elated, by the latest addition that has strong thematic and visual elements.

The tale’s premise should appeal to any viewer who has aspired higher, or wished to occupy another position, than he or she have been actually able to achieve. At a certain time in our lives, we have all left (or tried to leave) our private homes and small towns in search of something better–and bigger.

For decades, Ralph has been overshadowed by Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), the good-guy star of their game who always gets to save the day. Stuck with his undesirable position, and tired of playing the role of the bad guy, Ralph follows the tradition of many American screen heroes: He takes matters into his own hands; it certainly helps that he has strong, massive hands.

Embarking on a journey across the arcade through multiple generations of video games, Ralph sets his aim high, wishing to prove that he’s got what it takes to be a genuine hero. And on a certain level, “Wreck-It Ralph” presents a rich chronicle of video games, never before seen on screen.

It’s not a sudden decision. Ralph, the bad guy in an old 1980s arcade game, has been playing his assigned role for three decades.  Like many Hollywood protagonists, Ralph tries to solve an internal problem with an external solution, determined to win the medal,  What makes his issue universal and Ralph a likeable hero is that winning the award is not a goal in its own right, but the means (or so he thinks) to earn two higher goals, love and respect.

Dissatisfied with his position, Ralph sets off on a journey that leads to a better self-understanding, realizing that while he’s programmed to be one thing, it doesn’t mean that’s what he is on the inside, and John C. Reilly is particularly adept at projecting this inner battlefield.

Like most road films, the quality of the ensuing narrative depends on the number of stop and kinds of encounters during the journey.  In “Wreck-It Ralph,” the quest includes, among other things, meeting the tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from the first-person action game Hero’s Duty, and feisty misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), from the candy-coated cart-racing game Sugar Rush, who becomes his first real friend.

Turning point occurs, when a deadly enemy is unleashed, threatening the entire arcade and Vanellope herself. Time is running out: Can Ralph finally get his chance and save the day in time?

This time around, John Lasseter, the brilliant chief for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is the executive producer of “Wreck-It Ralph,” and the direction is assigned to Rich Moore.

Problem is not so much the helming, which would have been sharper had Lasseter directed the picture, but the story itself, which is not consistently compelling or as suspenseful and funny as it should have been,

Some of the saga’s characters are memorable and appealing, but even they are not always placed in an easily believable or relatable world, particularly for the very young viewers, who will need to concentrate more than the usual on the details of the multi-layered narrative.

The narrative consists of four unique worlds: The 8-bit world of Fix-It Felix Jr., the hyper-realistic world of Hero’s Duty, the super-cute Sugar Rush with a Japanese anime flavor, and the Game Central Station, inspired by New York’s seminal site, Grand Central Station.

The filmmakers in the various departments–visual development, art direction, animation, character development, visual effects, lighting, cinematography and music—deserve credit for taking extra measures and inventive imagination to shape and differentiate each of the worlds.

Reportedly almost 190 unique characters populate these worlds—three times that of any other WDAS film—each designed to fit within its own world. Tying it all together, through Ralph’s epic journey to find acceptance, proves challenging, manifest in the overly episodic and lack of unified vision that have marked the best of Disney-Pixar animations

John C. Reilly lends a particularly convincing voice to Ralph, a man who may go to fantastic and diverse places, but he’s always real and true to himself, even as he character evolves.

Consisting of actors who are not readily associated with the animation genre, such as Jane Lynch and Sarah Silverman, the whole cast is good.

However, as noted above, as penned by screenwriter Phil Johnston, “Wreck-It Ralph,” with its different milieux, may be a bit more complicated than the genre’s young viewers are used too.

Actors/Voices:

Ralph – John C. Reilly
Vanellope – Sarah Silverman
Felix – Jack McBrayer
Calhoun – Jane Lynch
King Candy – Alan Tudyk
Taffyta Muttonfudge – Mindy Kaling
Markowski – Joe Lo Truglio
Mr. Litwak – Ed O’Neill
General Hologram – Dennis Haysbert

Credits

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of Walt Disney Animation Studios production.

Produced by Clark Spencer.

Executive producer, John Lasseter.

Directed by Rich Moore.

Screenplay, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee; story, Moore, Johnston, Jim Reardon.

MPAA Rating: PG.

Running time: 100 Minutes.