Wreck-It Ralph was going to be the film to allow me to regress to my childhood. Seriously, there was almost Pick n’ Mix. I honestly can’t recall the last time I anticipated a film with such a childish excitement, and for a few moments it looked like Wreck-It Ralph was the film I had desperately hoped for…but I was wrong.
Conceptually, Wreck-It Ralph has huge potential. Set inside the digital world of an arcade, we see the games and electrical network as the basis for an entire society, not unlike our own, but with extraordinarily colourful and fantastical characters, some of whom may be delightfully familiar to older audiences. Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the heavy-handed antagonist of Fix-It Felix Jr, a retro arcade game that has continued to thrive despite the influx of action-packed HD contemporaries, but Ralph is not happy. As the strict programming of games determines, Ralph has been given a role that day in, day out demands him to play the bad guy, with no recognition and no reward for his ‘work’. Determined to prove himself a good guy, Ralph leaves his game and attempts to win glory in another. This adventure leads him to Sugar Rush, a sickly and garish racing game where he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) and genuine ‘bad guy’ King Candy (Alan Tudyk). Of course, from here on in, Ralph proves his worth, becoming a real-hero in the sense of saving a world, but most importantly, a hero in the eyes of Vanellope, his first real-friend. Hooray etc
BUT. There should be no limits to the game-jumping world that the film could conjure, and combined with a fantastically refreshing story and a vibrant video game history to draw from, there was a real chance to create a franchise that could rival the likes of Toy Story. However, while the first half of the movie is a total realisation of that potential, upon entering Sugar Rush the film ultimately descends to the level of its primary audience, children, and the adult playfulness that sparkled early on is inexplicably whisked away, and replaced by Saturday-morning cartoon humour and drudgery.
This is where viewer opinion may divide. While some luminaries such as Jonathan Ross enthusiastically tout Wreck-It Ralph as comparable to Toy Story 1, 2 and 3, Ross was no doubt writing with his children in mind, something I can’t comprehend. Of course it’s a film aimed at children, and as such, it totally rocks, however, if Pixar have taught us anything it’s that animations can be enjoyed by the whole family with multiple layers of humour. Further tantalised by the heavy use of video game references, both to the classics and contemporary titles, I felt sure my tastes would be catered for. The scenes in Sugar Rush however, lack any wit or intelligence. Humour comes in the form of name-calling and slapstick, and any ‘coolness’ is smothered under layers of sugary pink nonsense.
Strangely enough, the credits are fantastic, a melange of video game humour and references as the movie almost sheepishly remembers the older viewers in the auditorium and comes grovelling back. Too late though, and I’m glad I didn’t buy any Pick n’ Mix. So, Wreck-It Ralph is an awkward Pixar doppelgänger, that it is to say, sublime animation and fantastic characters but it lacks the spark of the Pixar films that not only make them universal in story, but in language too. It is a great film for children, but older audiences may be a little disappointed at being sidelined half-way through the narrative.