The Art of Video Games
A Film Review of: Wreck-It Ralph
By: Lawrence Napoli
I believe that the video game is the leading entertainment art form of today. Purists that represent older art forms had best accept this trend (if not outright truth) and get over the sour grapes of the ever increasing popularity that games and gaming represent. Simply put, video games place the viewer on an unprecedented plane of interaction with the art itself. Only now, in the year 2012, do we find games finally exiting their infant steps of childish frivolity and counter-culture fascination. Contemporary games can and have pushed the envelope in spinning tales of drama, suspense, action and adventure that rival some of the best moving pictures of the past. Yet, video games weren’t birthed from the love parents of Hollywood and the computer with this level of acumen. Wreck-It Ralph is a throwback reminder that games were clearly not about social commentary in the beginning, but the fact that this film exists is proof of gaming’s expansive influence and a mile-marker for the ground this medium has gained over the years.
8-Bit graphics are well represented in Ralph.
However, to suggest that Wreck-It Ralph is some kind of necessary viewing for being the definitive alliance between games and film would be a gross overstatement. This movie is a fun little narrative that attempts to bring the extended family of video game characters together in an entertaining, child friendly and somewhat thought provoking way that has an important (and incredibly cliché) moral to it all. The story was conceived by screenwriters Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee (with additional contributions by John C. Reilly) which is interesting considering none of them have any professional experience with any aspect of gaming, but clearly a decent proficiency with comedy amongst them. Ralph is a Donkey Kong inspired villain who is simply fed up with the thankless job of being “the bad guy” for his particular videogame. Ralph’s no dummy. He sees his counter-part, Fix-It Felix, soaking up the praise and admiration for doing his hero’s duty and in hopes of changing his stars, Ralph goes on his own quest to improve his status. The most charming aspect of this film is all the other iconic videogame characters that make cameos throughout which could only have been made possible with (once again) Mickey Mouse’s bottomless pockets paying out to various licenses like Nintendo and Capcom. It would have been nice to see even more crossover with these other characters, but that would have diverted the importance of Ralph’s journey. Overall, the script isn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it sends a good message to young people about how to treat your neighbor and discovering a positive sense of self worth, while not boring adults to tears and being quite amusing to gamers.
In no way is this rivalry meant to channel DK vs. Mario.
The CG animation style of Wreck-It Ralph may be reminiscent of a Pixar Studios production, but this film is straight out of Walt Disney’s regular Animation Studios. You won’t see Monster’s Inc. attention to the 3D rendering. You won’t see the graphic depth of any Toy Story film. But, you will see some sharp, vibrant renditions of some of the most iconic characters in video games and it sure is an absolute joy seeing them all come together on the big screen. They do some really interesting things with perspective in this film: for instance, the perspective of people in the “real” world playing these games vs. the characters inside each arcade box trying to play out their respective parts like a theatrical production for their audience of players. How the camera shifts through the screen produces an excellent effect for getting the audience to suspend their disbelief in regards to the fiction of video game characters being “alive” inside their games.
Perhaps the best scene in the movie, but everyone's already seen it in every trailer.
Another area where Wreck-It Ralph diverts from the Pixar formula is in the voice-over department; specifically how A-List names aren’t exactly rounding out the roster. Sure, John C. Reilly is a comic genius and other people really love what Jane Lynch does on Glee, but I don’t particularly care for anything Sarah Silverman does and how many people know that guy from 30 Rock and Will Ferrell comedies is an actor by the name of Jack McBrayer? I don’t mean to diminish the performance of any member of the cast, but I couldn’t quite justify shelling out the greenbacks for all of these names strictly for name recognition. The exceptions have to be Reilly and Lynch because their voices embody strict character types for Ralph and Calhoun respectively that represent the exact characters both actors became popular depicting for live action in the first place. I truly felt the vocal performances for every other character were acceptable, but not particularly remarkable which was especially disappointing for the proper video game characters represented in this film.
Jane Lynch takes no prisoners as Calhoun.
Wreck-It Ralphis clearly a “videogame” movie designed for kids and its very successful opening weekend at just under $50 million dollars is a step in the right direction. But did all of you know that this film’s budget was a whopping $165 million bucks!? The actual production comes off as professional and clean, but also seems on somewhat of a shoestring because the fact remains that all of these software companies weren’t handing over their IP likenesses for peanuts. Licensing must have been the lion’s share of this production and I completely understand that, but this film doesn’t feel like a $200 million type of blockbuster. As such, I seriously doubt that Wreck-It Ralph will turn into a franchise, but will be viewed like a litmus test for how to combine IP licenses for adaptation purposes. This movie was a cool experiment fueled by nostalgia and laughs and held together by simplicity and relatability. Only gamers will get ALL of the Easter egg references throughout, but it is more than charming enough to hold the audience’s interest both young and old.