Well, I promised you two reviews today, and I am totally delivering. Check it, single ladies and potential employers: I’m reliable.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012):
The Plot: Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the Bad Guy in an arcade video game. His job is to wreck a fancy apartment building so that endlessly-chipper Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) can fix everything and be the Hero. After 30 years of loneliness and isolation, Ralph decides that he wants to earn the respect of the other characters in his game by winning a medal in a modern first-person-shooter called Hero’s Duty. This goes horribly wrong, and he ends up in a candy-based racing game called Sugar Rush, where he befriends the child/glitch Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and learns the value of believing in yourself or whatever.
This is a movie for children with eyes and young adults who think that liking Mario makes them special. As a kids’ movie, Ralph is average. As a self-indulgent trip down nostalgia lane, I guess it serves its purpose.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate Wreck-It Ralph or anything. I enjoyed watching it at the time, but there’s not much substance behind all the easy charm and even easier video game references. The best lesson that you can take away from this movie is that you don’t have to be defined by your shitty job. That’s both true and useful, but I’m not sure if it’s what the filmmakers were going for.
The lesson the film does teach is one that we’ve seen in what’s starting to feel like every kids’ movie ever: accept yourself for who you are. Yeah, it’s a good thing for kids to learn, but the fact that we’ve seen it so often means that it’s lost most of its flavor. This summer, ParaNorman managed to go beyond that and teach a much harder lesson: that people are capable of doing terrible, terrible things when they’re frightened, but that it’s okay to be scared as long as you stay true to yourself (check out my review for more).
ParaNorman elevated generic “dealing with bullies” themes to something almost profound by taking them seriously. Wreck-It Ralph is pretty comfortable with not having much to say beyond “hey, look at all these video games we’re referencing.”
The fact that this is a mediocre kids’ movie didn’t really bother me. That’s fine. Most kids don’t appreciate good stuff anyway. Ralph’s pretty colors and dumb third-act action sequences will keep them entertained. But Wreck-It Ralph isn’t just intended for children. It’s clearly aimed at young adults who grew up playing the games it’s referencing: stuff ranging from crappy 8-bit Nintendo games and Mario Kart to Halo and Gears of War.
So what? You enjoy playing some of those games too. Isn’t it good that Hollywood is treating video games like a legit medium?
There’s an argument there. But at the end of the day, Ralph isn’t trying to make a statement about video games or anything else. You’d get the same amount of substance from Mario references on TeeFury. Geek/internet culture is a weird, nebulous thing that I feel unqualified to define, but I think we can all agree that a lot of internet humor is based on easy references to shit like Doctor Who and Pokémon. It’s stupid and annoying, but also makes for cheap, fast, endless entertainment.
I guess what bothers me the most about Wreck-It Ralph is that it’s less than the sum of its references. Rango was another kids’ movie that referenced a bunch of stuff that kids probably hadn’t seen, but that came from a place of genuine affection for the medium. The people who made Ralph clearly love video games, but never have anything to say about them. Rango was a wild, imaginative look at Legends and stories and all the things that drove the movies they were referencing. I’m not following you. Basically, Rango was clever and Wreck-It Ralph isn’t. Ah. So…you’re pretentious. Sure.
It looks like I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll wrap things up.
Parents: Wreck-It Ralph is simple-minded and predictable, and that’s okay. It’s sweet and has a nice message for kids. If you have kids and want to kill a couple hours, then this is a movie that they will likely enjoy and you will probably not hate. It’s a slightly above-average children’s movie, on par with How to Tame Your Dragon, but lacking the intelligent silliness and endless creativity of something like Rango or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.
Same message, better script.
Nerds: You want to see a movie with roots in video games (and comic books and anime and action movies) that still manages to do more than pay shallow service to them? Just watch Scott Pilgrim vs. the World again. It’s much better than Wreck-It Ralph.