Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Wreck-It Ralph
March 4th, 2013
Wreck-It Ralph was one of three Disney animated films that earned Oscar nominations this year. It was considered by many to be the favorite to win; however, it lost out to fellow Disney creation, Brave. I'm a huge video game nerd and I've been playing video games since the Commodore 64 days. MULE, Archon, Impossible Mission, Epyx Summer Games franchise, Defender of the Crown. So many awesome old school games. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, but I'm a little worried my expectations have grown too high. Is that the case?
We are first introduced to Ralph as he describes his game, Fix-It Felix, Jr, a 30-year old arcade game where he's the bad guy. It wouldn't be too bad, if the fellow characters in the game didn't treat him like the bad guy even when the games were over. It's gotten so bad he's going to Bad-Anon, the bad guys support group, which takes place over in the Pac Man game. It doesn't really help; he just gets some platitudes and warnings about not going "Turbo". (That isn't explained for a long time.) When he gets back to his own game, the rest of the characters in the game are throwing Felix, Jr. a party, to celebrate the anniversary. Ralph decides to crash the party and while none of the other guests want Ralph there, Felix is too nice to turn Ralph away, but the other guests, especially Gene, are very blunt with Ralph. After a confrontation, Ralph declares he's leaving the game and not coming back till he gets a medal.
His first stop is Tapper's Bar (loved that game as a kid) where he meets a shell shocked warrior from Hero's Duty, whose game has been on for only a week, and he's already at full panic over the thought of fighting more Cy-bugs. At first, Ralph doesn't care about this guy's plight, till he learns that he's fighting for a medal and all he has to do is climb a building and shoot bugs. Ralph's really good at the climbing part. He "obtains" some armor and sneaks into the game. When the battle is about to begin, he meets his commanding officer, Sergeant Calhoun. He screws up bad, but decides to cheat the second time and climb up the building to get his medal without doing all of the fighting. This plan starts out great, but after getting his medal, he accidentally awakens a Cy-bug and soon falls into an escape pod and is ejected out of Hero's Duty and flies into Sugar Rush Speedway, a candy-colored racing game.
Meanwhile, a little girl tries to play Fix it Felix, Jr. in the arcade, but since Ralph left the game, the game won't work. If the game doesn't work, it will be unplugged. This is the worst news possible for the characters and they panic, all but Felix, Jr.. Felix heads off to Game Central to track down Ralph and first goes to Hero's Duty, where he meets Calhoun, and it is love at first sight. (Her face is so high definition.) When they realize Ralph went into Sugar Rush Speedway, and that a Cy-bug went with him, Calhoun becomes more intense than ever. Cy-bugs are not your typical video game character. They don't know they are in a video game and if they are not stopped, they will eat everything and destroy the game. They will potentially destroy the whole arcade. It's Calhoun's duty to stop that from happening, but Felix demands to go with her. It's his duty to fix any mess Ralph makes.
And Ralph has created a huge mess. Once in Sugar Rush Speedway, he meets Vanellope von Schweetz, whom we later learn is a glitch. She gets Ralph's medal, which she plans to use to enter the race. The top nine racers in the trial run get to be in the game the next day, and Vanellope desperately wants to be a racer, but King Candy has a rule that glitches can't race. There's a big ruckus as the racers are getting ready, as Ralph tries to get the medal back from Vanellope and in the process destroys most of the racing stadium. King Candy is determined to stop Vanellope from racing, as are the other racers, but once Ralph sees Vanellope bullied, he starts to feel sorry for her and agrees to help her win the race. Also, the only way to get his medal back is if she wins.
Ralph has to worry about King Candy's security forces, he has to help Vanellope learn to drive, and he has to do it before his game is shut off for good. ... Then there's that Cy-bug that he thought drowned in the taffy lake. That's not over with either.
Wreck-It Ralph is one part Hero's Journey and one part Nerd Porn and they combine in a way that is more successful that I thought it would be. When I first heard about this film, I thought it was something that was aimed at people just like me, but the odds it would work were slim. There was a real chance the people making it wouldn't understand the games they were paying homage to, or instead of paying homage to classic video games, it would just be a series of gratuitous cameos. That's not to say there's not tons of Easter eggs to spot while watching the movie, but there's also a really good story to go along with the Nerd Porn. It is the classic Hero's Journey set within a really well executed world. The idea that video games in an arcade can visit each other is not entirely unique. I can remember a number of Looney Tunes cartoons where characters from books in a library would interact with each other. I really liked the idea of games being unplugged and characters becoming unemployed as a result. Not all ideas were fully implemented. We learn early on that a character can die many, many times in their own game and immediately spring back to life. However, if they die outside of their game, they are gone for good. I never once thought the game-jumping characters were in peril.
Not only is the writing fantastic, but the cast is up to the task. John C. Reilly brings the right amount of pain to his performance as Wreck-it Ralph. You have to empathize with his plight without him feeling too pathetic. Sarah Silverman also brings excellent energy to Vanellope, which was another character that could have been unbearable had the voice work not been able to thread the needle. I'm a little worried Jack McBrayer might get typecast, but he's excellent here as the overly nice, and perhaps a little naïve Felix, Jr. Jane Lynch managed to make Calhoun strong, with making her a cliché, while at the same time humanizing her. Although her character's tragic backstory was really over-the-top, this was a good homage to bad video game writing. Finally, Alan Tudyk is amazing in everything, so I'm not surprised he's terrific here.
On a side note, I loved how a lot of the 8-bit characters had jerky 8-bit movement, even when rendered in high definition. It was a nice touch.
The only extra on the DVD is Paperman, an animated short film. It won the Oscar this year, so it goes without saying that it has high replay value. However, as the only extra, it is a bit disappointing.
The Blu-ray and the 3-D Blu-ray have a few more extras, including a 17-minute long making of featurette that focuses on the five main worlds we see in the movie. Next up are four alternative / extended scenes, with optional intro and optional audio commentary track. There are also commercials for some of the games seen in the movie. There is a Disney Intermission that has Chris Hardwick talking about video game trivia and some of the Easter Eggs seen in the movie. It's not a huge amount of extras, but it is enough to not feel bare.
The technical presentation is perfect. I'm not surprised, as it has been a while since I reviewed a digitally animated movie from Disney that wasn't reference level quality. The details are staggering, even in the darkest scenes. The colors are incredible, especially in Sugar Rush Speedway. There are never any problems with compression issues or digital artifact. It is simply fantastic. The audio is just as strong with an immersive 7.1 surround sound track. It has everything you want from clear dialogue with good separation, to lots of ambient noises, to dynamic and directional effect, and the bass even gets a workout.
The 3D implementation is geared more towards adding depth than having things fly at the audience, which is the way to go with these films. There are many scenes that one feels were made specially to take advantage of the 3D nature, but never in a gimmicky way. Watching in 3D also doesn't hurt the film's detail level or the vivid colors.
Finally we get to the prices. The DVD costs $18, which isn't bad, but isn't great, given the lack of extras. The Blu-ray combo pack costs $5 or 28% more, which is a great price given the quality of the video / audio and the exclusive extras. The 3D Combo set costs $5 or 22% more, which is perfectly inline with other similar releases. Since the 3D is so well done, it is clearly the best choice.
Wreck-It Ralph is a must have for fans of video games, old-school or new, and / or fans of digital animation. It combines a terrific script with a fantastic cast of the end result is Oscar-worthy. If you are only interested in renting, then the DVD is fine. If you are interested in buying, the Blu-ray Combo Pack is a good value, but the 3D Combo Pack is a better value.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review, Wreck-It Ralph