My father always used to say that he hated taking us to Disney animated films, yet I remember him being the one who laughed the most at what was happening on the screen. Of course, that’s the secret where making a full-length cartoon is concerned – you need to appeal not only to the kids in the audience but also to the ones who bought their tickets.
I think the folks at Pixar have been responsible for a decided shift in the way animated features have been made over the last 15 years, not just in the visual sense but narratively as well. The concerns their main characters deal with are far more adult in nature and they refuse to dumb things down for the youngsters, knowing they can keep up. It’s obvious that Disney, which consumed Pixar a few years back, has been paying attention to this model as evidenced by their latest release Wreck-it Ralph, an animated movie about a midlife crisis and existential angst.
Rather heady stuff for a “cartoon” but it’s pulled off with the proper mix of humor and poignancy. The big lug at the film’s center goes searching for himself only to find that, much like Dorothy, his home wasn’t such a bad place after all. Ralph (voice by John C. Reilly) has one job and one job only – to wreck things, something he does like clockwork in the video game “Fix-It Felix.” Having been the bad guy for 30 years – destroying things only so the title hero can repair them and earn gold coins in the process – he’s tired of the routine. Looking for a change, Ralph does the unthinkable. He leaves his game and heads for what he hopes to be greener coded pastures.
After a disastrous stop over in a first-person shooter military game, he winds up in a car-racing extravaganza called “Sugar Rush,” a Candy Land/Nascar nightmare of rainbow colored autos and garishly painted backgrounds that you’re likely to develop diabetes from if you stare at it too long. There he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a grating young lady who insists Ralph help her get in the derby that’s about to be run. Unfortunately, she’s a glitch – a programming mistake – which causes her to be a pariah amongst the other brightly colored and equally irritating racers.
It comes as no surprise that Vanellope discovers that she’s much more than a glitch. Her journey of self-discovery entails that she not only see herself in a new light but that everyone else comes to do the same. The dilemma Ralph faces is whether to adhere to his usual behavior (programming) or respond in a different manner, something that holds unknown consequences not only for himself, but the universe of his game.
Cleverness abounds in the film as well as a healthy dose of nostalgia. That the characters can travel between games after the arcade they’re housed in goes dark makes for some wonderful encounters between some incongruous characters. Those of you, like me, who were there to witness the dawn of the video-game era will delight in seeing some old pixaled friends. The re-creation of more modern games effectively underscores the great divide between the older more innocent fare and those popular today that are far more cynical and cold.
As clever as the film is, at its center is the relationship between the two outcasts. Though each struggles with self-doubt, the journey they end up taking together results in them rediscovering their true purpose and the ability to take pleasure in it. Without question, the kids will love it, what with its vibrant aesthetic that seems powered by an inexhaustible stream of quarters. But for the adults, it will be a reminder that our true purpose can often be obscured by monotony and that things aren’t necessarily greener in another game.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.