There is perhaps no genre more difficult to adapt to the screen than video games. Countless filmmakers have tried to translate a number of high-profile video game properties to the silver screen, with only mild levels of success. Director Rich Moore perceived this daunting premonition as only a small obstacle to overcome when crafting Wreck-It Ralph.
Walt Disney Animation had been toying with the idea of a movie taking place in the video game world as far back as the 1980s. During the nearly 30-year developmental process, this initial concept underwent several major changes. Ironically, the film didn’t feature Ralph, an arcade-game villain, as the central protagonist of the story at first.
Originally, Felix, the hero of Fix-It-Felix Jr., was the main character, but as his story developed, the filmmakers became less emotionally invested. Screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston found it challenging to build a humorous and morally effective character arc around Felix. Also, the characterization of Felix began to feel to similar to Nintendo’s figurehead Mario. In order to tell a more impactful, entertaining story (and only allude to a Donkey Kong-Mario relationship), the creative team decided to place the focus on Ralph.
Executive producer John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Disney Animation, helped in humanizing Ralph through interesting, unique qualities. At first, Ralph was named Grubble, but the filmmakers felt changing the name would make the protagonist more relatable. Ralph’s emotional struggle and satisfying transformative arc are both at the core of Wreck-It Ralph and help to make it not only an incredibly fun movie experience, but a heartfelt one as well.
Though there are a number of admirable qualities about Wreck-It Ralph, from its gorgeous animation to its unique premise, a pair of specific traits stand out: multiple detailed worlds inside the video game universe and a strong chemistry between voice actors. During production, Moore and his creative team stressed both aspects because they recognized their importance to the film’s success.
Wreck-It Ralph inhabits three very different video games as one travels with Ralph for the entirety of the film. First, we are introduced to Fix-It Felix Jr., the 8-bit arcade game home to Ralph and Felix. The world of Fix-It Felix Jr. evokes a feeling of retro when video games were simplified fun. From this side-scrolling adventure, Ralph moves to Hero’s Duty by way of Game Central Station, a world in and of itself featuring a plethora of cameos from well-known games (such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Q*bert). Hero’s Duty is a stark contrast to Ralph’s home: It’s much more dramatic, complex and violent.
This first-person shooter is clearly inspired by games like Halo or Call of Duty and features an incredible action sequence paired with a perfectly fitting score by the dubstep sensation Skrillex. Ralph completes his journey in the sweet, whimsical land of Sugar Rush. Described by Moore as the hardest world to animate, Sugar Rush is a essentially a fictionalized Mario Kart set in Candyland. Though each of the worlds shows off a very distinct visual style one constant remains: Each of the inhabited worlds is beautifully animated with a unique style and a surprisingly effective use of 3-D.
Moore’s stress on defining these worlds is easily recognized as he wonderfully clarifies parameters through the plot’s movement rather than direct exposition. The only fault in the games’ construction is the poor division of time between each world. More time is spent in Sugar Rush, making the second and third acts of the film feel much longer than the first.
Thankfully, these latter acts show off quick, hilarious banter between all of the characters. During production, Moore looked to re-imagine the voice recording process in the animated films. Traditionally, actors record their lines independently, with no interaction from costars. However, Moore and the film’s title star John C. Reilly noticed the benefits of having actors record together in the same studio. What seems like such a simple idea has huge implications on the dialogue’s effectiveness. Every exchange between Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer provides huge laughs. Some of the jokes are targeted for a younger audience and obviously don’t play as well with an older crowd, but many quips can be found for more mature viewers and erase any negatives from so-called “potty-humor.”
Though Wreck-It Ralph can be superficially classified as a children’s movie, its a hilarious cinematic experience for all ages. With great visuals and hysterical dialogue wrapped around an emotional core, Wreck-It Ralph is one of Disney’s best animated films in years.
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Before the audience experiences Wreck-It Ralph in its completed form, they are treated to a wonderful animated short, “Paperman.” Using exclusively black and white coloring in a beautiful blend of computer and hand drawn animation, “Paperman” is the simple story of boy meets girl. The short film has no dialogue, and although that choice might seem odd in a modern cinematic context, it works perfectly for this story. Emotion and humorous charm are found in every second of the quick seven minute running time. “Paperman” is undiluted storytelling at its finest and an excellent opening act for the colorful, fast-paced story of Wreck-It Ralph.