Sunday, November 4, 2012

"I'm Gonna Wreck It!"

After 30 years, a guy wants a change.
Disney bought Pixar and boy - does Wreck-It Ralph make that abundantly clear.  Ralph features magnificent vocal talent, including John C. Reilly as the title character, a bad guy who wants - just once! - to be the good guy. He "game jumps" to achieve his goal of earning a medal to show he's really a good guy, which gives the moviemakers a chance to show off a vast variety of game environments, from early 80s herky-jerky movement to today's smooth HD silkiness.  The contrasts are great fun - Ralph is appalled by the violence and scare factor of Hero's Duty and I could feel my teeth ache at the sheer sweetness overload of Sugar Rush.

In part, Ralph has a very conservative message - we all have roles to play and trying to deviate from those roles leads to destruction and chaos.  Ralph is a bad guy - he shouldn't try to be anything else, for people have to Know Their Place for society to function.

At least, that's one way to look at it.  You can also see it as a message about blooming where you're planted and realizing that pastures are perfectly green on this side of the fence.  In this reading, Ralph needs to come to terms with what he is and yes, others should respect him for his "badness."  After all, without Ralph's mindless destruction, there's nothing for the hero, Felix (voiced with pixie perfection by Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock) to repair and therefore, no need for the game to even exist.

A third way of looking at Ralph occurred to me only after I'd left the theater.  Ralph is, strangely enough, a feminist movie.  It has two central female characters who are cast in traditionally male games - Sgt. Calhoun is a tough-as-nails soldier (and Jane Lynch does an awesome job with some deliberately obtuse dialogue here), who was programmed with "the most tragic backstory ever." She leads a platoon of tough-guy soldiers on a never-ending mission to obliterate the deadly "cybugs" in a ultra-violent shooter game.  The other, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman), is a wanna-be racer in a candy-colored game involving a go-kart bakery, candy forests, and a volatile diet soda swamp.  (There are also about a dozen other racer characters, who are all uniformly horrid little girls, giving rise to one of the great lines of the film where they are referred to as "children of the candy corn")  While the Sugar Rush game is over-the-top girly girl, the ultimate goal is to win a road race - a traditionally male-oriented game.  In the cases of both Calhoun and Vanellope, the gender of the avatar is never seen as worth remarking upon - Calhoun isn't a "female" soldier and Vanellope isn't a "girl" racer - and oddly enough, that's progress.

There's a lot here for viewers of a certain age who will, presumably, be taking the small fry to the picture.  I know that I spent plenty of time in video arcades during my early teens, carefully lining up my row of quarters to mark my pixellated territory before turning my attention to Asteroids, Frogger, Galaga, or (my favorite) Phoenix. For me, part of the joy of Ralph was in locating as many of the avatars of my youth as I could - the oft-overlooked Q*Bert makes several appearances and yes, that actually is Pong in the lobby of Game Central Station.  Plus, I'm in favor of just about any movie that gives Alan Tudyk work - and this role is a doozy!

Visually, Ralph is a treat. I saw it in 2D - I suspect the 3D version of the race sequences would have made me woozy, but it may be to your liking.

By the way, Wreck-It Ralph begins with a short that is definitely for the grown-ups in the audience.  "Paperman" is a delicate and charming story of magic realism that will delight you, even though it doesn't really fit the tone of the movie it precedes.  It's a lovely mix of classic 2D hand-drawn artistry and computer generated techniques.  Ah, animation - how much you can do for us!

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