Walt Disney Animation Studio’s sixth computer-animated picture Wreck-It Ralph can easily be mistaken for a Pixar film. The feature embraces the torch passed down by that studio’s first feature, Toy Story, in seeking to tell a story about the everyday inanimate. It’s almost a natural progression then for 21st Century children, teenagers and adults that the toys of today are very much that of the virtual, those that exist inside the avatars and screens we surround ourselves with. Because these characters exist in a digitised binary world – don’t be mistaken into thinking that they remain two-dimensional.
The film takes place in an arcade, not unlike the kind you’d see in Tron, and centres on resident ‘bad guy’ Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) who proceeds day after day with his tedious existence of wrecking the building in his game. His antagonist, ironically the hero, Fix-it-Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) persists on fixing his damage, controlled by an external user. When the arcade closes, the avatars and non-player characters come to life – travelling between games through an extension hub acting as Game Central station.
Ralph, disheartened with his predictable life, seeks existential meaning and enlightenment –to become something more than a ‘bad guy’. It is only when he enlists the help of Vanellope von Schweetz (comedienne Sarah Silverman) from the kart racing game Sugar Rush, herself an outcast as a glitch in her game that his fortune changes and they both attempt to restore balance in the game-world by thwarting King Candy (Alan Tudyk).
Game references, ranging from Sonic to Metal Gear Solid, are littered right from the start and for any avid gamer past or present; geeky smirks will be shared throughout. Even without an encyclopedic knowledge of game canon, the plot and characters are strong enough to make this incredibly engaging. The voice work is carefully handled and manages not too overcrowd the presence of the characters – something Pixar might have been guilty of doing in the past.
The contrast of old and new features a lot in the game-world: where retro stalwart Qbert is left homeless at the hands of new trendy first person shooters like Hero’s Duty (Clearly alluding to THAT game franchise) and the very traditional setting of the arcade contrasts with modern console game aesthetics. This theme, however, isn’t explored explicitly, probably to avoid any further Toy Story references.
If this film is anything to go by, Pixar might be seeing some true competition from their origin studio. Fans have been waiting for the best videogame film to come – it looks like the wait is over albeit sugar coated.
N.B. The Oscar-nominated animation short, Paperman, plays before and brings an enticing treat echoing the art-house Surrealism found in Up and shines with charm and heart.