Tuesday, January 22, 2013

If It Ain't "Wreck"ed...

      I am usually leery of scripts written by committee.  Wreck-It Ralph has FOUR credited writers: two on story (Jim Reardon, and director Rich Moore), Jennifer Lee on screenplay, and Phil Johnston on both.  I am quite pleased to say that for once too many cooks didn't spoil much of anything.  Occasionally, the "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" method actually DOES produce something worthwhile.
     There are so many great little moments and concepts in this world they have written up.  Just a few:  the use of the Diet Coke and Mentos effect, the handling of the "first person shooter", Felix fixing his own face, Felix attempting to break his bars, Turbobug (somehow reminded me of Judge Doom at the end of Roger Rabbit), the Game Central Station concept.  Maybe it took a whole handful of writers to come up with this many clever ideas.
     Of course, my reaction to this film may very well be influenced by some degree of nostalgia.  I was a kid during the eighties when the video arcade was the most magical place in the world.  It was a place just for kids and teen-agers, where we could enjoy this new pass time, one that belonged only to us, our parents had not had electronic gaming of this nature.  From the first time I saw Pong at the home of one of my cousins, I was hooked.  There are so many blasts from the past for my generation.  From Clyde turning blue when Ralph shocks him at the Bad-Anon meeting, to "Q-Bertese" to Ralph muttering "I thought this was gonna be like Centipede!" when he sees what Hero's Duty is all about, the golden age of gaming was well represented.
     Of course, this only lends fuel to the fire of the argument that Disney seems to be trying to appropriate the qualities of Pixar's brand (who have always been lauded for making 'toons that appealed to both kids and adults), while slowly making Pixar's films a little bit more "Disney-fied".  The idea that they are trying to make Disney proper's films a little more adult is supported by the choice of Rich Moore as director.  He is certainly experienced with animation, having been the primary director on TV's Futurama, but that show was certainly not intended primarily for younger audiences.   In addition, the video game reality of Wreck-It Ralph certainly seems like the sort of reality that Pixar revels in creating, while the princess-led coming of age tale Brave seems firmly in the parent company's wheelhouse.
     What's really interesting to note is that the two films share a primary theme.  Merida's constant refrain in Brave is that she wants to "change her fate", and take her destiny into her own hands, rather than fulfill the expectations she was born to.  Ralph's quest is the same, but his status as a "bad guy" complicates matters and widens the breadth of the film's thematic reach.  What makes someone good or bad? Can someone with a "bad" job to do, be a good person?  I'm imagining auditors and former military interrogation specialists who took their kids to see a cartoon and received a catharsis that they weren't anticipating when they bought the tickets.  Especially if they got a Vanellope sized hug from said children afterwards.
     One of the most brilliant things about Wreck-It Ralph is the voice casting, particularly of the four primary characters. John C. Reilly is the world's greatest lovable schlub as usual.  Sarah Silverman gives Vanellope the perfect flavor of snarky but infectious enthusiasm.  Who could play Sue Silvester with a gun better than Jane Lynch, or make Felix as mindlessly cheerful and optimistic as Jack McBrayer?  One almost has to believe that the dialogue was written with these actors already firmly in mind.  The animation department's character design certainly must have been.  Other apropos casting choices included Alan Tudyk, Dennis Haysbert, and Edie McClurg.
    (As a side note: Director Moore has now worked with Ed O'Neal after working with Katy Segal for years on Futurama.  Should we expect a Christina Applegate voiced cartoon from The Mouse House in the near future?)
     After the AMPAS forced me (with their nominations) to endure Tangled and The Princess and the Frog in recent years (to say nothing of War Horse), I've developed a certain set of expectations from their brand.  Suffice it to say that Ralph wrecked them.  My only complaint is that they couldn't give even a token shout-out to Frogger (unless I missed some of the characters in the Game Central Station scenes).  4 1/2 of 5 stars.
  Paperman - A little bonus to the cinematic experience of Wreck-It Ralph is that it was preceded by Best Animated Short nominee Paperman, just like the cartoons that I VAGUELY remember them playing as lead-ins to movies when I was REALLY little.  This film utilized an innovative hybrid of animation techniques to create a look that was slick, wholly original, and slightly surreal.  Add to that a creative storyline with more  clever bits and moments than seven minutes should be able to accommodate and I have to say that John Kahr's directorial debut is easily the best animated short I've seen since Logorama... 5 of 5 stars.

Related Posts:  Elena's Brave Law (Brave review)

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