Movies · Video games

Sympathy for the bad guy – Wreck It Ralph thoughts

Wreck-It Ralph is John Lassiter’s love letter to the classic 1980’s arcade games. And as much as I loved the in-jokes and references, like many 80’s video games, Ralph is full of inconsistencies and errors. There will be spoilers below, but it is a Disney movie, so you could probably guess how the story will play out.

First of all, there are plenty of things to like about this movie. The casting for the lead characters was perfect. One expects Disney to land  A-list celebrities to lend their talents to voice acting, but that does not always equate to ideal casting. Nor does it mean that every A-list “live” actor or actress can do voice acting properly. However, this time they nailed it. How can you not feel sympathetic to John C Reilly’s plight as the title character, Ralph? I must praise the rest of the main cast, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman and Jack McBrayer.  And the animation is sublime. It could very easily be mistaken for a Pixar or DreamWorks movie (Maybe because Vanellope slightly resembles Agnes, the youngest girl from Despicable Me.) And for all those who arrive late in order to avoid the marathon of trailers, please note there is a short film before the main feature that is definitely worth watching.

I love the in-jokes. I’m sure I was the only one in the theater, (including the adults), who recognized many of them. I loved that they got Buckner & Garcia to sing the Wreck It Ralph theme song. It is a much better song than “Do the Donkey Kong.” I also loved the last sight gag at the end of the closing credits. (That I won’t spoil). I also like the evolving graphics during the end credits – how the characters go from 8-bits, to 16-bits, to 32-bits. I liked the name dropping of other classic arcade game. I also like how the arcade owner reminded me of the owner of the Twin Galaxies arcade of The King of Kong documentary fame.

I have nitpicks when it comes to the movie’s arcade.  As popular as Pac-Man was at its height, the game did not have staying power.  The main reason for that was that Ms. Pac-Man was a better game. Therefore, I did not buy the fact that during the time elapse sequence that the Pac-Man machine stayed while other games came and went. I’ll give some slack for the Fix-It-Felix Jr game; otherwise, we wouldn’t have a movie.  And speaking of the Fix-It-Felix Jr game, I don’t understand why a game with only one level design, would be so popular. I know it is an expy of Donkey Kong, but the Donkey Kong game had 4 levels. Okay, maybe we just didn’t see the rest of the game, but from what little we did see, it does not look like something that would have 30+ years of staying power. To me, the gameplay looked a little like Donkey Kong 3, with a little bit of Rampage and Zookeeper thrown in. I know how hard it is to repair and find replacement parts for classic 1980’s arcade games in the 21st century. But I don’t believe that the arcade owner would throw out an entire arcade cabinet after just one day of being out-of-order. Even when arcade games were in every other store back in the 80’s, store owners would let non-working games remain for weeks. This one day deadline to create some sense of urgency in the film’s plot struck a false chord with me.

Next we have the Turbo game. That looks like an expy of the 1980 arcade game, Turbo, which, I admit, was kind of popular in its day. But that was because there were so few racing games at that time. In the film, they stated that the game’s popularity was dethroned by RoadBlasters.  But that brings up some more questions and plot holes. Now I loved RoadBlasters, but there were plenty of racing games between 1980 and 1988 that were way more popular than RoadBlasters (and thus, cause our main villain to go rogue, “turbo”.  Among others, there were: Excitebike; Pole Position; Spy Hunter; and the most popular of them all, Out Run. According to the film, Turbo was so jealous of RoadBlasters’ popularity, he crossed over into that game. And his distraction caused gamers to crash and loses. What the film forgets is that the gamer’s car in RoadBlasters had a gun. The player could press the “Fire” button to shoot Turbo. Why those players chose not to be is beyond me. In the game, there were opportunities to receive better weapons, including a mini-nuke. It is Turbo’s good fortune that he didn’t pop up during one of those moments.

Then there is the game Sugar Rush. I don’t believe it is supposed to be a stand-in for any one game in particular. Based on the following information: (1) it is a racing game; (2) it features cute sprites as racers; (3) the primary color is pink, I mean… salmon; (4) it has a candy motif; (5) it was made sometime in the past 12 years; I can safely assume that the game was made in Japan. So why isn’t Sugar Rush’s theme song more bubblegum, pop-schlocky? Just because the song is mostly sung in Japanese, it is not necessarily J-pop.  This song felt flat when compared to the stunning visuals that are the racing scenes within the movie’s game. If Disney, a company that has been unsuccessful for the longest time in manufacturing an American pop/tween idol singer(s), cannot create an English earworm pop song, what hope do they have in trying to attempt the J-pop sound? Perhaps they were better off if the “Sugar Rush” song was performed by the closest thing America has to an idol singer like Katy Perry, or go the other way and get Buckner & Garcia to perform double duty.

Bottom line: Ralph is as formulaic and straight-forward as a side-scroller. I must give credit to Disney, their animation has picked up ever since they bought Pixar. I put Ralph on the same quality level as Pixar’s Brave. But if I can channel my inner snob for a moment, if I want to see a film based on fictional 1980’s video games, I’ll stick with The Last Starfighter, WarGames, Cloak & Dagger, or even Tron. My grade (personal biases aside) = B-.

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