Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Film Review | Wreck-It Ralph (2013)

Walt Disney Animation Studios has had a chequered recent history. With the "Renaissance" of the 1990s well behind them, and 2009's The Princess And The Frog marking the end of their traditionally animated big screen output for the foreseeable future at least, the studio has focused solely on refining their computer-animated movies. After lacklustre beginnings at the turn of the century, more recent offerings such as 2008's Bolt and Tangled in 2010 - whilst never reaching the heights of computer-animated master craftsmen Pixar - have felt decidedly more successful in both scripting and animation. And whilst Wreck-It Ralph also falls short of Pixar's incredibly high benchmark, it's the closest Disney (or arguably any other studio) have come to reaching it.

Previous non-Pixar CGI films have fallen short in at least one area: sometimes the animation isn't up to scratch, although this is becoming less and less of an issue as technology continues to progress; much more often it's the writing or direction that simply don't cut it. Thankfully, Wreck-It Ralph doesn't fall significantly short in any of these areas. The world that Ralph and his fellow video game characters inhabit is crafted beautifully through Disney's finest computer animation yet. It's also one of the most original ideas from the studio in a long time, with echoes of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. in the way Ralph's universe is realized and presented to us. The realm of the arcade has a warmth and tangibility that many computer-animated efforts fail to achieve.

The script is for the most part shot through with both humour and heart, although the dialogue doesn't zing with wit quite as often as you'd like; a few juvenile jokes clearly aimed squarely at the kids in the audience will more likely induce tutting and eye-rolling from mums and dads. The story has a pleasing complexity to it, developing from a deceptively simplistic opening concept to bring together several threads pleasingly during the film's climax. Ralph is impossible not to warm to immediately with John C. Reilly's understated vocal performance fitting the big friendly juggernaut's personality superbly. His character arc, despite dealing with well-worn moral lessons, has satisfying notes of subtlety throughout. Sarah Silverman's Vanellope initially threatens to grate and at times feels a little too one-note, but once she finds her groove with the character the results are pleasing. The supporting turns from Jack McBrayer as Fix-It Felix Jr. and Jane Lynch as Sergeant Calhoun are strong with both developing characters of depth and humour as well as sharing marvellous chemistry in the film's best subplot.

Wreck-It Ralph's main flaw is that it sets itself up with more than it's able to deliver, even in the two hour running time the film has. After introducing us to a host of characters and settings, the bulk of the film's plot takes place within the realm of video game "Sugar Rush". Whilst this works in terms of the story being told, as well as allowing for regular moments of sharp sweet-based observational humour, it would have been nice to explore more of the places where the film only affords us a relatively brief time. The references to retro video games also feel underutilized beyond the film's first act, where they are genuinely charming. After seeing many a familiar face from classics of arcade and console, it's a shame that these aren't worked into the plot more throughout the film's entire running time.

Wreck-It Ralph ends up as the finest output of Walt Disney Animation Studios yet, surpassing more recent Pixar efforts but not quite matching their finest. With other rival animation studios seeming increasingly happy to churn out middle-of-the-road movies and lazily squeeze every last penny out of their franchises, Disney deserve high praise for creating a film of such ingenuity and quality. The gap between their Pixar and non-Pixar efforts is shrinking; if Disney's films continue to improve in quality the way they have been over the past five years, the studio could very soon have the market cornered and once again rightfully claim themselves as absolute top dog in animation.


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