Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jimbo Goes to the Movies: “Wreck-It Ralph” Review

Disney’s New Animated Flick is the Mega-Crossover Extravaganza Gamers Have Been Dreaming Of Since the Days of the Super Nintendo. And on Top of That? It Might Just Be The Year’s Best Animated Movie By An 8-Bit Mile

"Wreck-It Ralph" (2012)
Director: Rich Moore

There was a moment during “Wreck-It Ralph” that I came to the sudden realization that my generation had effectively won the “culture war.” There I was, in a room full of adult human beings, that were giving a standing ovation for Sonic the Hedgehog flashing onscreen. At that moment, I knew that the “necessary succession” between generations that Sigmund Freud once spoke of had officially transpired, and for the next 40 or so years, we’re destined to see pop culture made by us, for us, with sensibilities that are utterly un-interpretable for anyone over the age of 35.

As a guy that spends half of his free time writing about old school video games and junk food, it dawned upon me - about halfway through the picture, really - that either I unconsciously wrote the screenplay for the movie while I was sleepwalking, or - even less likely - that maybe, just maybe, my weird-ass blood pressure is a little bit closer to the national pulse than I’d dared imagine previously.

This movie is absolutely unintelligible to anyone that wasn’t born after 1975. If you didn’t grow up on a strict Oreos and Atari 2600 diet - or feasted upon Dunkaroos with a Sega Genesis controller in your hand - or even jammed Sour Patch Kids down your gullet with a Game Boy Advance by your side - then there’s no way you’ll be able to understand “Wreck-It Ralph.” Baby Boomers would be better off walking into a foreign film wearing one of those “sensory deprivation” bags from Guantanamo on their heads than ambling into a theater screening this movie. The flick is intentionally interpretable only to those that have gaming culture down pat; long story short, if you don’t know what an “Altered Beast” is, you’re waltzing headlong into a briar patch of confusion, befuddlement and perhaps most perplexing of all - the language of Q*Bert.

A lot of movies base their humor on referential comedy, but “Wreck-It Ralph” might just be the first movie I’ve ever seen where the ENTIRE HUMOR of the film is exclusively referential in nature. When the main character of the film picks up an exclamation point, unless you had prior knowledge of the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise, you would be utterly confounded by why everyone else in the room is hooting and hollering and sounding like they’re about one tickled rib from a pair of pissed pants.  It’s this contextual displacement that serves as the crux of the film’s comedy; it’s more or less the fact that Ryu and Ken are in something OTHER than the medium they are known for that makes the movie humorous, and not the fact that Ryu and Ken stop fighting each other as soon as the arcade closes, that gives the film its comedic quality. This film isn’t just a post-modern satire…it may very well be the first truly post-post-modern satire our generation can fully and rightfully claim as our own.

I suppose the best way to approach “Wreck-It Ralph” is “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” only with Eggman and Zangief serving as stand-ins for Donald and Daffy Duck. Yeah, there’s a pretty healthy serving of “Toy Story” in there, too, but by and large, “Wreck-It Ralph” is the come-one, come-all, mega-crossover Apocalypse-a-Geddon that video game wing nuts like me and…oh, probably a good 60 percent of everybody in the world under the age of 30...has been impatiently yearning for since the first time somebody told us that “Mortal Kombat” was better than “Street Fighter II.”

This movie is a pop-culture cluster-eff the likes of which we may never see again…or at least until Walt Disney decides to give audiences in 2030 “Star Wars vs. The Marvel Universe,” which will assuredly become the first motion picture in history to earn an infinity dollars at the box office. “Wreck-It Ralph” is a candy-coated, super-pastel, bug-guts infested extravaganza featuring more copyright protected characters and blatant product placement than just about any flick I can think of in recent memory. It’s sort of what would happen if you merged “Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue” with “Mac and Me,” only with Pixar’s money and screenwriting prowess behind all of the sound and fury and Laffy Taffy name-checks. There’s no denying that “Wreck-It Ralph” is a  dream sensorial experience for Gen-Y kids all across the globe, but the truly remarkable thing about the film - I mean, the absolute awe-inspiring, face-rocking, Goomba-crunching aspect of the flick - is that, on top of all of the sugar and self-fellating humor and cameos and characters with inexplicably huge noses - is that it’s a downright GREAT movie. As in, one of the absolute best I’ve seen this year, and quite possibly the best CGI flick to come down the turnpike since “Toy Story 3.”

The cast in “Wreck-It Ralph” is pretty damned outstanding, even after you factor out 8- and 16-bit icons like Pac-Man and M. Bison. Dewey Cox plays the titular character, a Donkey Kong stand-in that’s plum sick of being vilified just because he’s…well, a villain. Eventually, he grows tired of being dissed by his in-game neighbors, and decides to leap out of his own coin-op and explore the other game worlds of his arcade environs. After a brief stop through “Game Central Station,” he finds himself in over his pixelated noggin when he attempts to score a particular honorary medal from a light gun game that seems to be equal parts “Metroid Prime,” “Gears of War” and “Call of Duty.” Things go about as well for him as you’d imagine, and he ends up getting drop kicked all the way into “Sugar Rush” - a super-saccharine arcade racer that seems to be the bastard amalgamation of “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Mario Kart.”

From there, we’re introduced to all of the movie’s big players. There’s a snot-nosed Bratz doll played by Sarah Silverman, a Samus Aran knockoff voiced by what’s her name from “Glee” and even an appearance by Al Bundy himself at one point. I have to give special props to the dude that voiced “Fix It Felix, Jr.,” the movie’s Mario-ish working class hero, a Southern-drawling, golly-gee throwback that runs around with a hammer that literally has the Midas touch.

I really can’t tell you too much about the storyline, but while it is fairly formulaic at times, the acting and animation is so strong that you can’t help being sucked into the melodrama with a smile on your face. Just about the entire damn movie is an hour and a half of fan service - split-second cameos by Skrillex, graffiti that name drops both “Leeroy Jenkins” and “Sheng Long,” not to mention a sequence where the villain of the film (ingeniously modeled after, of all things, the driver from “Pole Position”) hacks into his computer’s motherboard with a little help from both an NES control pad and the Konami Code. Even moderate video game enthusiasts would get a thrill and a half just tabulating all of the cultural relics herein - it’s like watching a way more focused, way more structured and way more satisfying version of “Scott Pilgrim,” really.

It’s hard not to find the film utterly enjoyable and instantly gratifying - sort of like an all-night “Gunstar Heroes” and Twinkies binge. It’s a movie that really grasps both the source material and the video game culture; as apparent by the inclusion of a Walter Day-ish arcade owner and an end-of-movie Easter egg that harks back to the “Pac-Man” kill screen, the people that made the flick definitely know their way around a Colecovision. Well, that, or they really, really liked “The King of Kong.” Hell, if a Billy Mitchell clone isn’t the sinister, arcade-closing Vaudeville villain in the sequel, I think we might just have to start a riot or two.

Long story short, if you haven’t seen “Wreck-It Ralph” by now, you need to. I don’t care if it’s released by an ungodly, Satanic hyper-conglomerate that acquisition-by-acquisition, is hell-bent on purchasing the rights to ever pop culture institution ever in history, this is as an ass-kicking homage to joystick culture that nobody worth their Earthworm Jim cartridges should overlook. Not only is it one of the most enjoyable animated movies to come out this year, “Wreck-It Ralph” might just be one of the ten best movies you’ll catch in 2012 altogether. And it certainly beats the shit out of what Pixar’s been hocking us for the last two summers, that’s for sure…

1 comment:

  1. I recently saw it. It was an unexpectedly great movie.


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