Wreck-It Ralph (2013)

Wreck-It Ralph (2013)

Sometimes fate swings in your favour and you get everything that you want – purely by chance. On the other hand fate can be one mean son of a gun! Now, switch “fate” with trans-Atlantic movie release schedules and you’ll get where I’m coming from here. Folks dwelling in the USA sometimes have things pretty sweet with relation to film releases; you get most of the big releases first. This means that back over here in the UK we have to endure endless gushing and praise over films we won’t see for days, weeks or even months. One film that’s been plaguing me since November 2012 is one that I’ve been eagerly following for some time… Wreck-It Ralph. But my time has come. Now the question is simply how on Earth can this film live up to all of my expectations? Is it a victim of its own hype in my mind?

Wreck-It Ralph (2013)

Why did Wreck-It Ralph appeal so much to me? Well, it’s essentially designed for my demographic – people that grew up in the 80’s with a healthy interest in video games. The kind of people that were raised on 8-bit and 16-bit consoles. A time when gamepads only had a stick / d-pad to control where you go and 2-3 buttons to control your actions. The music was marvellous and the games were hard as nails. Sure, they looked awful by today’s standards, but they were damn fun. I “invested” much of my younger years in those consoles and still enjoy my forays into the modern world of gaming… Wreck-It Ralph draws on all of this. And to spectacular effect.

Wreck-It Ralph focuses on Ralph (John C. Reilly) – the bad guy in an old-school arcade game called “Fix-It Felix”. Ralph is the smashing and bashing bad guy that harasses an apartment block and it’s up to the player, as Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), to scale the building and throw him off the top. Much like the Donkey Kong – Super Mario dynamic in days gone by. The problem? Ralph’s fed up of never being praised and constantly being feared by everyone. Sure, he’s got his (AWESOME) bad guys’ support network, but he longs for more. So he goes Turbo. He switches games in a quest for that medal. He runs the gamut in Hero’s Duty where he meets the Alpha Female commando Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and through a series of events ends up in another game: Sugar Rush where he’s got to deal with the chaos caused for him by a young “karter” called Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). This lands him and everyone he’s known in one hell of a lot of trouble…

Wreck-It Ralph (2013)

Game Central Station: The home of some of your favourite characters from yesteryear!

But before I really delve into my review, can I just draw focus to Disney’s short that precedes Wreck-It Ralph? The beautifully animated “Paper Man“. Everyone’s accustomed to a little animation before their feature film with a Disney animated movie, and this is simply one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s so beautifully made and has lashings of humour and touching moments. It has a total of zero lines of dialogue too. I urge you to turn up on time for your showing, as you’ll miss one of the sweetest shorts I’ve seen in quite some time if you don’t.

OK, I’m back with Wreck-It Ralph. What can I say? Where to begin? Let’s kick off with the look of it. Disney have clearly taken their time adapting a video game world into the animated world. They have incorporated so many nods to the old 8 and 16-bit console generation: from the stunted way in which the citizens of the Fix-It Felix universe jerk around the screen to the innumerable cameos they’ve squeezed in from real video game properties. Although Wreck-It Ralph is a totally made up game to give us our protagonists, you can expect to see everyone from Sonic the Hedgehog to Kano from Mortal Kombat to Pac-Man from… erm… Pac-Man. They’ve really gone to town on acquiring licenses from Sega, Nintendo, Atari and many other publishing houses to use their characters. I can’t emphasise enough the effect this has on making the world so believable. It also pleases the folks like me that know every beep and boop from so many video game franchises over the years.

Just... so... many... references...

Just… so… many… references…

Whilst I could gush on about all the neat cameos Disney has wedged in there, I’ll come back on track with the review! One of the things that entertained me most was the plot. I thought I had it all figured out going off the trailers alone, but there were enough little flourishes to keep it exciting and entertaining. Although an animated film from Disney that’s aimed at a younger demographic is never going to be Cloud Atlas, it’s nice to see that intrigue can be maintained. Whilst we’re on the kids front, there’s more than enough in the movie to keep them happy too. Although the film has countless nods to retro video games and other things that only an adult would understand, it’s definitely got its core audience catered for too. Laughs are not in short supply in Wreck-It Ralph.

Wreck-It Ralph (2013)

It’s unusual for me to credit voice work in an animated film, but you have to give credit to the casting crew here, as each voice really “suits” the character. I couldn’t imagine anyone else but Jack McBrayer voicing Felix, or John C. Reilly voicing Ralph. They’re perfect fits. Similarly, I’ve never been a voracious fan of either Jane Lynch or Sarah Silverman but they really do credit to their on-screen characters. You know what to expect from Lynch by now – she’s the hard ass. Always has been, always will be. This makes her a perfect match for the take no crud Calhoun. And although Silverman is putting on the voice to come across like a young child, it all sounds very natural. Good work folks, good work… everyone involved.

Wreck-It Ralph definitely lived up to the lofty expectations I’d created in my mind. I knew I’d get all the video game references from yesteryear, but I didn’t bank on an enjoyable story and the beautiful touches that the animation team have layered into the movie. For the second time in a week, it’s great to see that my expectations have been met by a juggernaut of a movie. Wreck-It Ralph may just be the start of a beautiful new franchise from Disney. Let’s not scupper it now guys, OK? This could be the next Toy Story. A Toy Story for the modern video game generation.

It’s always nice to have your expectations met. It’s not so nice to be kept in limbo whilst everyone else enjoys the latest buzz movie. It’s like having a birthday party where everyone else can play with your presents, but you’ve got to wait a further two months. In the meantime, all of your friends have told you how much fun they’ve been having and you start to stew in your own juices until you feel like Kano from Mortal Kombat and want to tear their heart out. Fatality. That being said… what goes around, comes around. Thank you Disney and Marvel for choosing to pull a role-reversal for Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. We may only get them a week before the US, but what a week it’ll be!

Phage Factor:

5 Star

Film Phage's Quarantine Award

Brave (2012)

Pixar's Brave

Teenage issues eh? Ungrateful parents who’ve never done anything for you in their entire lives, issues with your body getting more bumpy and bulbous (hopefully in the right areas), and invoking magic to get your own way to prevent an arranged marriage. Wait… what?! I’m sure we can all attest to two out of those three issues. If you can say “yes” to all three then kudos to your for being brought up in mediaeval Britain with wizards and warlocks. And if you’re reading this, then I guess Paganism really pays off considering you’d be about 8-900 years old by now. AND you managed to find Film Phage. You sir, or madam, deserve a medal. Or an eye of newt, whichever you want.

So why am I bothering to invoke references to teenage life and mediaeval times? Well, you can thank Brave for that. Pixar’s latest animated endeavour focusing on the story of Merida (Kelly Macdonald): first born to King Fergus (Billy Connelly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) of Scotland. Her tale isn’t a new one: a young girl feels controlled by her overbearing mother, wants to rebel, rebels, deals with the repercussions of doing so and learns a lesson. You could take any Disney / Pixar / Dreamworks story and put the same framework over it, which is why I went into Brave not exactly expecting much; especially since I feel jaded after my last foray into the animated world with The Lorax. But you have to give credit to Pixar… they sure do know how to show and tell a story!

Whilst regular readers will know I get especially hung up on predictable plot lines, I guess you have to forgo these irritations in any U / PG-rated movie aimed primarily at kids, so I will. For now. Beyond this, my reasons for my initial frostiness towards the film stem from the trailers not engaging me in the slightest. They were devoid of humour and quickly became stale. Couple this with the hoo-ha surrounding the “first female protagonist of a Pixar film” and I was turned off. Making a fuss of gender – for me – means there’s nothing much else to brag about in the film. If you felt the same, then I urge you to put this aside, as the film is definitely worth your pounds and pennies, dollars and cents, or pieces of eight… whatever.

Ginger children: no matter how many buns they eat, they’ll never gain a soul.

Firstly, it looks truly stunning. Pixar really are leaps and bounds ahead of their competition in this regard. Much fuss was made of 2010’s Tangled being the most aesthetically pleasing animated film of all time (Walt Disney played the “female lead” card with that film too because she wasn’t a damsel in distress. We get it, women and men are equals. This isn’t the 1950’s. It’s a given now isn’t it? Let me know when you make a bloody Labrador the lead ok?!), but this blows it out of the water. You also cannot talk about the quality of an animated film without also discussing the voice work. And whilst Brave doesn’t boast A-list Hollywood royalty, it does a fantastic job. I’m very glad of this actually, considering the film’s Scottish setting. There’s nothing worse than a US actor having a ham-fisted attempt at a Scottish accent. You can’t pull it off. Don’t try.

I particularly enjoyed Billy Connelly‘s turn as King Fergus: a rough-and-tumble leader who’s indebted to his loving wife, but also encourages his daughter’s tendencies to wield weapons and act more like a warrior, much to his wife’s disdain. Credit also has to be given to Kelly Macdonald for taking the lead and running with it. Although Macdonald is far older than her on-screen character, she pulls it off. She’s come a long way since 1996 where she starred in Danny Boyle‘s Transpotting. From a tale of heroin-addicts in Glasgow to a tale of a fiery princess… also based in Scotland.

“There Can Only Be One!” Oh wait, wrong Scottish-themed movie.

Sure, it all comes to a head in that saccharine way you expect of animated movies, with no emotionally devastating curveballs (ala Up!), but the story does opt for a charming take on reconciliation between mother and daughter: one that you wouldn’t expect. Although you will wonder why the witch in the movie is still in employment considering her panacea cure-all approach to spell-weaving. Why’d they all have the same outcome? It was also very refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t rely on the cliché guy-meets-girl love story. And no, that’s not a spoiler, as that’s not what the film’s about so reel your anger back in if you thought that was spoiling anything about the movie.

The film’s scope also merits discussion. Pixar and Dreamworks both have a tendency to tackle epics. Not quite Avengers Assemble style epic, but epic nevertheless. How To Train Your Dragon, another Scotland-based romp, is apt here. In that our young protagonist strives for independence and earns his father’s respect. The film also culminates in a whopping great battle – a feast for the eyes. Brave is nothing like this; it’s very pared back and the story never leaves the Scottish glens. Yes, it would be odd to see Merida fly off into space or battle massive super-villains, but there was a lack of “final conflict” between her and anyone. Here the hero wins with love and words, as opposed to steel and bravery, which is ironic considering the title of the film. Some will mourn the loss of such a climax, whilst others will be happy to see a more focused story. The only way to find out is to judge for yourself.

Brave is another shot on target for Pixar, even if not squarely in the bullseye. Whilst it’s not in the same leagues as Toy Story, Monsters Inc. or Wall-E, it’s certainly no Cars 2. Mind you, considering how high Pixar’s standards have been, this is nothing to be ashamed about. Whether the film has the lasting appeal of its contemporaries however remains to be seen. You can’t judge whether a film is a classic without the passage of time.

That is unless you’re the 800 year old Pagan witch that’s still reading this review. For you, it’ll take no time – just mix 56 Bavarian herbs and spices, the blood of a deer and liquid of the scarlet bull and there you go: a potion to see the future. Either that, or it’s how I ended up in ER last weekend. Can’t remember which… I’ll try again and let you know.

Phage Factor:

4 Star