Nostalgia is a lying whore that tells you that entertainment used to be better, that the world wasn’t always a horrible place where the selfish and cruel get ahead in life, that the evil people you knew growing up weren’t that bad after all. It is procrastination and myopia in its most sinister and addictive form. We should all cast out the disease of nostalgia from our lives and try to judge everything we come across rationally, not emotionally. This is much harder than it seems, but do it anyway, or otherwise don’t be offended if someone tells you that pop music in the 60s or 70s or 80s or 90s was no better or worse than the unlistenable garbage polluting the radios today.
The concept of computer people playing within games for the entertainment of humans players has been done before and arguably better, so I’ll spare you the usual plot synopsis/teaser and get to the point of the review.
Since I take reduced damage from nostalgia-elemental attacks, I will judge Wreck-It Ralph on its own merits as a film and not as a vehicle for stirring up childhood memories of wondrous electronic gizmos. The fact that Q*Bert and Zangief are in this movie does not automatically make it a good movie. The fact that the script is emotionally compelling makes it a good movie.
Watching the previews for Wreck-It Ralph, I was expecting it to be something like Despicable Me, which was a perfectly watchable movie about dueling supervillains that was ruined by irritating child characters and babbling/farting Spongebob rejects designed to sell toys (both of which added nothing of value to the plot). Instead of a brainless commercial to shut the kids up for 90 minutes, I got a surprisingly charming character study about societal outcasts doing better than the ostensible leaders and heroes (though even they can do something selfless and wonderful if they put themselves to it).
I liked all of the characters in this movie. The protagonist’s rage at injustice; the naive but still selfless Felix; the Samus wannabe’s go-get-it-with-violence attitude; the self-help group at the beginning; King Candy’s bipolar sweetness and darkness; even the stupidly passive populace and the shrieking little racer girl (to an extent) were memorable and essential to making Wreck-It Ralph work. Even if you disregard all of the promised elements about video games, you have a great collection of characters here, and it’s still quite impressive how many rights they managed to acquire.
There is actual unexpected character development. There are gripping moments of catharsis and revelation. There are overarching themes in Wreck-It Ralph that teach important truths to both the children watching and the longsuffering adults dragged with them:
1. Appearances and labels are generally meaningless constructs perpetuated by the corrupt
2. Fitting in and following the rules are not as important as doing what’s right
3. And screw Nietzsche, sacrificing yourself to help others in their hour of greatest need (even if you won’t get rewarded or recognized for it) is the finest thing anyone can do.
I realize that I’m being emotionally manipulated by the creators of these rosy-cheeked CG cherubs, but there are great axioms to be found nonetheless.
Wreck-It Ralph is filled with seemingly minor details that apparently exist to merely add flavor to the world and are forgotten until later in the film, where they suddenly achieve greater significance and urgency. “Turbo”ing and Felix’s fix-it abilities come into play in major ways; they are not just window dressing. I love touches like this because they encourage the viewer to actually pay attention to the plot rather than just be distracted by the bright primary colors shot into their eyes (though they are very nice colors indeed).
One thing about Wreck-It Ralph that I loathed was the product placement, which goes beyond whorish and into Whore of Babylon-ish. Most of the games shown in the movie are fictional, but the fact that Mentos mint candies are an important plot point should fill you with the proper amount of disgust. This kind of crap takes me out of the movie right away and reminds me that Wreck-It Ralph exists not because it is a good movie (and it is) but because corrupt Hollywood executives allow it to exist. Please don’t do that to me. I need to hang onto every scrap of hope in this rotten world that I can get.
The only thing thing I didn’t like was the 3D, which (as in all movies that aren’t called Avatar) is a pointless and often ugly gimmick that exists to create the illusion of new technological advancement. Wreck-It Ralph‘s visuals were impressive enough on their own without the need for adding squigglevision in post-production.
Trigger warning for babies; spoilers ahead: The movie’s internal logic is often inconsistent. Much like how Penny Arcade often disregards continuity and realism in order to deliver a good joke, Wreck-It Ralph uses all sorts of conceits to make the ride more thrilling. The side effect is a laundry list of quibbles that irritate inquisitive minds. Why does dying outside of your own game make death permanent, yet people do it all the time, yet others are horrified when Ralph leaves his game? If they can travel along power lines, why don’t they leave the arcade and go to a personal computer somewhere that never gets shut down? Why can’t glitches leave their games? (How much jumbled code does a character have to have before it’s considered a glitch?) Why does resetting a game bring everything but the characters’ memories back to normal? Why doesn’t the arcade employee unplug all of the electricity-guzzling machines at night? But none of these gripes are enough to ruin my enjoyment of the film as a whole. Though they nag at me, I can safely ignore them and appreciate the entertaining children’s movie I’m watching for the previously stated reasons.
What’s more is that I was completely satisfied with the completely predictable happy ending. I didn’t feel cheated or condescended to. There were a few logical cop-outs, as stated in the previous paragraph, but I was pleased with the end result. And what’s more is that with all the genres the movie covers, Wreck-It Ralph could make for an interesting video game itself, not that there’s any chance of a movie tie-in game being worth playing.
Nostalgia may mean nothing to me, but Wreck-It Ralph goes beyond its trappings of homages to 1980s arcade games and cheap advertising to deliver something true enough and adorable enough to soften this internet tough guy’s heart.