Writing this review, I have the unenviable task of trying to explain why I didn’t care for a film that I know will receive mostly adoring praise from my fellow complainers. At the end of the screening I attended, I could hear the rest of the local crew saying how great they found the film, with one even saying that he got a little misty by the end of the film. To all of that I give a great, “Meh,” and will attempt to present the reasons why I give Wreck-It Ralph the big thumbs down.
In Wreck-It Ralph we follow the titular character, a video game villain from days gone by, voiced by the great John C. Reilly. The product of a game that seemingly dates back to the Donkey Kong era, it is Ralph’s job to climb up an apartment high-rise, destroying windows and such along the way, all while the game’s hero, Fix-It Felix Jr. (voiced by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer), follows with his trusty magical hammer to handle repairs. At the end of every game the building’s tenants throw Ralph to the mud below and hoist their hero Felix onto the shoulders in celebration.
After decades of this treatment, Ralph has decided he has had enough of the dark life. Believing that a medal of achievement is the only thing standing in his way of moving from his shanty in the dump into a penthouse, he breaks away and enters other games in his quest.
The first game he attempts along his quest is a Halo-esque first person shooter named Hero’s Duty. Donning the protective gear of a fallen soldier, Ralph takes up arms in the war between humans and monster-like bugs. Losing his nerve (and his gun) at the first sight of these creatures, it is only once he notices the medal at the top of a fortress that Ralph shows any initiative. Scaling the walls of the compound and forcing his way in, Ralph is able to grab the award seconds before he and a bug are thrown from one game to the next via escape pod.
After crashing, Ralph finds himself in a brightly colored racing game called Sugar Rush. With bright colors and generic dance pop music pulsing around him, he notices that his medal is stuck in a nearby candy-cane tree. While climbing to reclaim his prize, he meets Vanellope von Schweetz, a glitchy denizen of the game. Vanellope, voiced by Sarah Silverman, manages to snatch the medal away, intent on using the gold piece as her entrance fee into the next race.
Vanellope is an outcast in the Sugar Rush world, seemingly bullied by the other candy racers and persecuted by the ruler of the game world, King Candy. The only reason any of the characters can give for their treatment of Vanellope is the fact that she is a glitch, not a true game character, and a hazard to all of their safety. Ralph takes it upon himself to help Vanellope in her quest for a race victory, all while Felix and Hero’s Quest Sergeant Calhoun (Glee’s Jane Lynch) search for the bug that is now busy hatching a plan to take over this new world.
The problems that I have with Ralph are that everything found here we have seen a hundred times before. A misunderstood character on a search for redemption and respect? Check. A storyline that focuses on the effect bullying can have on helpless kids? Check. A cartoonish villain, introduced for no other reason than the fact that this a cartoon and the heroes need to defeat a physical being and not just the concept of kids being mean to each other? Yeppers.
All of the voice actors in Ralph do exceptional jobs, although Silverman’s little girl voice begins to grate by the end of the film, and the full-length debut of director Rich Moore (responsible for several classic episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama) is outstanding. The screenplay is adequate; perhaps below your random Pixar feature, but certainly better than 99% of the crap that DreamWorks churns out.
No, my qualms with Ralph boils down to: if you are expecting a family to drop over $50 on a trip to the cinema, shouldn’t there be an attempt at originality. Ralph is a Frankenstein’s monster of various ideals that can be found in countless other animated features. A seemingly benevolent ruler with a secret? Boy, it sure is a surprise to find out he’s evil. A “villain” who is actually a nice guy underneath? You don’t say! And I won’t even point out that the “nice” characters in Sugar Rush appear to be asshole kids; hell, any child in the audience could tell you that half of their schoolmates are unrepentant monsters.
I’m not going to say that Ralph is the worst movie of the year or anything hyperbolic like that; the way 2012 has gone so far, it might squeak onto my Top Ten list, just to pad it out. However, if you are looking for something animated with something new to say, keep looking, because you won’t find it here.
When we first meet Whip Whitaker, the airline pilot played by Denzel Washington in the new film Flight, he is surrounded by the remnants of what appears to be a lost weekend. Downing the backwash from a Corona bottle and snorting a few lines of coke to start the day off right, minutes later he strolls through an airport, now ready to take the lives of his passengers into his hands.
Shortly after takeoff, it becomes apparent that something is wrong with the plane. With the controls nonresponsive and the plane in a freefall, Whip takes over manual control, makes some crazy but effective moves, and manages to crash into a field with a miraculously low number of casualties.
Upon waking up in a hospital room, he finds his old friend Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), now a pilots union rep, who breaks the news about the crash to Whip. More importantly, Charlie also begins laying out the strategy for how to deal with the investigators of the crash, having known Whip’s substance abuse problems since they spent time together in the military. Sure that the crash was due to an equipment failure, but also sure that the toxicology reports will bring back bad news, Charlie immediately brings on disapproving but talented lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) to handle what’s sure to be a complicated case.
What has been sold to audiences through promos as some sort of conspiracy thriller, Flight is actually a ham-fisted look into a life destroyed by drugs and alcohol. Perhaps the greatest decision the filmmakers could have made, and did make, was somehow getting Denzel Washington to agree to star in this film.
Washington, in a career full of iconic roles, manages to trump them by producing a performance that is nothing short of riveting. The fact he does so while working off a script this tired is nothing short of heroic. Drawing us into a searing look at a man willing to destroy every good thing he has in his life, seemingly for no other reasons than wanting to find a release at the bottom of a liquor bottle, and realizing that is what the people in his life expect him to do. Surrounded by enablers (John Goodman playing Whip’s dealer is a revelation), every halfhearted attempt that Whip makes toward sobriety doesn’t fail, so much as gives up at the first sign of some small inconvenience. This isn’t the story of a man looking for redemption; it’s the story of a man looking for rock bottom.
Director Robert Zemeckis returns from CGI purgatory (A Christmas Carol; The Polar Express) to direct his first live-action film in 12 years. A craftsman celebrated for his willingness to take chances with new technologies, bring difficult stories to the screen, and harvest iconic performances out of his actors, the faults with this film aren’t truly his to take credit for. Everyone involved with Flight were working off of a script by veteran screenwriter John Gatins, a man with a filmography dripping with schmaltz. When you watch Washington storm out of an AA meeting so he can find an open bar, well, what else can you expect from the writer of such modern day classics as Real Steel or Keanu Reeves’ Hard Ball?
Know what you are getting into by watching this film this weekend. Realize that you will be watching one of the greatest performances by an actor in this new century, but also know that what Washington does is nearly Herculean when taking into account the script he had to work off of.