Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t like Wreck-It Ralph, Disney‘s newest animated feature (in theaters today – November 2).

Wreck-It Ralph Movie Poster Disney

I’ll just get straight to my main complaints about this film…

Not original enough.

Yes – the concept is clever. And I like how writers carried out several of the details – how characters travel between games, the hub between their worlds (Game Central Station), the various “rules” governing what characters can/can’t do and the relevant consequences. I wish we could have spent more time there, since this was the most original part of the movie.

But – haven’t we seen something like this before? Popular children’s activities coming to life when everyone is gone? cough:cough: ToyStory:cough. Even the “bad guy” support group in Wreck-It Ralph seems to borrow heavily from the the short Toy Story Toon “Small Fry,” about a support group for┬ádiscarded Fun Meal Toys.

I also felt like the main theme of “outsider wanting to ‘belong'” (or “you can change your fate”…hello, Brave) was pretty tired, and the climax of the story employs too many of the standard devices used in so many children’s films (can’t be specific without spoiling anything).

Pop Quiz: Who’s that?

Unless you study up a bit before the movie, or know a lot about video games, you just might miss half the fun of this movie, since it depends so heavily on gaming and pop culture references for the big laughs. My 16yo daughter guffawed loudly during a dance party scene in the movie, then said “It’s Skrillex! Skrillex is the DJ!” Uh…who? (She explained it to me after the movie, so now I know.)

I admit that my reading of Ready Player One earlier this year – a book devoted to both popular and obscure 80’s video game references – might have negatively affected my reception of this movie. I’m a little burned-out on stories that rely so much on winks and nods that seem to distract from more than enhance any actual plot.

Certain animation gave me a headache.

I did not expect this at all, but some of the mannerisms of the characters (meant to replicate how they appeared in video game form) actually gave me a headache. Specifically, all the townsfolk in the Wreck-It Ralph game and the bar-keep Tapper (from the game of the same name). They had choppy, stuttered mannerisms that in 3D, made my eyes truly hurt. I understand their motions were animated this way on purpose, and I wish it hadn’t bothered me so much.

This main character drove me nuts.

Sarah Silverman’s Venellope von Schweetz is in about 85% of the movie, and she drove me CRAZY. Her bratty-ness goes way over the top, and she’s voiced like a character from Rugrats (side note: I hate Rugrats). Every scene she was in was like nails on a chalkboard to me, which…again…was about 85% of the movie.

Just…not…that…funny.

While there were a few good laughs, most of the humor in this movie hit me like a “yuk-yuk-elbow in the side” kind of humor, which I don’t love. It just felt so…juvenile. And before you say “Hey, it’s a kid’s movie! It’s supposed to be juvenile!,” I’d like to argue that we’ve seen much better than this from Disney, and I don’t think it’s too much to hope for some intelligent, clever humor from them.

A few examples: There are two donuts in the movie acting as police officers (officers? donuts? get it?!), and their names are Winchell and Dunkin’ (yuk-yuk! get it?!). Several jokes are milked from the game name “Hero’s Duty” (yuk-yuk! duty! get it?! like doody!). And the frequent name-calling like Stinkbrain, Major Body Odor, and more. I was more often rolling my eyes than letting out an authentic, involuntary chuckle.

Was I watching 30 Rock and Glee?

This is how I imagine the conversation going between Jack McBrayer (who voices Fix-It Felix) and the director: “Hey, you know that super popular character Kenneth that you play on the hit NBC sitcom 30 Rock? We want you to act and sound exactly like him in this movie. In fact, to make it even easier on you, we’ll write you dialogue that sounds like it’s coming straight from Kenneth’s mouth! Ok?!” Ditto that for Jane Lynch (who voices Sergeant Calhoun), except of course swap out Kenneth for Sue Sylvester and 30 Rock for Glee.

I understand that both actors have very particular voices and personality quirks, and it’s hard enough to detach them from the current roles they play on tv. But what I don’t understand is the choice the writers made to make them sound even more like those tv characters with the dialogue they were given.

The villain at the end becomes just a little bit too disturbing.

I’m beginning to dislike the trend of bad guys in kids’ movie starting out as just selfish and conniving, and then becoming absolutely, totally psychotic by the end of the movie. At one point near the end of Wreck-It Ralph, the villain pins Ralph to him and screams something like, “And now you get to WATCH HER DIEEEEE!” with pure evil in his voice and face. Even my 16yo – who really enjoyed the film – said she thought that was too much.

Why you might want to see Wreck-It Ralph anyway (or at least take your kids to see it).

Despite feeling like I was watching Kenneth and Sue Sylvester in a 3D, animated world, their two characters – Fix-It Felix Jr and Captain Calhoun – were the brightest spots in this movie. They have some of the funniest scenes and lines, and even if they do sound like Kenneth and Sue, at least I like Kenneth and Sue (as opposed to basically loathing the Venellope character).

Also, I did like the first 20 minutes or so of the movie – basically, the set up. As I mentioned, I thought the concept was clever and the initial execution was interesting. It’s just when the story really go going that I tuned out.

Many reviewers have commented on the impressive variety of animation in Wreck-It Ralph, and I will agree. The game-hopping format of the movie does allow for several different styles of animation in one movie, and I think this is what my artist daughter liked best about it. It’s bright, colorful, and ever-changing, so (despite the headache I got because of the Wreck-It Ralph townsfolk) at least it is interesting to look at.

Finally, your kids will probably love the video game and pop culture references. My 5yo has only seen stills from the movie and is crazy excited that Bowser has a cameo appearance. I imagine he’ll flip out when he realizes that King Candy (from Candyland) is in much of the film. (Of course, he might also need therapy when King Candy’s true nature is revealed.)

I mean, c’mon, it’s Disney. Chances are, you’re going to see it. Heck, we’ll probably even end up owning this when it comes out on DVD. But I don’t think Wreck-It Ralph will ever be a movie I truly enjoy, and I’m definitely hoping for better from Disney’s next animated feature.

*Disclosure: I was given two media passes to view a pre-screening of Wreck-It Ralph. No compensation was received. All opinions expressed are honest and my own.

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  • Good information to know. I’m not a Sarah Silverman fan so that voice may have bugged me too and the name calling is something I wouldn’t mind but I wouldn’t want to take my kids, although unfortunately this happens in a lot of shows and we talk to them about the fact that it’s not how our family talks to others. Great insight!!