By Samuel Peace
It’s a rare occurrence when the film and game industry cross paths, one which usually doesn’t bode well for either side. Surely it would be easy to turn a game into a film? Just take the script, hire some good actors/actresses to play the characters, and use CGI for the environments and any other unrealistic feature. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that because games focus on what makes their entertainment so popular – the gameplay – thus leaving the story to play second fiddle (or sometimes no fiddle at all). While some games might make for good films (BioShock, Uncharted, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare etc), these have never come to pass. Instead producers chose more recognisable franchises some of which have little to no story at all (for example the recent Battleship movie based on the board game, or the infamous Super Mario Bros film in 1993 which was nothing like the games). Disaster after disaster has led to very few game to film adaptations as movie makers become less willing to put their reputation on the line. However, this has not deterred Walt Disney, which is famed around the world for its animated classics. They wanted to build bridges with the games industry, write them a love letter so to speak. So the concept of Wreck-It Ralph was born.
The idea for the motion picture actually goes all the way back to the late 1980s when arcade gaming was in its prime. However many redesigns saw it pushed further and further away from release until plans were finalised in the mid-2000s. During the production stages, director Rich Moore (best known for his directing roles in a number of The Simpsons and Futurama episodes), said in an interview with MCV that he didn’t want to base the movie around an existing character. He said: “There’s so much mythology and baggage attached to pre-existing titles that I feel someone would be disappointed.” He believed this was a reason why so many movies based on video game franchises typically failed. Instead his vision was to create a fake gaming icon so that he could have the ultimate freedom without the worry of tainting another gaming property.
The plot revolves around the main character Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C Reilly). But instead of being a generic game plot (where the main character is a hero and has to save the world from the bad guy), Ralph is actually the bad guy from the start! He plays the main villain in a fictional arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr. which as you might have guessed has a hero called Fix-It Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer). The game pays homage to the original Donkey Kong, an arcade classic which saw Mario (known then as Jumpman) try to ascend a series of platforms in order to rescue a woman named Pauline from the grasps of the giant gorilla. Donkey Kong’s role was to stop Mario by rolling barrels down to try and knock him off. In Fix-It Felix Jr. Ralph stands atop a skyscraper and chucks debris down to try and knock off Felix whose aim is to fix all the broken windows while ascending the building.
The problem is Ralph is fed up of being the bad guy and not getting any recognition. He is finally pushed over the edge when Felix is given all the credit for the game’s success and has a party thrown for him (Ralph not invited) to celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary. When he crashes it, he is quite simply told that bad guys do not deserve recognition and he would need a medal to be a good guy and a winner. Determined to get a medal and prove his worth, Ralph decides to ‘game jump’ – which is to enter another arcade game via the hub where all the games connect (the power supply). His quest to find a medal is, as you would expect, not straight forward and there is plenty of entertainment right until the end.
The first half of Wreck-it Ralph is by far the best. With real life game cameos galore and an interesting plot, there really is something for everyone. One of the more memorable scenes (which was in the trailer) saw Ralph in a ‘bad guy’ support group which was attended by some of gaming’s most iconic villains such as Bowser (Super Mario games), Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog games) and Clyde (Pac-Man games). There are so many other subtler references too which help bring the world to life. With all these famous faces it was important that the main fictional characters were made to feel authentic too so they wouldn’t be outshone. Both Ralph and Felix deliver on this part with mannerisms and abilities akin to the classic characters we all know and love. They are later joined by other fictional cast members including the fantastic Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).
Unfortunately the second half of the film falls into the stereotypical Disney ‘be yourself’ trap with predictable results. There are not many game cameos or references that have not already been seen either, as the story focuses more on the development of our main fictional heroes and villains. However, it’s the chemistry between them, which manages to save the film from drowning in mediocrity. Each persona is vastly different from one another and makes for some interesting combinations. While the plot contains some foreseeable twists and turns it still manages to round off nicely with a Mario Kart like race mixed with an alien invasion.
Despite some shortcomings, Wreck-It Ralph manages to capture the real essence of the classic arcade era. It has some truly wonderful references which will appeal to both young and old audiences. The main cast of fictional characters are the stars of the show however, and would not be out of place in the real world of gaming. Moore’s experience with The Simpsons is exhibited with a great range of humorous gags and along with the art style makes the film feel more like a Pixar production than a Disney studios film, which is for the best. While not perfect it is definitely the best film/game crossover ever made, and that alone is worth seeing.