While the team are always focused on the gaming world, there are of course the odd exceptions to the rule - when gaming crosses over with other aspects of this “real world” thing that people keep insisting I visit once in a while. Back in 2010, we saw the amazing Scott Pilgrim vs the World, a live-action adaptation of Brian Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series – chock full of gaming references that made the film an instant favourite of mine. When the Fairy Fountain music from Zelda: Ocarina of Time played filled the cinema, I was in my own personal heaven.
So when Disney announced that they’d be making a Toy Story-esque movie about video games, I was naturally excited. The trailer blew me away – much like Toy Story, it didn’t simply reference games like the ones I grew up with – it involved the very characters I grew up with – Zangief from Street Fighter, Dr Robotnik from Sonic, and Kano from Mortal Kombat were suddenly shown in glorious cinematic fashion, appearing in a film all about videogames. I couldn’t wait – but oh, I had to. Unlike the 2nd November release date in the US, the UK had to wait three months for a release, making this one of my most anticipated cinema releases ever. So, after months of waiting, I finally got to see it this week. At last – here’s my review.
By day, Litwak’s Arcade is a regular place, where kids come to play arcade titles both old and new. But when nighttime falls and Litwak’s closes, the inhabitants of the arcade games leave their gaming duties to relax, socialise and generally live their lives – with every arcade machine connected by the electronic hub that is Gaming Central Station. One such resident is Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the “bad guy” of the retro arcade title Fix-it Felix Jr. His job within the game is to attack the building containing the other residents of the game, while Felix races to fix the building before Ralph succeeds. However, even when nighttime falls, the residents of Fix-it Felix Jr shun him, leaving him to live alone in the dump. Despite the words of his Bad-Guy Support Group assuring him that villains are necessary, Ralph decides he’s had enough when he is not invited to his game’s 30th Anniversary party. He wants to get himself a medal, prove he can be a hero, and return to win the respect of his fellow characters.
As he travels between games in search of his goal, he of course gets more than he bargains for. His quest to find a medal takes him to Hero’s Duty, a light-gun arcade cabinet with obvious references to Halo and Call of Duty, with Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) being a no-nonsense squadron leader who directs the troops and the player during the game. He later finds himself in the very different world of Sugar Rush – a Mario Kart style racer with a candyland theme to it. There he meets the adorable but smart-mouthed Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) with whom he shares more in common with than he expects – Vanellope is a glitchy character who is not allowed to participate in the races, told by her fellow residents that she wasn’t supposed to even exist. As you’d expect, Ralph and Vanellope find each other a driving force (get it?) to overcome their problems - and all the while Felix searches desperately for Ralph, as their own game is threatened to be shut down due to Ralph’s leaving.
In terms of gaming references – the game’s first half is absolutely chock-full, right from the start. The arcade contains recognisable machines such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Street Fighter and Dance Dance Revolution, with 2D Ryu and Ken having a quick chat and running off-screen when the arcade closes, voiced by their actors from Street Fighter IV. Once Ralph gets to Game Central Station, I really wanted to pause the movie to really look out into the crowds of people – I spotted Cammy and Chun-Li, Frogger and The Paperboy – whilst Sonic spouts out a safety warning on a video billboard.
That’s not to say it’s only character cameos that reference real gaming – there’s a fair bit of name dropping, references to mini-games and such. One scene had Ralph searching a lost and found box – with one of the items inside being an exclamation mark accompanied by the appropriate sound from the Metal Gear series. I won’t spoil all the references, but there’s a fair few to be had. Of course, being a Disney movie, the film’s got to make sense for entire families who may or may not be largely familiar with games - so, whereas Scott Pilgrim left a few question marks on the faces of my parents and a few others, Wreck-It Ralph’s core story doesn’t expect you to have any of this prior knowledge to really appreciate it’s plot.
While it’s understandable that the real game references don’t completely fill the movie, I did feel the flow of the movie felt a little unbalanced. The trailers led me to believe that the story would mainly focus on game-jumping, with Ralph hopping between universes doing different things – think Kingdom Hearts – albeit a movie with game-based worlds rather than a game with movie-based worlds. However, once Ralph enters the Sugar Rush world about half way in, Ralph spends most of his time there alongside Vanellope. While this works in terms of storyline, it did feel that the pacing slowed at this point, and the game references in general became a lot less apparent – in fact, a lot of Sugar Rush’s themes seemed to revolve around the candyland concept as opposed to the kart-racing idea. While I enjoyed the concept of Sugar Rush, the scenery felt a little overused when I felt that introducing one more game-world would have freshened things up a bit and represented another genre – perhaps a Streets of Rage style brawler or a Metal Slug type scenario. Of course, this was me viewing the movie specifically as a gamer, so my expectations may have been different to your average cinema-goer.
That said, Wreck-It Ralph had an enjoyable plot, and is definitely worth a watch whether you’re a gamer or not. While it’s of course a movie designed with kids in mind, the story has it’s strong moments and I was pleasantly surprised by the route it took, even though it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I’m not sure I’d class the film as the “Toy Story of the new generation”, but it was a worthwhile ride and I’ll definitely look forward to buying it when it’s released on disc later in the year. And as with Scott Pilgrim, it was just nice seeing a nice spattering of gaming references in a mainstream movie release.
+ Plenty of game references and cameos
+ Typical heartwarming Disney movie
+ Good soundtrack
+ Vanellope is awesome
- Sugar Rush world often focuses more on the Candyland aspect rather than the Karting genre
- Not as much game-hopping as I’d have liked
Wreck-It Ralph is in cinemas now. Go see it!