When the arcade closes down, and the vgames switch off, the characters come to life. An interesting premise that takes Toy Story‘s core concept and flips it towards video game characters. Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, is a lovable character, but the villain in his game, a role that he no longer wishes to fill. Heading on a journey of self-discovery to become a hero, Ralph releases a deadly enemy and chaos ensues.
Wreck-It Ralph feels, at surface level, extremely by the books, and yet, when we delve deeper into the core of the characters and the story, we come to see an idea that is fleshed out and far more interesting that at first glance. This tale, turning ten years old this year, is one that, admittedly, I completely missed upon release. It was only around five or so years later that I managed to finally capture this often-overlooked gem. So, as this movie makes its way to a decade of life, let’s look at the animation in a bit more depth and what makes this a worthwhile viewing experience.
Ralph, from the very start of the film, highlights the moral of the story: being oneself, and realising your place in the world. This is quickly established by meeting the villain, where we are introduced to cameos galore of our favourite video game characters. This a gift that keeps on giving throughout this movie. The fact that we as an audience see Ralph’s purpose before he does, only adds to our empathy for him as we watch his journey unfold. There is nowhere that this is seen better than when Ralph meets the annoying Vanellope, voiced excellently by Sarah Silverman: a character that for most of the film serves no purpose other than to annoy Ralph, and by extension, the audience.
This eventually allows us to realise that these two protagonists, although vastly different in personality and visual style, are nowhere near as different as we may believe. In fact, they hold the commonality of searching for acceptance, something that everyone searches for. The only difference is that in this arcade world, these characters are substitutes for our own societal pressures, which is the most powerful aspect of this film.
Looking past the story towards the animation, we should commend Disney for its ever-changing abilities in terms of style. For each game that Ralph goes into or game character that he interacts with, we are treated with a very different sense of appeal and characterisation, from different animated frame rates to different aesthetic colour schemes. This all makes the world feel vast and different. The characters have a flowing movement that feels reminiscent of old arcade games, and it is clear to see that the kinetics of this retro style have been acknowledged and studied. We see this transition to both very cartoony and very realistic, adding to the beauty of the world building.
The well-rounded likability of Ralph is what really allows us to love Wreck-It Ralph. It is how this big-hearted character interacts with others that has allowed this film to become one of the more out there, yet lovable Disney outings. It may never reach the popularity of some other Disney films, but there is no doubt that Ralph holds a place in the world of animated cinema. A place that shows us, even ten years on, that video games, and the characters that inhabit them, can be as three-dimensional as the people playing them.