Wreck It Ralph – Review

Wreck-It Ralph

Grade: B

Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman

Despite owning Pixar, Disney just can’t seem to replicate their genius. Wreck-It Ralph is as close as they’ve come, and it is arguably better than Pixar’s Brave (which may be no coincidence that it is their first film Post Disney (re)take over). Ralph is enjoyable, but never manages to establish the undercurrent of real emotion and pathos that a Pixar film has going. Not to mention they squander a golden opportunity to really have fun with the video game setting, by only allowing Ralph into two games. I needed a montage of in jokes and pop culture video game references. Seriously.

Ralph is an unappreciated villain of his video game that has been operated in the arcade for some thirty years. The setup is very similar to Toy Story, in that once the kids leave, the games come alive and have lives of their own. However, no kid laid in bed thinking that the games played without him like they do about toys. Ralph sets out to prove he’s more than just a bad guy, after the highlight of the film that is the opening scene, which is Ralph at a bad guy support group. All the characters and their interaction, as well as the inside jokes about their behavior was a gift to a geek. Then they mostly dropped it.
The film is funny, in a weird way that it blends the over joking of the Will Ferrell brand of comedy (Ralph is voiced by Ferrell vet Reilly) and the traditional kids Disney humor. It can sometimes be a little awkward when it doesn’t gel. Needless to say, things get complicated and Ralph’s journey from just pretending to do a good thing, to actually doing one is solidified. And Ralph is a great character, if a little ape-ish.
But it’s just not up to snuff with what my expectations are from being spoiled by Pixar. If I hadn’t known who made it, I would’ve been able to tell you that it was a Disney or Dreamworks project. It is definitely a step in the right direction, and considering Ralph 2 is supposedly featuring a team up with Super Mario, all my dreams may come true.

 

 

Posted on February 11, 2014, in Movies, reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I reviewed Wreck It Ralph back when it was in theaters. I think I enjoyed it quite a bit more than you did. Ironically, it sounds like that may be in large part due to the fact I’m not much of a gamer. I thought the movie had just the right amount of in-jokes. More would have been too much for me. As it is, I’m sure there were video game in-jokes I missed.

    Daffy and I actually differed quite a bit in our reactions to Wreck It Ralph. I liked it more than he did too. He was, if I recall, put off by some of the crude humor. That frankly didn’t bother me. But, different strokes. We also disagreed on Frozen which I loved and he merely liked.

    I’m going to disagree with a few points you made here. One, I don’t think Wreck-It-Ralph, as good as it is, is Disney’s best offering in recent years. I prefer Tangled and Frozen both of which I consider to be modern classics. Both of which I consider to be vastly superior to anything Pixar has done since Toy Story 3.

    Which brings me to my next point. Pixar, baby, what have you done for me lately?

    I will stack Disney feature animation’s releases up against Pixar’s recent output and easily give the nod to Disney Feature animation. Pixar used to be better than its competitors. Now, Disney feature animation is showing them up. Pixar, with it’s unnecessary cash-in sequels, is looking more and more like Dreamworks by comparison.

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  2. I haven’t seen Frozen, but was underwhelmed with Tangled. And yes Pixar has dropped off starting with Brave, then Cars 2, Monsters U, and now developing Nemo 2… I was sort of ignoring all of that since I haven’t seen any of those but Brave. But yea, Pixar’s demise is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen, Disney getting their hands on it has really weakened them.

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    • Well, you know Daffy and I are kind of Disney experts/obsessives. (I’ll be interested to hear his thoughts should he pop in.) So you’re probably going to get some pretty strong opinions any time the subject of Disney comes up.

      I don’t really think you can say that Pixar’s dip in quality is caused by Disney purchasing it. At least not directly. The same people are still in charge. Two things have changed. One, Pixar is expected to put out a movie every year. They used to have more flexibility. But their release schedule has been slightly accelerated. Two, John Lasseter is now overseeing all of Disney animation as well as being involved in Imagineering projects at the parks. One might speculate he has been stretched too thin.

      But really, I think what has happened with Pixar was inevitable. They had an amazing run of movies that were creatively and commercially successful. And even at their weakest, they are still extremely successful. Cars 2 made a lot of money. Brave was disappointing by Pixar standards, but still good enough for most other studios. They have yet to release a box office flop. Monsters University didn’t raise the bar, but it was good by Dreamworks standards.

      The headline to me is how much Disney feature animation has raised it’s game. Princess and the Frog was not great. But it was a big step up from what the studio had been releasing previously. Tangled, Wreck-it-Ralph and Frozen have all been successful with critics and audiences alike. Frozen has been the most successful of the lot which tells me that Disney feature animation has momentum on its side.

      It’s said you never recognize when you are living in a golden age. I remember the Disney renaissance of the late 80’s/early 90’s. I get the same feeling from Disney’s latest offerings.

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  3. I often focus on a film’s weaknessess on my first viewing and will sometimes upgrade my overall opinion later. I can’t find my previous comments on these movies, but I don’t think my ratings have changed much.
    Frozen has elements which bother me. The snowman Olaf is annoying to me and while his song is fun, it is not really necessary to the movie. The wild inconsistency of the songs is more troubling. Some of the songs are excellent, but only a few of them actually sound like they belong in the same show. That is not true in the best of Disney’s musical films. That said, the strengths Frozen does possess are so strong that it is a film I would definitely reccomend.
    My initial judgement of Tangled has improved markedly, and was probably due to that same musical inconsistency popping up at the very beginning of the movie. I’ve realized though, that if I wait that first song out, the rest of the film is very cohesive. Tangled is not a classic on the level of Pinocchio or Beauty & the Beast, but is probably the best musical cartoon released since Aladdin.
    I like Wreck-it Ralph pretty well, but yes, the poop humour was jarring to me. I don’t mind well-placed blue humour, but I don’t think this met that designation.

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    • My first viewing can go either way. For example, I was probably too harsh on Brave in my first viewing. And possibly too effusive in my praise of Frozen. I did love Tangled right out of the gate. And subsequent viewings have reinforced my original high opinion of that film. I’m not sure I can put it on the same level as Beauty and the Beast. But I can talk about it in the same breath. If they aren’t equals, they are pretty dang close.

      I’m far from a musical expert. So the “wild inconsistency of the songs” in Frozen wasn’t something I registered. To me, they were all catchy. My kids still sing them around the house. They get stuck in my head all the time. Like right now. Dammit. I’ll need to rewatch Frozen to decide if I still think it is a modern classic. I can see a slight downgrade. But I don’t think my opinion is likely to change dramatically. And yes, I liked Olaf. That surprised me too.

      I did read a review from a critic I respect who loved Tangled and hated Frozen. I mean really hated it. This took me completely by surprise because I consider the movies to be quite similar. The critic even acknowledged as much. He chalked it up to his emotional reaction. He found Frozen overly manipulative and just couldn’t give into it. While he was able to get caught up in Tangled despite the fact that they are largely the same machine.

      I tend to be a sucker for Disney musicals. Especially the ones where a plucky princess belts out a song about her dreams and desires whether it be to leave a tower, live like a human or escape her poor provincial life. So it’s no surprise that Frozen and Tangled are catnip for me. It’s also no surprise that all three of us, with our varying tastes, would rank these three movies differently. But I think we can all agree that all three of the movies are solid efforts from Disney well worth checking out.

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  4. I am in no way a Disney expert, but I’m also not a Disney hater. Marvel’s films have remained about equal in quality after the takeover. I’m excited they are bringing star wars back.

    Pixar however, cancelled an interesting project about the last two newts in the world, in favor of Cars 2 or Monsters U (can’t remember) right after they were bought out. There original dinosaur picture was pushed back two years, and we get Nemo 2 announced. The Pixar Inception (it takes place in the brain, don’t remember the film name) has received little updates. Yes, Pixar was bound to run aground for a while, but it would be one thing to have new pictures not be as good as old ones, but it’s that now they’re following the 90s Disney formula of sequels for everything. And that saddens me.

    Disney’s newer stuff like Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph, Bolt etc. just seem to be out of place. They’re trying to meld their traditional humor with this more cynical and crude humor and it just feels weird to me, disingenuous. And even Princess & the Frog which was almost a complete throwback (racial stereotypes and all) only proved how out of the game that stuff is, and that they can’t do it as well anymore either. I feel like they’re in identity crisis, and maybe Frozen and Tangled will start showing the new face of Disney, but I don’t think they’ve really come into their own with it yet.

    And my first viewing is generally good. I tend to want to get lost in the story, my analytic mind takes a backseat and I analyze afterward. Like Roger Ebert said, I want to love the movie. And if you take that away from me, it’s your fault.

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    • I think you’re reading too much into some of those changes. No one at Disney is flexing any muscle on John Lasseter at Pixar. Bob Iger’s predecessor, Michael Eisner, lost his job largely due to a power struggle with Lasseter. Iger has pissed Lasseter off, but isn’t about to take him on over how to run Pixar. I think those things would likely have happened regardless of Disney’s involvement.

      The truth is, Disney and Pixar both needed each other. Disney probably needed Pixar more than Pixar needed Disney at the time. But without Disney, Pixar didn’t have the distribution and marketing machine that made its movies commercial smashes. I’m sure they would have found a new partner. But they almost certainly would have been less successful away from Disney then they were together.

      I can see what you are saying about Disney struggling to find an identity. I think that was apparent with Princess and the Frog and Bolt. although I think with Tangled, Wreck It Ralph and Frozen, they have found their modern voice. It may be more cynical and crude than what we traditionally think of as Disney entertainment. But audiences have been rejecting Disney’s old formula since Pocahontas. Can’t blame them from learning some new tricks from Dreamworks. (Heck, Disney started them with Aladdin).

      I do wonder a bit about your comment on Disney sequels in the 90s. Are you referring to direct-to-video sequels? I don’t really think Pixar has sunk that low. But they have lost some of their prestige while other animation studios have been improving and Disney seems to have gotten its groove back.

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      • I think Pixar was going to hit a slow patch at some point. Pretty much any studio or director or actor or writer will. To me, Pixar has always been ahead of Dreamworks except for Shrek of course (and that franchise has been tarnished by two lesser sequels).

        When Disney itself went from leading the way to following the crowd for a while after THe Lion King, Pixar stepped up. Then Dreamworks came along. But Dreamworks seemed to level off pretty quickly after the first two Shreks and Antz.

        Pixar kinda filled some time with the original Cars, then got its groove going again with Ratatouille Wall-E (my personal favorite Pixar film). and Up. In some ways, there was nowhere else to go after that trio but down. But there nowhere near down for the count.

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        • Everyone eventually hits a slow patch. As you say, it was inevitable. It was truly amazing that Pixar avoided it as long as they did.

          Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner had a plan for dealing with Pixar and John Lasseter. His plan hinged on them eventually releasing a turkey. He knew eventually he was going to have to renegotiate his deal with Pixar. And he planned to do it when the studio was at a low point. But that low point never came. Eisner was sure it would happen eventually.

          At one point, Eisner got impatient. He reportedly decided to send Lasseter a message. Disney barely supported the video release of The Incredibles and it sold very poorly. This move cost Disney quite a bit in lost revenue. But it sent a message to Pixar: you need Disney. Probably not surprisingly, Lasseter didn’t take the threat well.

          Tensions between Eisner and Lasseter reached a boiling point over Finding Nemo. Eisner saw an early cut of the film and proclaimed it a disaster. And by all accounts, it was. This was not at all unusual for Pixar movies. Toy Story had bee a mess for years before it was finally reinvented as a buddy comedy. But Eisner could barely contain his glee. He went around telling everyone who would listen that Pixar was finally about to fall on its face. He would have them eating out of his hand.

          Lasseter was incensed. Obviously, he fixed Nemo (he credits the casting of the criminally under-rated Albert Brooks with saving the film). It went on to become Pixar’s biggest success at the time. And although that success reflected well on Eisner as CEO, he wasn’t at all happy about it. It gave Lasseter to the leverage he needed to essentially oust Eisner as CEO.

          Eisner was already under attack from several sides. But none of Eisner’s many enemies had the power to unseat him. If Eisner wanted to ditch Harvey Weinstein, the board was okay with that. Miramax had fallen short of expectations. But when Lasseter basically announced that he wouldn’t work with Disney as long as Eisner was in charge, Eisner’s days were numbered.

          As for Dreamworks, well, they had their roots in another Eisner feud. Jeffrey Katzenbverg was Eisner’s right-hand man ad Disney for years. Eisner had brought Katzenberg with him from Paramount to run the studio. In fact, Katzenberg can be credited in part with saving Disney animation. Early on, Eisner wanted to shut it down. Katzenberg was convinced by Roy Disney and others to keep animation going which lead to the renaissance of the late 80s and early 90s.

          Katzenberg had signed a sweetheart deal when he came over to Disney. He had a bonus in his contract that gave him a piece of the profits from everything he created. Since he was largely credited with the success of Disney’s animated rebirth, that meant he would get a slice of all of those profits when he left. The Lion King, a record-breaking smash at the box office, was Katzenberg’s baby. It was going to make him a very rich man.

          Eisner had a pattern of building up allies, feeling threatened by them and then tearing them down. That’s what happened between him and Katzenberg (who, by all accounts, was abrasive). Katzenberg kept trying to position himself as Eisner’s heir (which, in fairness, was a position he was clearly being groomed for). Eisner wasn’t ready to think about passing the torch and decided to run his friend out of town.

          Katzenberg was hurt and stunned by what he saw as a personal betrayal. But really, things had just gotten started. Eisner didn’t realize that by canning Katzenberg, he was triggering that huge bonus. I forget the amount, but it was an enormous payout. Eisner bristled at the idea and refused to pay it. Long story short, there were lawsuits. Every time Eisner refused to pay, the amount of the lawsuits increased. The case was of course settled for an undisclosed sum. But you know Katzenberg got paid.

          Katzenberg, now a free agent, joined up with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen to form Dreamworks SKG. Katzenberg is the K. Naturally, he started his own animation studio there poaching animators from Disney. There was a bidding war because hand-drawn animation was a hot commodity. Katzenberg also brought over the idea for Antz which was based on A Bug’s Life which was in development at Pixar at the time of Katzenberg’s departure.

          Since then, Dreamworks went on to great success basically counter-programming against Disney. Dreamworks had a formula for animated features which were more contemporary than Disney. Meanwhile, Disney feature animation was slowly sliding into irrelevance. That brings us back to the part where Pixar and Disney almost parted ways.

          Exit Eisner. Enter his replacement, Bob Iger. Iger was a finance guy and not a creative like Eisner. He knew his top priority was winning back Pixar. So he made a deal to buy them out. The deal was initially criticized by some for giving Pixar too much. Lasseter was basically going to be in charge of all Disney animation, not just Pixar. Which is why, I think, Disney animation has been improving steadily since the purchase of Pixar.

          Meanwhile, Pixar continues to do well. But it isn’t the dominant force it used to be. With Lasseter’s impending retirement (unannounced, but inevitable) it will be interesting to see where they go in the future. Will they become just another animation studio? Or will they continue their tradition of quality?

          I do agree that the run from Ratatouille to Up is truly amazing. I don’t know that we’ll ever see three sophisticated animated features in a row like that again. But yeah, nowhere near down for the count.

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          • Basically agreed. I’ll pull myself out of the Disney side of the argument as I’m clearly outclassed. Yes Pixar was bound to slump, I just wish they’d slumped with original features instead of cash grab sequels is basically my point.

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            • I apologize for turning your review into a lecture on Disney history. I kind of can’t help myself.

              As for Pixar, I agree. One of the things that separated Pixar from its competitors is that it didn’t need to resort to sequels. Toy Story aside, they served up one fresh idea after another. Now they have sequels in the pipeline like everyone else. And yet none for The Incredibles which actually cries out for a sequel (I could go into the reasons for this but I won’t unless someone asks.)

              But I do think Disney feature animation is experiencing a rebirth that has largely gone unnoticed. And Pixar, while off its game a bit, is still delivering popular movies. So all in all, the outlook is rosy. Which probably means things are due for a turn for the worse.

              If only things in Orlando were as great as they are at the animation studio.

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