I watched Wreck-it Ralph again, since a group at my university put it on in an auditorium. I remembered enjoying it when I saw it in theaters and figured it was worth a rewatch. It ended up being even better than I remembered.
Basically, Wreck-it Ralph is the best gaming movie we’ve ever seen, and is probably the best one we’ll see for a while. It just does so many things right. It’s probably a movie I’ll actually write up and record a review of at some point, but for now, I’m just going to go on about what exactly was so great about it.
First of all, while the bulk of the movie takes place in what looks like a video game version of Strawberry Shortcake, the beginning was packed with tons of cameos. You see Bowser, Sonic, a slew of Street Fighter characters, Pac-Man, etc. The movie draws in its audience with that. But I’m firmly of the opinion that references cannot hold up a work. See my rant on memes for an elaboration on why. I’ve seen some good web videos that have some really good takes on video games, but a lot of the time, they feel lacking just because they ultimately consist of just a bunch of references to the source material strung together by a weak plot. This is why I’m so glad that Wreck-it Ralph decided to go a different direction after the first few scenes.
Wreck-it Ralph features a lot of cameos from a variety of established games, but the three games it focuses on are original creations. However, while they’re original, they’re also recognizable: Fix-it Felix Jr. obviously has a lot in common with Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Hero’s Duty takes some influence from Halo (as well as a lot of other first-person shooters), and Sugar Rush, despite its Strawberry Shortcake world, seems to be incredibly similar to Mario Kart.
What this does is that it allows Wreck-it Ralph to make jokes based off of video games in general instead of specific video games. The Nicelanders have very jerky movement because they’re based on 8-bit sprites, which have limited animations. When one of the Hero’s Duty grunts runs into a wall and continues to walk in a way that causes him to slide along the wall and floor, it’s a nod to a common AI flaw. The incomplete track where Vanellope lives will remind viewers of game material that has been “dummied out” of the finished project. The infamous Konami Code is referenced at one point.
You can also catch more specific references. Felix is a handyman (Mario was originally a carpenter and is currently a plumber), and Ralph has a build similar to Donkey Kong. Sergeant Calhoun is similar to Metroid’s Samus and (apparently; I haven’t played the game) Mass Effect 3’s Female Shepherd. And Sugar Rush is packed with Mario Kart references, from the variety of courses that are seen, to the powerups picked up from boxes, to the “Sweet Seekers” King Candy uses at one point (functioning exactly like three red shells), to the fact that the final stretch of the climatic race takes place on a rainbow-colored track. As every Mario Kart player knows, the final, most difficult course is always Rainbow Road.
So Wreck-it Ralph makes direct references to video games, oblique references to specific video games, and references to video games in general. But what makes this movie great is that the references are woven into an original interesting plot starring original, interesting characters. Calhoun has a ton of great dialogue, Ralph has understandable motivations, the movie has scenes that are legitimately emotional, and there are a ton of good jokes that you don’t need to have ever touched a single video game to get (“You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you? …you hit a guy with glasses, that’s…that’s well played” in particular was clever).
Overall, Wreck-it Ralph does a phenomenal job of weaving a video game framing device into a movie narrative. Were you to replace a lot of the video game aspects with something like traveling through different movie universes and rewrite the details to better accommodate that change, it would still be a good movie. But with these video game references and setting woven so flawlessly into the narrative? It’s an incredible gaming movie, and definitely a favorite of mine.