Wreck-It Ralph

If you’ve read any reviews of Wreck-It Ralph, you’ve likely seen the comparison to Toy Story.  And if you haven’t read any reviews of Wreck-It Ralph, well, you’re reading one now, and just saw a comparison to Toy Story.  The films are a lot alike, in that they involve beloved playthings coming to life and trying to understand the state of their relationships with one another.

It’s a successful formula, and Wreck-It Ralph does it justice.  The film is fun, funny and charming.  But what interested me about it is how it took a seamless Pixar story and produced a film that is nothing but seams.  I couldn’t help but see the mechanics of this film as it played: not just the Toy Story structure, but the ways in which the film built itself to appeal to its various audiences: the arcade game references will fly over the heads of the children, only to be devoured by their parents and by the adults (like me!) who took enough interest in the film to go see it.  There’s innocent potty humor for the kids, and different video game genres to appeal to the various older and younger, male and female attendees.

I certainly wasn’t surprised that a blockbuster animated film would be built this way, but I certainly was surprised in how obvious the mechanics were to me.  Actually, I think it was the combination of seeing the seams and still loving the film that really caught me off-guard.  There’s so much I could be cynical about when it comes to Wreck-It Ralph, but I found myself totally charmed and wowed by the movie — particularly, the voice casting.

John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman voice our two leads, and strike up a wonderful, evocative relationship.  While I could do without the hasty romance struck-up between Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer’s characters, Reilly and Silverman really bring life to two outsiders in search of a new role in their lives.

The animation in the film is really sharp, and brimming with finely observed details in each of the worlds the characters visit.  My favorite such detail: in the Fix-It Felix game, the characters move with a combination of fluidity and 8-bit rigidity.  I’ve seen nothing like it before, and it’s so well-done that it borders on distracting.  In a good way, of course.

These expert details — whether in small animated tricks, or the humanity of the voice cast — allow Wreck-It Ralph to succeed in spite of the obviousness of its structure.  In fact, what’s perhaps so affecting is that the characters themselves (as created, and as voiced) are unaware of the circumstances, and allow us to find that place as well.