Wednesday, November 21, 2012

'Wreck-It-Ralph' continues yet another Disney renaissance

We might have only talked about the earliest years of the Disney Canon so far, but that doesn't mean the Mouse House is going to wait for us before expanding it further. Our series hasn't even reached its teen years, but the Canon is middle-aged and 'Wreck-It-Ralph' is the 52nd entry.

The Disney Animated Feature brand has gone a long way since its beginnings back in 1937 and so many have noted that 2012 has been a particularly weird year for the company as a whole. Disney's sister company Pixar, who has more than any other studio influenced animated features in the last decade, took on its first female protagonist, which wasn't only a girl, but also a princess set in a fairy-tale land that wouldn't feel foreign in a traditional Disney movie. Meanwhile, the Disney studio itself has brought us 'Wreck-It-Ralph', a movie that at least in concept, sounds much more in the vein of Pixar. 

Wreck-It-Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the protagonist of our story. He is the villain of a popular arcade video game called 'Fix-It-Felix Jr.', but he is tired of being rejected and sidelined for being the bad guy. He assists a support group for depressed bad guys, but can't cope with the nature of his existence and so he decides to leave his game in order to be appreciated as a hero. It does sound kind of Pixary, doesn't it? And if it doesn't quite live up to the ridiculous high points of that studio's output, it comes close enough to be called a big success. 

The initial motivator to get people to see 'Wreck-It-Ralph' has been its Roger Rabbit approach to video game characters. Just like they did in the 1980s movie, the film is full of amusing cameos by popular characters, just this time instead of cartoons from the 30s and 40s, it's video game characters. Most of the cameos and references to other games are very amusing, but like Roger Rabbit before it, 'Wreck-It-Ralph' knows that in order to succeed it needs a strong story at its center. And it certainly has one. I don't want to get into spoiler territory regarding the plot, but sufficient to say that along his journeys, Ralph befriends a little girl character named Vanella and that it's the relationship that forms between them that becomes the heart that makes the movie work as well as it does. 

Vanella is voiced by Sarah Silverman, who does a truly outstanding job creating a completely adorable and believe character while never completely abandoning her popular comedic persona. Vanella and her personal quest end up being as important as Ralph's and that is good. Being a little girl, Vanella is a character that children will probably identify more with than Ralph. And because both characters are so rich, it helps get across the film's message of standing up to be accepted for who we are. 

I recently watched Sony Pictures Animation's 'Hotel Transylvania' and couldn't help but mourn the dreadful state most children's animation has evolved into since the release of the first 'Shrek' movie. Most mainstream animation houses are content with trying to imitate that film's comedic approach failing to focus on crafting a good story. 'Wreck-It-Ralph' is a film that is full of references to many pop-culture elements, but that always puts the story front and center. That is what Pixar has always done and what Disney seems to be doing lately as well. After 'Bolt', the incredible 'Tangled' and now 'Wreck-It-Ralph', the studio has regained the magic that made it so big in the first place and that just half a decade ago seemed to had lost completely. 

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