Is "Wreck-It Ralph" Worth Playing?
"Wreck-It Ralph" has bright animation, a lively score, and vintage arcade references that families will surely love. The film is produced by Walt Disney Animated Studios and is the fifty-second animated film released by Disney. "Ralph" has featured a stellar pre-release marketing campaign that has involved flyers in game stores looking for a fictional arcade game and a re-creation of that game in movie theater lobbies in time for the film's release.
That fictional game is Fix-It Felix Jr., a Donkey Kong reminiscent game that features a handyman character attempting to repair a building that the gargantuan Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is destroying. The characters in the game are in fact sentient, and after three decades of being the bad guy, Ralph decides to make a break for it through the game's power cord that gives him access to other games in the arcade.
He exits into another fictional arcade game, the newly placed shooter adventure game called Hero's Duty. Ralph joins a squadron that battles aliens, led by the game's female hero (Jane Lynch), but he isn't happy enough to call this game home. He moves on to the bright, confection themed Sugar Rush, a go-kart racing game, where he meets the young Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Vanellope is ostracized within her own game because she's just a glitch in the program.
Ralph's journey releases an evil that could potentially cause harm to all of his new game friends, particularly Vanellope. Ralph gets help from an old cohort as he fights to see if he can live up to his dreams of being the hero of a game.
"Wreck-It Ralph" earned advanced buzz based on movie trailers that featured Ralph in a support therapy group with other notorious video game villains, such as Bowser from the Super Mario Bros. series. The film's producers worked hard to secure the rights to use a variety of real-life video game figures in cameos to make the setting seem more authentic.
The film's setting also naturally lends itself to video games. Before the film's release, Disney released a free browser version of Fix-It Felix Jr. that could be played in its entirety. Other versions designed for the iOS mobile platform followed. An Android version is presumably forthcoming. Versions of Sugar Rush and Hero's Duty were also released online and on mobile devices. Ralph will appear as a guest character in a forthcoming "Sonic the Hedgehog" title. An official multiple-platform tie-in game will be released after the film, adding to what is likely to be a successful merchandise launch.
Merchandising will be easy with this film, an area that director Rich Moore is familiar with from his experience as director of "The Simpsons" and "Futurama." The fact that Ralph is eight bits within his original game but is rendered more human in appearance outside of it allows for a dual level of tie-in items. The former version of Ralph will appeal to older audiences who grew up with the original Nintendo games that Ralph was based upon.
How will "Wreck-It Ralph" do at the box office? Looking at recent releases for films primarily aimed at children might hold a clue. The re-release of "Finding Nemo" earned approximately $40 million in its first month, but it was a limited-run version of a film many had seen previously. "ParaNorman" brought in about $54 million in a little over two months. "Hotel Transylvania" made $132 million in its first month, owing much to its pre-Halloween release. "Ralph" will likely make closer to the numbers of "Transylvania" thanks to its cross-generation appeal and long, successful marketing strategy. The release of "Ralph" right before the holidays is an especially wise move as more families have time to get together for activities. Expect this to be a film that people will watch multiple times in the theaters.
"Wreck-It Ralph" is also likely to turn up during awards season in the categories available for animated comedies. The soundtrack may yield an Oscar nomination, which is a strong Disney animated film tradition. A likely candidate is the upbeat synthetic pop ballad "When Can I See You Again?" from the band Owl City.
In the end, "Wreck-It Ralph" is a simple story with a universal appeal. Every person hopes to be a hero in some way and faces struggles in achieving that goal. The snarky humor and amazing graphics will be enough to appeal to even the attention-deprived audience members and will lure them in to the heart of the story. This is a film worth plugging in.