Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Disney's Wreck-It Ralph

Here we are, back in Disney already. I wanted to wait until this movie came out on video before saying anything about it, since there may have been some who hadn't seen it yet. Anyway, Wreck-It Ralph has actually been an idea that's been floating around since the late 80's. The working title, High Score, was chosen early on, and the name has changed several times due to new ideas and developments. In the late-90's it was going to be called Joe Jump, and in the mid-2000's, Reboot Ralph. So, you can tell they were getting closer and closer to the title they eventually stuck with. You can kind of tell by the earlier titles, but the spotlight wasn't originally going to be on a villain looking to be a hero, but just on a hero character. In fact, before Ralph became the main character, it was supposed to focus on Fix-It Felix. John Lasseter and others in the creative team ultimately decided that they would rather tell a story from the perspective of a villain. Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of a villain from a classic arcade game that's tired of being the villain. He decides that he's going to become a hero, and to do that, he must earn a medal, at least that's what he thinks he needs to do. Ralph starts game-jumping, though it's extremely dangerous due to the fact that if a character dies outside of their game, they stay dead. Ralph unwittingly puts his game and others at jeopardy and it's up to him to prove that he is capable of being a hero.

Along the way, Disney decided that they wanted to make Wreck-It Ralph like Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, namely putting in a bunch of characters from other companies. In the same vein, they didn't want to put their main characters as licensed property, like Mario or Sonic, since they felt it would put too much weight on the movie. Fans are fickle things. It's basically why every movie based off a video game has failed. So, they made their own characters and put licensed ones around them, mostly as cameos, not really as main characters per se. Disney wanted this movie to be special, so they pulled out all the stops to get characters from not only current games, but classic arcade titles, too. The list of cameos include: Bowser, Dr. Eggman, Neff from Altered Beast, Q*bert and its villain characters, Chun-Li, Cammy, and Blanka from Streetfighter, Pac-man and a few of his ghost nemesis, Paperboy, the two paddles from Pong, Dig-Dug, The Qix, Frogger, Peter Pepper, Sonic the Hedgehog, and many more. This isn't even counting all the mentioned references in the movie. It's a video-game lover's dream. Mario and Luigi are some of the bigger name characters that don't appear in the movie, but are mentioned off-hand. A rumor had been going around that Nintendo wanted too much money to have the two plumbers in the movie, but this was untrue. Disney really wanted to put them in, but couldn't find a way to use them without taking the spotlight off the plot. Even Sonic is only seen for a split second, and it's in a public announcement video. It wasn't easy for Nintendo to get all these characters. Some of the companies either refused outright, or wanted to tell Disney how they were going to be portrayed. Dig Dug and his cohorts were originally going to be the homeless video game characters, but Namco didn't like the idea of Dig Dug being in that state. Dig Dug was ultimately demoted down to a half second cameo. Disney instead approached Atari and asked if they could put Q*bert in the role instead, to which they agreed. 

Disney is in the middle of their on-and-off CGI and hand-drawn animation stint. It all started when The Princess and the Frog did well, marking a welcome return to hand-drawn animation for Disney. They couldn't just leave CGI for good though, so they are doing one then the other. Tangled was their CGI, then Winnie-the-Pooh was their hand-drawn, which brings us to the CGI-rich Wreck-It Ralph. It was thought that perhaps they could make everyone true to life from their video games, so older game characters would be 8-bit. This seemed like a good idea, until they realized that if they made Ralph 8-bit, it would be hard to root for him. This film marks the introduction of bidirectional reflectance distribution functions. Yup, that was a mouthful. Basically, this tool helped the animators by making reflections look far more realistic, and allowed them to go through scenes in real-time thanks to a new virtual cinematography Camera Capture system. Disney even sent people to candy factories to get ideas for the Sugar Rush segment of the film.

Wreck-It Ralph has one of the most interesting combination of voices I have ever seen in an animated film. John C. Reilly (Step-Brothers) voices the lovable hero-wannabe villain Wreck-Ralph, while Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program) voices Vanellope, the Sugar Rush racer who is labeled a glitch. Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) voices Fix-It Felix, Jr. the much loved hero of Fix-It Felix, and Jane Lynch (Best in Show) voices Sergeant Calhoun, the gruff, yet tragic lead character of Hero's Duty. Other voice talents include: Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Ed O'Neill, Adam Corolla, Horatio Sanz, Maurice LaMarche, and John DiMaggio. Alan Tudyk is the one who voices King Candy, and I don't know about you, but as soon as he opened his mouth, I knew they were trying to do a Ed Wynn impression. Ed Wynn was the guy who voiced The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. You'd know his voice anywhere. 

Disney put around $165 million dollars into this movie, so they were definitely hoping for a big return. This isn't anywhere close to Tangled's budget, which was over a hundred million over Wreck-It Ralph. The smaller, but still pretty big gamble paid off, eventually grossing $436 million worldwide. Critics were impressed by the movie, too. Most focused on the beautiful animation and the different styles of each world. Others talked about the fun plot, which ingeniously catered to both boys and girls. The few bad reviews focused on the second half of the film, which stays in the Sugar Rush game for its entirety. Christopher Orr of The Atlantic called it "overplotted and underdeveloped." So, the love wasn't universal, but Disney had a solid hit. Now I'm going to talk about how I felt about the movie. I did enjoy it a lot, being someone who grew up on video games. Now, for someone who isn't keen on video-games, the movie might be a little annoying. Sure, you can appreciate the plot and animation, but you don't get any of the references. I believe that video-games will be around forever, but not some of the characters that have been featured in them. In thirty years even, there will be less and less people who really know what Dig Dug was, or other classic arcade games. I feel like this movie is going to look dated in the future, and not become one of the timeless Disney classics that we all look back on. The movie just seems too...gimmicky in a sense. Most of our Disney tales are retold fairy tales and classic stories. Then you have something like Wreck-It Ralph. It seems more like a Pixar idea to me. Pixar is the king of taking us into the unknown world of things like toys, bugs, superheroes, fish, cars, rats, monsters, robots, and old people! Video games seems like a logical next step, but Disney took it instead, and Pixar did a princess movie, Brave. I honestly think they could have switched the two and no one would have batted an eye. I don't know, maybe i'm just cynical, but I just don't think that Wreck-It Ralph will be one of those movies that people will always remember in the Disney canon. It's like Mickey's Polo Team, a Disney short from the late 30's. It's a funny episode, but better if you happen to know who the heck all those people are. Like I said before, I really like this movie, but I can see why some don't.