Los Angeles Theater and Film Review: WRECK-IT RALPH (Directed by Rich Moore)

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by Tony Frankel on November 6, 2012

in Film,Theater-Los Angeles

AN IMAGINATIVE STORY AND SPECTACULAR VISUALS MAKE UP FOR CALCULATED FAMILIARITY

It’s quite an accomplishment for Disney that the multitude of elements in Wreck-It Ralph don’t collapse in on themselves. It’s fast-paced and stunning visuals abound, 190 distinct characters are introduced (some familiar from video games), Shrek-like topical references thrive, and $165 million worth of technological wonders hurl at you with the speed of Pac Man. Yes, it’s calculated in its nostalgic sequel-prone cleverness, even feeling formulaic at times, and some of the humor is cheap and rude, but cynics can rest their poison pens, because the ingenuity of story and gorgeous artistry make this worth a trip.

The basic storyline—two unwanted video game characters become unlikely friends in their quest to better themselves—serves the movie well, but its attempts at being truly touching don’t succeed. Under executive producer John Lasseter (of Pixar fame), this film looks and feels like the Pixar brand, but doesn’t excite our senses in the same way. It’s not a mold-breaker, but it has enough (almost too much) going for it. This audience-pleaser is like a kid on a roller coaster who knows when to stop stuffing his face with sugary confections just short of vomiting: It’s fun, but comes perilously close to overwhelm.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of the Disney film WRECK-IT RALPH

It starts with a tale not unlike Toy Story: When a video arcade closes for the night, game characters travel through the power cords and associate with each other in, one assumes, a surge protector (the movie’s vast universe whizzes by like the oil slicks in a video racing game, so forget trying to figure out pesky details like this). In the game known as “Fix-It Felix,” our lumbering hero, Wreck-It Ralph (voiced with dejected  perfection by John C. Reilly), has one job: destroy an apartment building filled with denizens who have Botero-shaped bodies. Players insert their eight bits to help Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) repair the building with his magic hammer.

Problem is that Ralph doesn’t want to be a villain anymore. When Bad-Guy Anonymous meetings fail to help his esteem, and he finds himself unwanted at a 30th anniversary party for the game, he invades a new game called “Hero’s Duty” in the hopes of winning a medal. A series of blunders hurls Ralph from the Aliens-style game into the racing game “Sugar Rush,” which is stylistically a cross between Toon Town and My Little Pony (my teeth ache thinking of the merchandise).

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of the Disney film WRECK-IT RALPH

Enter the deuteragonist, who arrives in the form of the chatty, obnoxious, perky, and likeable Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by the chatty, obnoxious, perky, and likeable Sarah Silverman), a character-turned-glitch who longs to get back in the race. Unfortunately, the reprehensible King Candy (Alan Tudyk, who mimics Ed Wynn’s Mad Hatter) and his citizens don’t want the smart-ass sweet little moppet on the candy-coated circuit.

(In the Figuring Out Pesky Details department: Why does Vanellope von Schweetz, an obviously American in-between who is somewhere twixt brat and adolescent (“bratolescent?”), have a name that calls to mind a dancer at the Kit Kat Klub? And Vanellope’s racing antagonist Taffyta Muttonfudge sounds like… well, use your imagination on that one.)

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of the Disney film WRECK-IT RALPH

Ralph was inadvertently followed by a cyber-bug from “Hero’s Duty” (oh, yeah, there are “dooty” jokes), so blunt platoon leader Sergeant Calhoun (Glee’s Jane Lynch imitating Jane Lynch from Glee) follows after him like Linda Hamilton in The Terminator, joined by Felix and hundreds of extras. The well-defined assortment of characters that end up in Sugar Rush Speedway is quite a feat (story by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, and Jim Reardon), but I wish that scripters Johnston and Jennifer Lee had the sophistication of Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King). Instead of laughs earned by character development, they come courtesy of brand familiarity: two cops in the shape of donuts are named Winchell and Dunkin’, and two characters fall into Nes-Quik Sand; these may be clever puns, but they are not for the ages, and soon wear out their welcome.

Fortunately, the action sequences are truly a wonder to behold, but they always seem to appear in animated films just as the real-life Sugar Rush wears off for the kiddies in the audience. Also, sadly, no headway has been made in computer-animated humans, their hair looks great, but they still don’t have the grace of hand-drawn ones; the background work and non-human forms are amazing.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of the Disney film WRECK-IT RALPH

I saw the screening at the El Capitan Theatre, the best place to see a film in Los Angeles. The detailed, colorful, and lavish East Indian interior (designed by G. Albert Lansburgh) brings to mind Hollywood’s heyday. After the movie, I enjoyed the special behind-the-scenes look at the film with an exclusive Art of  Wreck-It-Ralph Exhibit, on display in the lower lounge of the theatre: It features visual and  character development art, prototype candy cars from  “Sugar Rush,” and more. Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of the Disney film WRECK-IT RALPHAbove all, El Capitan, with its crystal-clear “wreck-tacular” 3-D projection, true surround-sound, and immaculate environs, help turn a fairly good movie into a great movie-going experience.

Except…

The theater is owned by Disney and, as such, there is a live show connected with the movie. It seems that this year, all monies went into the making of the movie, not the pre-film stage show, in which a sprightly, overly cheerful Kid of the Kingdom warms-up the audience—not with any style or humor, but with the overused, “Aw, C’mon, folks, I can’t HEEEEEEEEEAR you! Give it up for the star of our movie, Vanellope von Schweeeeeeeeetz!!” A Strolling Character enters and dances like a kid on too much Coke. Guests are “invited” on stage, create two buildings out of foam bricks, and knock them down as Radio Disney blares from the speakers, “Celebrate good times. Come on! Woo Hoo!” I wish Disney would trust that there are ways to entertain an entire family, not just preschoolers.

photos © 2012 Disney

Wreck-It Ralph
released nationwide
and at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood
daily showtimes are 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.
El Capitan screenings scheduled to end on December 18, 2012
for tickets, call 800-DISNEY6 or visit  http://www.elcapitantickets.com

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