When “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Brave” came out of Disney-Pixar studios last year, it felt like a case of babies being switched at birth.
But it really was the Pixar gang that produced “Brave,” a princess fairy tale with a traditional, realistic look to it, while Disney animation gave us “Wreck-It Ralph,” a spunky homage to video games that depicted multiple virtual worlds.
For gamers, the fun came from spotting allusions to such popular and historic video games as Super Mario Bros., Q*bert, Street Fighter, Pac-Man, Paperboy, Pong, Dig Dug, Qix, Frogger, BurgerTime, Sonic the Hedgehog, Metal Gear, World of Warcraft, and Altered Beast.
But you don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy “Wreck-It Ralph.”
The premise is similar to “Toy Story.” Once the lights go out, the “toys” (or in this case, characters in a video game) are off-duty and have a life of their own. It turns out that acting out these video games is their day job, and there’s a transportation terminal that takes them to and from their games. God help them all if one of them cracks and decides to go “Turbo,” jumping from one game at the arcade to the next.
Recycling a gag from the “Austin Powers” series, Disney animators begin with a support group. Attending this Villains Anonymous gathering for the first time is Wreck-It Ralph, the bad guy in the Fix-It Felix video game. Hurt that he wasn’t invited to the game’s 30th anniversary celebration, Ralph (John C. Reilly) is dejected and confused. He thinks he’s just as important as Felix (Jack McBrayer), and, after all, he’s only doing his job. It’s not like he really wants to hurt anyone or anything with those gigantic hands of his. Like all working stiffs who feel underappreciated, Ralph wonders, Why can’t I get the medal (or the raise, or the brass ring), just once? Why does it always have to be Felix?
Disney, of course, famously got inside video games in the popular live-action sci-fi drama “Tron” and its update, but the drama in this animated feature is sugarcoated by comparison—quite literally, actually.
The animators do a nice job of bringing video game worlds to life. Whether it’s the pixelated single-building condo world of Fix-It Felix, the Candy Land world of Sugar Rush, or the bug-blasting “Starship Troopers,” Halo/Gears of War world of Hero’s Duty, Disney pulls it off. They do an especially nice job of animating those hordes of attacking bugs and Vanellope, a “glitch” from the Sugar Rush game who has racecar driver DNA in her, but can’t drive because she’s a glitch, banished by King Candy (Alan Tudyk) to the dark side of Sugar Rush.
There’s a little screwball comedy in “Wreck-It Ralph,” with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) vexing Ralph because of her energy, her enthusiasm, and her wide-eyed naiveté, with Ralph coming around as reluctantly captivated as Cary Grant in “Bringing Up Baby.” There’s a little rom-com “opposites attract” at work here too, as Felix enters Hero’s Duty to try to convince Ralph to return and finds his heartthrob in the tough military leader Calhoun (Jane Lynch).
Disney snuck in a message (“When did video games get so violent and scary?” Ralph wonders aloud) and non-gamer allusions that range from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to “The Wizard of Oz.”
The writing is clever and the worlds are wonderfully shaped, which will appeal to adults, while those with any familiarity at all with video games will get the added pleasure of all those allusions. But the plot is straightforward enough and the pacing so crisp that “Wreck-It Ralph” will be a hit with the kids, too. Chalk up another small victory for Disney, whose mission from the very beginning was to make movies for the whole family.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is available in three-disc Blu-ray combo pack or four-disc 3D Blu-ray combo pack. This is the 3D pack, and the picture looks superb on both the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer and the MVC/MPEG-4. Like recent Disney 3D releases, “Wreck-It Ralph” mainly extends depth within the television field rather than resorting to fly-at-you objects. The characters look more modeled than they do on the standard Blu-ray, while both versions sport transfers that are free of compression issues and artifacts.
But don’t look for a perfect, plasticine surface. Perhaps as a way of transitioning from the rough-looking pixelated scenes to the more sophisticated game detail of today, the filmmakers went with a thin layer of grain that nonetheless does nothing to mar our visual appreciation of textures and bright or pastel colors. The nemesis for 3D has been quick movement that causes crosstalk and haloing, but apart from a few scenes with the bug swarms this isn’t an issue.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is presented in 2.39:1 aspect ratio. With this release, Disney went with two oversized spindles that house two discs stacked on each. I’m not a fan of anything that rubs discs against each other or forces fans to handle them more than necessary, but I fear this is the direction studios are taking. I wish they’d reconsider.
The audio had me from the beginning, with a robust English DTS-HD MA 7.1 filling the room with sound. The speakers are really active, with the rear effects speakers not at all bashful about asserting themselves. High notes are crisp, FX are lively, and though there’s not much rumble, the bass is still a presence.
Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
For an Oscar nominee and a departure for Disney animation, “Wreck-It Ralph” doesn’t have much in the way of bonus features. There’s no commentary track and only a 17-minute “making of” feature with director Rich Moore, producer Clark Spencer, and their art and animation team members talking about the conceptual design of the worlds and characters. It’s good, but feels abbreviated.
Then there’s something I came to by accident. I tried pausing the film to take a phone call and rather than freezing the screen shifted to a “Hi, you’ve discovered Disney Intermission” bonus feature that began instantly. Every time you pause the film you get this, so if you truly want to pause it you have to pause the Intermission as well. There are 10 minutes of trivia and explanations of allusions in the film so non-gamers can get up to speed.
Other than that, there are four deleted/alternate scenes (14 minutes) and three minutes worth of promos for the Fix-It Felix Jr. video game and three others from the film.
Once again Disney has created an immersive world that’s rich with detail, populated by characters who have problems humans can identify with and characteristics that make them likable. “Wreck-It Ralph” is a winner.
"Wreck-It Ralph" 3D combo pack comes with a lenticular slipcase cover and an oversized Blu-ray case with four discs on two spindles. And it's the kind of film that ought to get plenty of replay.