views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Wreck-It Ralph (PG)
Cineworld, O2
2nd February 2013

★★★★☆

With Pixar's Brave being worlds away from their usual personification productions, what can families turn to for their next dose of action in which something inanimate (or near as damn it) becomes very real?

Well they could do a lot worse than the neon world of Wreck-It Ralph, unsurprisingly exec-produced by the VP of Pixar, John Lasseter, with story by Wall-E scribe Jim Reardon. It's fairly hoary to say "It does for video games what Toy Story did for toys", but it's undeniably true. Okay, so maybe it doesn't have the same transcendent qualities of Up or Toy Story, or the high-art factor of Wall-E, but it's clever, frequently funny and visually stunning.

And speaking of visually stunning, the preceding hand-drawn short, John Kahrs' Paperman, helps remind audiences that whizz-bang CG animation and 3D effects aren't necessary to wring every last drop of emotion from a piece of animation. The black-and-white seven minute long piece about an office worker trying to catch a woman's eye with paper aeroplanes is in turns touching and gleeful. It's a lovingly crafted treat wearing both its silent comedy and classical Disney inspirations on its sleeve.

And although totally different, the main feature continues to raise the already high bar. It's unsurprising, considering the effortless direction of Futurama and Simpsons stalwart Rich Moore. Responsible for overseeing some of their best episodes (such as Cape Feare, Marge Vs The Monorail and Flaming Moe's), he turns his deft hand and the love of blink-and-you'll-miss-it visual jokes to the computer game world of Wreck-It Ralph.

Superbly voiced by professional sadsack-cum-idiot manchild John C Reilly, all villainous Donkey Kong-alike Ralph wants to be is a good guy. So in his quest for a medal, he jumps from his game into a shoot-em up involving the no-nonsense Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) then sickening racer Sugar Rush, where he meets would-be child driver Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) as his game's hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) tries to track him down.

The necessary but annoying dulling effect that 3D glasses have on films doesn't seem to apply here. The technicolour worlds the game characters inhabit are beautifully realised and considered to the last. This is the level of attention to detail usually only seen in Nintendo's greatest. Inhabiting the cleverly created worlds are characters whose designs meld perfectly with exemplary voicework by Lynch (granted, largely reprising Glee's Sue Sylvester) and Silverman. Vanellope in particular could have been the film's Jar Jar Binks - a pointless, annoying cretin - but Silverman invests her with enough manic energy, depth and nuance to mitigate this.

In fact, for all of the spit-and-polish and gamer in-jokes, scriptwriters Moore, Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee haven't neglected the heart. Within some smart gags for adults and sweet but juvenile jokes for kids lies an incredibly touching tale. The brother/sister dynamic between Ralph and Vanellope is nothing new in these films, but it's pulled off with considerable care, and forces a reluctant Ralph to make a difficult decision in one of the film's most heartbreaking scenes. Here Reilly and Silverman soar. There isn't quite the emotional turmoil of Up, but it's not far off.

It's not easy to really dig deep into what is essentially a piece of great entertainment for everyone. And to be honest, it's not the next Terence Malik flick. But that doesn't make it any less endearing and worthy of heaps of praise - and to duke it out with Brave for Best Animated Film Oscar, which is, frankly, too close to call.

Succeeding in its rip-roaring action sequences as well as its quieter moments, Wreck-It Ralph is a revelation. Apparently other, non-Pixar companies can make engaging, intelligent films with a positive moral message that's not bogged down by sentiment. Although I still contend it's got a lot to do with that Lasseter touch.

Wreck-It Ralph was released in the UK on 8th February 2013.

Nearest tube station: North Greenwich for the O2 (Jubilee)



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