Tuesday, March 5, 2013

WRECK-IT RALPH: Stop Being a Wuss About Disney Movies and Buy It Already! (DVD/Blu-ray review)

By PJ Hruschak
Wreck-it Ralph uses a quick dash through nostalgic gaming to grab older gamers and rivet them to a chair.

Disney’s theatrical homage to video games, Wreck-it Ralph, manages to include more than enough elements adults can appreciate.

This is not only a movie that parents can watch without cringing but proves to be a film that even the manliest dude - and girliest girl - seeks out.

Wreck-it Ralph is a love story. No, not that kind. It's an homage to video games gone by, to video games arcades (which essentially do not exist aside from a few rare exceptions) and to people being sappy about pixels.

This Ain't No Laserdisc
I reviewed the movie when it was in theaters, so I suggest you refer to my Wreck-it Ralph review (at Gamertell) from November 2012 when it comes to the film (I do not want to repeat or plagiarize myself). The movie stands up incredibly well transitioning from full to home screen. So, I'll concentrate on the new features and presentation here.

If you get the 4-disc 3D combo pack, you'll be treated to a few bonus features on 1) the main Blu-ray disc, 2) a 3D Blu-ray disc which includes Paperman, 3) a DVD of the movie which also includes Paperman and 4) the disc that allows you to redeem your digital copy of the movie. If you are a bargain shopper, that means the best bang for the buck will be the Blu-ray as it includes the HD film and all the bonus features.

First is the Paperman theatrical short. If you are at all a fan of Disney shorts - the short films, not the red short pants with giant buttons - then you'll appreciate the inclusion of Paperman. It's a sweet, black-and-white, wordless story about a man who falls for a cute girl and luckily sees her in the building across from his rather dull office. After many failed attempts to get her attention with paper airplanes, he's eventually thrust into her arms by the very planes he tossed. (And even though it seems like t, I really did not give away the humor or the story). This is Disney storytelling at its finest and I'm sure you'll watch this over and over again with your family.

The next is a featurette titled "Bit by Bit," a relatively quick jaunt through the filmmaking process. In this they discuss how they approached the artistic style of each game with in the movie. It's more interesting to buffs than kids as you'll learn that they tried to use a basic shape for each game's world: Squares for Fix-it Felix, triangles for the first-person shooter Hero's Duty ("Haha, you said 'duty'.") and circles for curtsy kart racer Sugar Rush. They made a conscious decision to make Ralph and Felix a bit more 3D than the other characters as they will be seen throughout the movie. Also interesting is that Felix was originally going to be the main protagonist and Ralph was, indeed going to remain a bad guy. Thank the makers that they decides to make Ralph a bad guy with a heart of gold and render him in 3D who moved outside the "grid."

The alternate and deleted scenes section is, as with most modern Disney movies, more storyboards than anything else. They primarily show the segments that were removed form the movie including a weird hippie kinda guy who tells Ralph about a The Sims style game (X-Treme E-Z Livin' 2) where they can live in luxury (and say only a few key words). While that was a decent idea, the execution was miserable with Ralph in jail, Felix looking a lot like a Nazi soldier and being a clueless jerk versus the thoughtful hero. They certainly made the right calls there as well. I just wish we could have seen some animated segments that were trimmed.

The most satisfying extras, especially for us older gamers, are the "Video Game Commercials." Each reflects both a game and the arcade in the movie, poking fun at the era. The commercials have appropriate grit, slogans and imagery (although the '80s seem a bit more yellowed than they should be). Also notice how each commercial plays on the next, using similar themes (particularly the free credits for your birthday).

Once Upon an Arcade Cabinet
Nothing beats nostalgia, you might say. All the nods to 1980s games within Wreck-it are not just giggle worthy but also bring back the familiar glow of the old rounded picture tube warming up, the click of the button and the clunky flicks of a joystick.

Disney did an amazing job with the arcade cabinet, the smoky arcade and the faded colors. Beyond that, they snuck in as many nods as possible. Yes, the arcade game is the starting scene, but the real grips of ye olde gaming really start with the bad guys anonymous meeting. We see some older bad guys but they are also stuck in their roles, forever playing their parts and unable to escape the pass. In fact, they are trying to better themselves and get past the past. It’s a very ‘80s ideal of self-improvement.

Beyond that we see the grand gaming station, where the decades of arcade games mingle, giving us an blistering faceful of characters which, if you think about it too much, seems a bit impossible since many of these are not likely sitting in that arcade anyway. I'll leave it to more adventurous game fanatics to needle the countless avatars on screen in those scenes.

Q-Bert is an obvious nod but also and nice one. Not only is the game shut down and Q-Bert is homeless but he communicates at a very base level, blipping in his crude low-bit way. Sure, he's been rendered in 3D for the movie and likely makes more noises than any cabinet could back then but he's certainly a welcome and endearing guest character.

The best batch of nostalgia, however, is at Tapper’s. Yes that bygone bar of simple game mechanics with seemingly endless gameplay. It’s simply ripe with references including ye classic code (Up, down, up, down, etc., although some might argue that it’s missing two presses). The junk he pulls from the box is the most simple of tchotchke montages yet we still love every bit of it. From the mushroom to the dainty shorts (later, humorously made part of the story to help Ralph game leap).

But there are the purposefully subtle touches like the sketches on the wall in the hallway at Tapper's, (Who drew them for one thing), absed on the 1983 classic. Tapper. They go back further and with humor, depicting games through the ages, giving not only an outline of the history figures in gaming - and the games that likely went through that particular arcade but also a nod to even older restaurants that nearly dies out by the ‘80s.

Of course, all of that build up is intended - do you realize how much thought goes into a movie, especially an animated feature!? - so that it can be the country mouse in the city not only once in a hyper realistic first-person shooter but also the big burly doofus in a girly room, er, game. again, I propose this goes back to the ‘80s and the love of mixing backgrounds. The poor black kicks in the rich white guy’s house (Diff'rent Strokes, 1970s and '80s), the rough military guys saving pretty ladies with a slice of insanity and a lot of explosives (The A-Team), and even an alien life form in your house (ALF, though you can argue that was a throwback to the 1960's My Favorite Martian). Think of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (which began in 1990, dern close to the 1980s), Short Circuit (1986) and countless other programs. Sure, it’s an older-than-’80s concept but it truly took off in that decade. No longer were people looking at politics and love but, really, the “me” decade of introspection and civil rights gender flipping really kicking in. Mr. Mom (1983), Tootsie (1982), and countless other movies used social contrast for self discovery (and resolution).

OK, so maybe Disney didn’t think back that for or look that deeply into the decade but without the ‘80s, we could not have had a highly rendered ass-kicking’ woman starring in a video game (Samus in the late 1980s and the 1990's Lara Croft). Heck, even those genres owe a lot to the ‘80s with both first-person shooters (Maze War) and racers (Pole Position) getting their footing in that decade.

Even the very end when Q-bert (1982) and others are able to be in the Fix-it Felix game, much like Battle of the Superstars TV show which spanned the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s. Sure, it's also a nod to more modern game mashups like Nintendo’s many kart and brawler games, but out of place characters made frequent appearances across TV including the much later episodes of Happy Days (even though it had jumped the shark by then), the A-Team (1983-87) and Family Ties (1982-1989).
But what Wreck-it Ralph does well is manage to meld many diverse and arguably hokey themes together (it's a love story, has a cute and spunky female character and a "villain" with a heart of gold) into a completely enjoyable story. And, yes, everyone in your family will enjoy this movie. Even the non-gamers in the house.

A final side note: When I went to an advance screening of a different movie about a week after Wreck-it Ralph's release in theaters, I sat next to a man in what appeared to be his mid- to late-twenties who told me he had seen Wreck-It Ralph five or six times. Not only did he see it on his own on opening day but his various friends also wanted to see it, so he obliged and saw it two more times. That day. He'd already lost count and said he was planning to see it again that week.

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