With their latest pair of releases to the big screen, Walt Disney Animation Studios has achieved a high score among fans of classic styles. While the newest feature-length film “Wreck-It Ralph” proudly shows off licensed characters spanning decades of video game history, its original characters drive the heart filled story. But preceding Disney’s 52nd animated feature is a particularly unique short called “Paperman,” which is quickly winning the hearts of animation lovers worldwide, even without a single word of dialogue.
At its thinnest, “Paperman” is a cute little love story featuring relatable characters, a boy and a girl, who are apparently destined to be together, though it takes a lot of effort and a little magic to make it happen. But it’s not the story or the characters that makes this short special. “Paperman” is a unique hybrid of 2D animation and computer-generated visuals, blended in 3D. A still frame from the mostly black-and-white short looks like it’s traditionally animated, with crisp lines and somewhat subtle shading.
But the motion of the characters and the camera look like they’re from a CG world, perhaps a cel-shaded one. And then when viewed in 3D, individual flat layers form depth, almost akin to the multi-plane camera of the past, but a new high-tech version. It’s a complete success and reason alone to see “Wreck-It Ralph” in 3D.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is a delight that works on a surprising number of levels. On the most basic, video games are at the core of the film, from start to finish. Beginning with an amazing 8-bit twist on the “Steamboat Willie” Walt Disney Animation Studios logo and ending with gloriously retro closing credits that should not be missed, no video game junkie will leave the theater without giggling uncontrollably at the in-jokes included throughout the film. From the more obvious classic game characters that have a good amount of screen time, such as Zangief and M. Bison from the Street Fighter series, Bowser from the Mario Brothers series, and Q*Bert, to occasional obscure references written on signs and walls, there’s a bit of every genre found in the film.
But “Wreck-It Ralph” isn’t quite the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit? of video games. Though Disney acquired licenses for quite a lot of game characters, much as Warner Brothers loaned quite a few of their Looney Tunes for “Roger Rabbit,” this film isn’t exactly an instant classic. It is very funny, even a bit touching at times, but doesn’t quite have that same magical spark that Roger, Eddie Valiant, and Judge Doom possessed. Even so, video game fans will get the most enjoyment out of it, wanting to see it again just to catch all the hidden gems.
The story doesn’t go in the direction I thought it would, featuring a heavier emphasis on characters other than Ralph than I expected. Most present are the other three leads, Fix-It Felix Jr (voiced by Jack Mcbrayer), Vanelope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), and Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch). Of those three, it feels like Vanleope nearly shares equal screen time as Ralph, spending a lot of time in her game’s world, Sugar Rush, in which viewers will unexpectedly find equal amounts of candy gags as video game ones.
The film is completely entertaining and a laugh-a-minute, but its visual style is sometimes jarring, with little texture applied to anything. It doesn’t quite feel like a video game, instead a vibrant CG world. Some parts are rendered to look more like games, which are perfect and indicative of what the rest of the movie should have been. I wanted more 8-bit Ralph and less high-definition Ralph. Though even when outside game mode and in the “real world,” characters do move and behave true to their games, which is a nice touch.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is not as gripping and classic as “Tangled,” but still one of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ best computer-generated films. The retro-style music and video game references are what makes this film fun, unique, and a must-see for gamers.
Here’s some bonus “Wreck-It Ralph” fun with three radical “classic” commercials for Litwak’s Arcade, home of Fix-It Felix Jr in the ’80s, Sugar Rush in the ’90s, and Hero’s Duty in the ’00s: