Historically, video game movies are not very good. There are a handful of exceptions to this rule, but for every worthwhile experience like Mortal Kombat, there are at least three steaming piles of awful like The Legend of Chun-Li. To make matters worse, most of these movies are definitely not “date night” material (unless your significant other really likes zombies). Over the years, I have tried to introduce Laura to several video game flicks, which she either slept through (Mortal Kombat), found mildly entertaining (Prince of Persia), or actually enjoyed (Indie Game: The Movie). So I was a bit wary as Laura and I went to our local theater to watch Wreck-It Ralph. I am happy to report that not only is the film good, it also makes for a solid date night movie.
The biggest concern I had coming into Wreck-It Ralph is that the movie would rely entirely on nostalgia to be entertaining. The trailers and promotional material certainly made it seem like gaming references would be ham-fisted and force-fed through the entire movie. Several gaming icons have some screen time, but they never outshine the original characters in Wreck-It Ralph. Most of the classic video game characters, like Sonic the Hedgehog and Zangief, show up in the first third of the movie, mainly as supporting actors who just happen to inhabit the same world as Ralph. The bulk of the film focuses on establishing new characters and their respective games to create a fresh world for Ralph to explore. Through this design choice, the movie-makers are able to provide little nostalgic treats for older game players, without alienating the rest of the audience.
While Wreck-It Ralph was made by Disney Animation Studios, the mature message and story of the movie lean closer to a Pixar production. Instead of telling a beautiful fairy tale fused with fantastic song-and-dance routines, the plot of Wreck-It Ralph focuses on the titular character and his journey to find happiness outside of his job. After thirty years of “being the bad guy,” Ralph abandons his arcade machine in search of a game that will bring him lasting fulfillment. Unfortunately, the consequences of such a decision do not enter into Ralph’s mind, as a game without a villain will appear to be malfunctioning, and his arcade machine will soon be sent away if he does not return. Also similar to Pixar films, Wreck-It Ralph is full of impressive graphics and colorful settings which both dazzle the viewer and contribute to the mood of each scene. The bright colors and excellent visuals of the film will definitely appeal to a younger audience, but older viewers will be able to find some resonance with Ralph and his plight.
Whether you are a gamer trying to find a video game movie for date night, or someone who is just looking for a great animated film with a moving story, be sure to check out Wreck-It Ralph. And while you are at the theater, you should play some of the arcade games at the entrance. Just like poor Q*Bert in the movie, those games need some love, too.