With Pixar appearing ready to eschew the kind of brazen, creativity-driven output that made the studio a byword for innovation and quality in favour of cutesy sequels/prequels (Monsters University, the recently announced Finding Dory) and increasingly homely features that have more in common with Disney of yore (Brave), the decision by its parent studio to apparently embrace a more unconventional – by its standards – form of storytelling seems well timed, if not fitting.
However, in the same way as Brave threaded progressive values beneath its fairy tale sheen, it quickly becomes clear that underneath the videogame stylings of Wreck-It Ralph is the same old tale of misunderstood but loveable underdogs overcoming the odds in the face of undue prejudice and seemingly insurmountable odds.
Not that this is a bad thing, of course; say what you want about the House of Mouse, but as they’ve proven, underdog tales are their forte.
Even so, despite the sense of déjà vu that Wreck-It Ralph will evoke in much of its audience, there is room for a few subtle tweaks to the tried and trusted format, the most notable one being to assign arcade videogame bad guy Ralph (John C Reilly) as the put-down-upon protagonist.
Laying bare his qualms in a expository ‘Bad Guys Anonymous’ meeting (look out for the likes of Sonic The Hedgehog’s Doctor Robotnik, M Bison and Zangief from the Street Fighter series and the Pac-Man ghost, among others), his vulnerable yet endearing nature makes him easy to root for. Similarly, the decision to make his in-game rival, Fix-It Felix Jr (Jack McBrayer) an earnest do-gooder rather than a straightforward adversary as part of an abrupt good/evil role reversal (see: Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother in Shrek 2) is a good one, with further support coming in the form of hyperactive pixel girl Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) and military hard-ass Calhoun (Jane Lynch).
As you’d expect, the videogame setting allows for numerous in-jokes and knowing nods – which, incidentally, are implemented in a far less irritating and haphazard way than fellow homage Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. However, with only two actual worlds being given the due attention that they require in order to truly bring them to cinematic life – Halo clone ‘Hero’s Duty’ and Mario Kart-apeing ‘Sugar Rush’ – and it all starts to feel like a bit of a missed opportunity, with innovation eventually giving way to predictability.
Even in light of this, however, none of Wreck-It Ralph’s faults are glaring enough to cast a shadow over its appropriately bubblegum-bright outlook. It may not be the scattergun videogame homage that some were expecting – you’ve got Scott Pilgrim for that, after all – but it’s another solid showing from the Disney stable, and could mark the moment we’re the twin Pixar and Disney tracks finally intertwined on the railroad of quality. Where the journey’s heading next is anyone’s guess.