Skip to main content

When did video games become so violent and scary?


Wreck-It-Ralph
(2012)

Is there any way to tell the difference between a Disney brand movie and a Pixar one these days? Both are adorned with John Lasseter’s name and, when one releases shameless cash-ins such as Cars 2 while the other comes up with a high concept riff on ‘80s computer games, the lines are blurred further.

That said, Brave was a welcome return to original storytelling for Pixar. And, inspired as its premise is, Ralph quickly succumbs to tried-and-tested characterisation and plotting. Rich Moore makes his movie debut (he also gets a story credit, one of seven contributors), but he’s a veteran director of TV fare such as of The Simpsons and Futurama. He brings a suitably irreverent, offbeat sensibility to the material. Although he succumbs to traditional Disney/Pixar sentimentality in the final reel, there’s always the feeling that Ralph might shoot off in an unexpected direction at any given moment.

Ralph is the villain of an 8-Bit 1980s arcade game, Fix-It-Felix, Jr (not a million miles from Donkey Kong, with Ralph as Kong); he’s tired of being the bad guy, and seeing the luxurious conditions his fellow characters bask in while he’s consigned to spend the night on a pile of bricks. So he sets out to become a hero, seizing a medal from a first-person-shooter (Hero’s Duty) before arriving in the Super Mario Kart-esque Sugar Rush. There, he meets a computer glitch, Vanellope, who has dreams of racing. Unfortunately, Ralph has brought along a Cy-Bug from Hero’s Duty, which could spell doom for Sugar Rush.

Moore crams the film with references to past gaming characters, from Pacman to Sonic the Hedgehog. Q*Bert is easily the most indulged of these, and the most likeable. To be honest, I’ve never been a great gamer so many of the characters passed me by without recognition. They’re just the icing on the cake, however; as it should be.

The movie’s set up is superior to its pay-off, such is usually the case where curmudgeonly or miserable characters find redemption; the ending takes the edge off and all you are left with is, well something akin to Sugar Rush. So Ralph (an impeccably cast John C. Reilly) visiting a villain’s support group, incurring the wrath of his fellow characters at a 30th anniversary bash for Fix-It-Felix, Jr, and causing enormous disruption in Hero’s Duty, is carried off with a degree of anarchic aplomb. The sketching out of the gaming micro-universe has the same kind of diligence that was brought to bear on Toy Story, with clear rules for what happens when humans are no longer playing (as such, characters acting up and causing games to malfunction makes for an amusing and instantly recognisable reference point).

Once Ralph meets the (as he puts it) annoying brat Vanellope, the story settles on a much more predictable path. I’d hoped there would be a wider variety of game settings for Ralph to traverse (something akin to Looney Tunes – Back in Action’s Louvre sequence), but Moore opts to play it safe. Vanellope echoes the cutesy kid in Monsters, Inc. but with added Sarah Silverman smart-mouthiness. Clearly, we’re supposed to find her adorable but she quickly becomes a strain on my nerves. It’s the point in the film where the lessons that need to be learned come into focus, and Ralph slowly starts to lose his edge. In parallel, Felix (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, who is perhaps a little too recognisable; at times I felt I was listening to Kenneth) and sexy Hero’s Duty chick Tamora (Jane Lynch, also instantly identifiable) are on a romantic course as they attempt to track down Ralph and the Cy-Bug. There’s even a villainous reveal that I wasn’t expecting (as in, it didn’t make a huge amount of difference and so leaves one suspecting it was the result of one story conference too many) but comes from the Pixar’s The Incredibles.

But this is still one for Disney to be proud of, if only because it diverges from the safe territory of restaged fairy tales (don’t worry, they’ve another of those coming up). The gags are sometimes a bit on the crude side (you can tell Silverman’s involved when there’s an extended poo-themed discourse), but more often quite inspired (“You hit a guy, with glasses” is especially witty). 2012 gave offered a string of good-but-not-quite-great animated features, and Ralph can be added to that pile.

***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite