Saturday, 23 February 2013

Got that glitch a villain. Glitches love villains.

Even before I'd seen Wreck-It Ralph, I knew that this film was going to appeal to me on several levels. Not only is this a total nerdfest for retro gamers (I love Sonic, Pacman, and old arcade-style games, even though I'm pretty awful at the vast majority of them), but it also manages to satisfy the fantasies of the weird kids like me by following the one story that has so far been missing from the Disney oeuvre: the story of the villain. I've always loved the bad guys - partly because no one else does, and I like to be perverse, partly because I'm a freaky loner goth who will always sympathise with the social misfits, and partly because they're generally just much more interesting characters (just watch Sleeping Beauty again and you'll see it's really no wonder they've now decided to give the only good character her own film, or watch a few old episodes of Pokémon and tell me Team Rocket aren't the best thing in it). In short, Wreck-It Ralph sounded like it was going to be exactly the sort of brilliant mixture I wish I had been clever enough to concoct myself. And it was. In fact, it managed to be even cooler than expected. The whole thing was just one big explosion of amazingness!

First off, the film has two super kick-ass ladies in it, both of whom are player characters in their own games (see here, for more information about why this matters). One is the main protagonist of her game, Hero's Duty, the hardened, no-nonsense military commander, Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun. The other is a gutsy little kid (voiced, incidentally, by Sarah Silverman!) who, like Ralph himself, is something of an outsider, determined to earn back a place in the races from which she has been ostracised. What endeared this second character (and the film as a whole) to me still more, was the fact that little Vanellope was also a glitch.

Similar to bad guys, glitches appeal to me a lot. I'm not going to go into all the arguments I've had with people about why Missingno. is the best Pokémon ever, but at the risk of sounding too much like the internet (sorry), a film about a friendship between a baddie and a glitch would have struggled to be more relevant to my interests.

There's been some interesting discussion online about whether or not Wreck-It Ralph is actually a Pixar film in disguise. Though it's not Disney's first non-Pixar-helmed foray into 3D CGI animation, it is without a doubt their best. The story and characters were wonderful, the visuals beautiful and, like all great Pixar films, it achieved that classic blend of the hilarious and the heartwarming that no one else manages so well. While I disagree with Nathaniel Darnell that there's a big difference between the style of humour, emotion and storytelling between these two production companies, I do think he's got a very good point about the choice of subject matter, as well as about the people involved. Still, it's not the first time John Lasseter's switched camps - or "gone Turbo" as Darnell more appropriately puts it: most recently, for example, he was involved in The Princess and the Frog, which is definitely classic Disney fare by all of his (and my own) criteria. So I think I'd argue that it isn't that simple: the two companies are, after all, inextricably tied together, and there has always been plenty of crossover between the two.

That said, the trailers certainly had me fooled. Even though I hadn't actually read it anywhere, upon seeing all the publicity material for Wreck-It Ralph, I simply assumed that this was Pixar's latest. One thing I will say, however, is that this film's prominent placing of female characters is something that, outside of Brave, has been largely and culpably absent from Pixar films (ok there's Dory, there's Jessie and there's Boo, but they're all essentially supporting cast in films which are ultimately about male friendship or father/son relationships). So however little appreciation Darnell seems to have for "princess movies", both Brave and the array of moody Disney princesses do still serve an important function in the world of children's films: girls remain under-represented in most films, most of the time.

A final note about Paperman, the animated short that preceded Wreck-It Ralph: utterly beautiful, and an instant classic. I wish I could post a link - it did briefly make it onto Youtube, but Disney took it down pretty sharpish. Not that you can blame them. I think I'd be protective, too. Any company that can still make a black and white silent film exciting, fresh, innovative, and appealing to children is certainly well worth its weight in cinema popcorn, at multiplex prices. Just think about that for a while: it's A LOT. I should know - I used to sell the stuff.

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