Speculative Fiction Friday: Wreck It Ralph. Why doesn’t PIXAR do films like this anymore?

PIXAR was cool.

I’m sure that you have noted my use of the word was. In my opinion, PIXAR doesn’t have it anymore. For almost two decades, they made some of the most original animated films like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, The Incredibles, WALL-E, but they peaked with Up. Since then, they have had very successful sequels with Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, but nothing original. Even last summer’s offering of Brave, with a princess who didn’t want to be a princess and a human that transforms into a bear, was territory covered before by Disney and was not done especially well that time around.

There was a time when PIXAR really mastered story. I still find the story-telling of PIXAR’s films could intelligently appeal to adults as well as kids. Now, I feel PIXAR is catering to its least creative denominator, betting on “sure things” like sequels to its already established franchises and not trying out something creative and potentially risky. I’m told PIXAR’s newest offerings will be a prequel to Monster’s Inc known as Monster’s University, and Planes, an aerial world from the Cars movies. These are safe bets for money in the box office, not to mention the money obtained from merchandise.

From out of nowhere, Disney’s CG department brings us Wreck-It Ralph. For years, Disney’s CG animated films were mediocre at best with Dinosaur, Chicken Little, but I felt that Meet the Robinsons was a true gem due to its masterful storytelling. Wreck-It Ralph is a film that both original and, at the same time, an homage.

Wreck-It Ralph celebrates video games, and it presents us a world where video game characters have a life of their own after the “Game Over”. Like early PIXAR films, Wreck-It Ralph shows us a microcosm that I can really believe in. Apparently, video game characters, like the toys of Toy Story, have lives and often contemplate the meaning of life, even in the midst of being forced to play a show. Wreck-It Ralph gives us a world where video game characters actually meet up thanks to train tunnels on video game cords, and come together at a Hub known as Game Central Station.

The film is really about how someone moves from being a villain to becoming a good guy. This is really a story that is as old as the Bible, honestly. Since Ralph was created to be a bad guy, he can’t help but want the benefits that good guys have, like Fix-it Felix Jr, the hero of Ralph’s game. There is a hysterical scene where Ralph is sharing to a group called Evil-Anon, and there are some famous video game villains in attendance like the orange ghost from Pac-man and Bowser from Super Mario Brothers. I’m sure Disney had to do a lot of work to get permissions to use these characters, and it was worth it.

Ralph realizes that in order to be a hero, he has to earn a medal. He quickly discovers that he can earn one in a game known as Hero’s Duty, which is a clear reflection of the popular Halo series. There is even a Master Chief character played perfectly by Jane Lynch, and I’m certain the role was written with her in mind. Eventually, Ralph finds himself in a game called Sugar Rush, which is a mix of Candy Land and Mario Kart. When he meets a sweet yet sassy girl named Vanelope, it is pretty obvious what will happen next. As we learned in Lilo and Stitch, nothing changes a being designed for chaos and evil then the pure heart of a little girl. Yes, there is some re-used Disney themes and situations in Wreck-It Ralph, but this time, it works.

Wreck-It Ralph is one of those films like Inception or The Matrix, where the viewer is taken into a fantastic world, but there are still rules and regulations. Many times these rules have to be explained, and there are times where it is somewhat confusing. I’m not certain whether or not the whole world of Wreck-It Ralph holds together, logically. However, I found the extended metaphor of video game characters existing in their own world works so well that it really doesn’t matter. I’m glad the studio didn’t make a dumbed-down story. In fact, Disney probably could have created the story around Donkey Kong and Mario, as Wreck It Ralph and Fix-it Felix are clear satires of these famed video game characters. Even if Nintendo would have given them the rights, I prefer the fake video game characters that Disney made up for the sake of the story.

I’m sure that Disney will attempt a sequel to this film, even though I can’t think of anything more that could happen to these characters. Personally, I think the best thing they can do is keep Wreck-It Ralph on the shelf as a completed work, and not do it to death. If Disney’s CG department can produce even a handful of stories as good as Wreck-It Ralph, then Disney won’t need PIXAR anymore.

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