I love animation. It really boils down to that simple statement. I am the adult that stands in line to purchase the ticket for the kids’ movie without a single child around me. There’s something about going to see new cartoons with a Coke as big as my head and buttered popcorn in hand that makes me a very happy Geek Girl.
This is not to say that I’m indiscriminate about the animation that I watch. I’m not going to go see an animated movie just because it’s animated. Something about it has to catch my eye, at least in the previews, especially if there’s not a specific vocal talent or animator drawing me to the work.
“Wreck-It-Ralph” was actually pretty high on my list of movies that I wanted to go see. I kept getting glimpses of characters that I recognized from the days when I used to eagerly plunk quarters into a machine that was taller than my mom. Yes, I grew up in the days when people went to arcades to play video games. We knew where all of them were and they were split into categories. There were the arcades that you went to because you wanted to play pinball, there were the arcades that you went to because you wanted to play “Space Invaders” or “Centipede”, and then there were the arcades that you went to because you wanted to play the new games that had just been released. I’ll admit, I was one of the ones who favored those trusty stalwarts of the 8-bit gaming generation. Give me “Dig-Dug” or “Road Rally” and I’ll play the heck out of them. I remember when Mario was the little dude that “Donkey Kong” wanted to squash.
As I grew up, my Geekiness focused more towards books and comics, along with movies and television. Relatives and friends fell deeply under the spell of Nintendo, and I was the starry-eyed little sprocket sitting on the couch reading through the book that came with the game. I knew that each of those games had a back story, usually printed in miniscule type, on the opening pages of the staple-bound book tucked into the black plastic cover. There were character names and artists’ renderings that were far superior to the graphics clunking their pixellated way across the screen. Each character in the game had descriptions of their powers and weaknesses, and, usually, there were at least token explanations about what players were supposed to do in each round of the game. I was the weird little kid that everyone asked what that thing on the screen was supposed to be and how they were supposed to kill it.
I suppose the point where I got disillusioned with video games was the point at which I realized in “Legend of Zelda” that players were supposed to kill Monoclonius. It was bad enough that the dinosaurs were confined to a little tiny room, where some jerk in a green suit was going to come and bug them, but then, to add injury to all that insult, he was supposed to kill them. You just can’t do that to a tiny would-be paleontologist and expect them to want to have anything to do with your game franchise.
Still, video games have made more than impressive strides since then, leaving massive prints from their seven-league boots in pop culture. The animation has become something akin to wizardry and programming has made games more interactive than ever. Certainly, I can appreciate the artwork and the story design that goes into constructing any game, even if I’m not much for playing them. I know, given the friends that I have, that I can do better than the average oblivious bear when it comes to identifying where a game character belongs.
The moment that I saw that Q-Bert was going to be in “Wreck-It-Ralph”, I was pretty much sold on going to see it. The merchandising that went into Q-Bert was practically omnipresent when I was little. I remember bits and pieces of the cartoon show, mostly because I remember that there were various Q-Bert like creatures of differing colors and shapes in it and the snakes all had lisps. There was a Q-Bert machine in the corner of one of the Mexican food restaurants that we used to frequent when I was little and I played that game almost as much as I played “Pac-Man”.
So, I settled into my seat in the theater, popcorn and soda close at hand and eagerly awaited the start of “Wreck-It-Ralph”. I was not disappointed. Of course, being a Disney movie, there has to be a moral to the story about treating people well, even if they are different from you. That’s a message Disney will never tire of reiterating and, honestly, since our world seems to need it repeated ad nauseam, it’s a message that I’m not going to begrudge them. Some of the movies are a little more heavy-handed about that than others. “Wreck-It-Ralph” is certainly one of the more blatant ones, but the way that the story is told is charming and there are enough nods to the adults in the room that it doesn’t get in the way of a pretty enjoyable popcorn flick.
By now, you’ve probably seen enough ads to know that Ralph’s the bad guy from a very popular 8-bit game. He’s feared and hated and all he really wants (and all that most Disney heroes want) is to belong somewhere and be liked by someone. The novelty here comes in the form of what the video games do when the arcade is shut down at night. Characters can go between games and that’s where all of the fun really starts.
Gamers are going to recognize some very familiar faces. There’s Q-Bert, who still talks just like he did in the game. Bowser, who has a pretty decent cameo, and Clyde, one of the ghosts from “Pac-Man”. Gamers will also recognize nods to some very popular games that possibly weren’t given a green light to appear in a Disney film. This is a movie that was most definitely made by people who have studied and enjoyed gamer culture.
Ralph is, of course, struggling to accept himself. The problem is that everyone thinks he’s just the bad guy he plays in the game. John C. Reilly is the voice of Ralph, making that voice a gentle, woebegone counterpoint to Ralph’s gigantic, fearsome appearance. Ralph decides that the best way to prove he’s not really such an awful guy is to bring a medal back to his own game. Thus, begins his quest and the plot.
Jane Lynch’s part in the movie is hilarious. She’s exactly the kind of character that you’d want her to play and she provides some of the unexpected twists in the movie. Then, there’s Alan Tudyk, who turns the best Ed Wynn impression I’ve ever heard. For those of you unsure of who Ed Wynn is, that’d be the guy who did the voice of the Mad Hatter in Disney’s animated “Alice in Wonderland”.
It all pulls together to make a thoroughly enjoyable film. Disney plays up on some of the beloved video game tropes and turns a few of them on their heads. And, while no one over the age of four is going to be surprised about how the movie ends, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to watch.
Shortly after “Wreck-It-Ralph”, I decided to go and see “Rise of the Guardians.” Since I wasn’t familiar with the books, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The previews weren’t really a whole lot of help. There was a sort of Russian mafia looking Santa Claus and I was pretty sure there was an Easter Bunny and a Sandman in there, but everything else was muddled with all of the hype.
The longer preview that I saw before “Wreck-It-Ralph” was actually the deciding factor in going to see “Rise of the Guardians”. There was a clearer idea of what the characters were supposed to be and hints that the story might me more engaging than initial appearances had indicated. So, once more, I settled into my theater seat with my popcorn and my soda, and waited for the movie to start.
“Rise of the Guardians” was, to me, the far more enjoyable film of the weekend animation binge. Santa, the Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, and The Sandman are all guardians of childhood. They protect all of the children in the world. Their power, naturally, hinges on children believing in them. A threat rises in the form of Pitch, the nemesis that the Guardians have held at bay for years. To help them combat that threat, a new Guardian is chosen, Jack Frost.
For starters, “Rise of the Guardians” has some gorgeous animation. The scenes where The Sandman is weaving dreams are particularly stunning. I never thought a manta ray made out of sand could be that beautiful on a screen, but it definitely was. When Pitch comes on-screen and starts casting his dark shadows, those creations are the sinister (but still lovely) flip side to Sandy’s pretty weaving. All throughout the movie, there was more than just the story in the foreground. You have to watch what’s happening behind the main characters because there is always something happening.
The character design is also stellar. In addition to a Santa who looks tougher than any incarnation that I’m familiar with, there’s the hummingbird-esque Tooth Fairy, whose wings look positively lifelike. Sandy still manages to look warm, friendly, and a bit fuzzy, even though I assume he’s made of sand, and Jack Frost looks like a misplaced member of a boy band.
“Rise of the Guardians” is a little darker than “Wreck-It-Ralph”. The story centers on a direct threat to children carried out in a proliferation of nightmares. In addition, Jack Frost’s origin is one that is on the tragic side of the spectrum. “Wreck-It-Ralph” is all pure imagination. It’s video games and, for the most part, kids don’t see much real world impact from those. What little kid hasn’t had a bad dream, though?
In that same respect, “Rise of the Guardians” is also more than willing to tackle those things that “everyone” knows and play with them. Santa’s workshop is fully stocked with elves, but those elves are not the wondrously industrious little helpers that we’ve all been led to believe. The elves in this movie are-well-they mostly seem to be very sophisticated pets. I got the impression from the movie that, left to their own devices, there would not be a single elf surviving in the wild. The toys in Santa’s workshop are instead made by yeti.
As for gags for the parents, there are ample enough examples in the movie. There are fewer pop-culture references than “Wreck-It-Ralph”, but there is a lot more going on in “Rise of the Guardians.” Even though there’s no overt reference to it, adults (and the smart little starry-eyed sprockets) in the audience will rapidly realize that the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman, who is not hiding his accent) resides on Easter Island. “Rise of the Guardians” is peppered with ideas like that, which, when taken with the visual style of the movie and the story makes for very enjoyable viewing.
The only part of “Rise of the Guardians” that I felt didn’t quite measure up was Chris Pine’s voice-over work as Jack Frost. He seemed a bit flat in places, which is a problem when your character is supposed to be enthusiastic and mischievous. Jude Law, Isla Fisher, and Alec Baldwin more than make up for that with their performances, though.
I wasn’t disappointed by either film. Admittedly, “Rise of the Guardians” had less of a challenge in impressing me because I wasn’t sure what to expect. “Wreck-It-Ralph” appealed to what remains of my inner gamer Geek, while “Rise of the Guardians” played up on my still flourishing inner folklore Geek. Still, I do have to say that it’s more than a little disconcerting to find myself fully empathizing with a yeti painting robots in Santa’s workshop.