Disney and Pixar flip-flopped with their 2012 animated releases. Pixar made an animated movie that only reached Disney's typical heights ('Brave') and Disney Animation made one that rose to Pixar's old level ('Wreck-It Ralph'). When it came time to cast my ballot for the best animated film of 2012, my vote went to 'Ralph.'
The premise of 'Wreck-It Ralph' isn't all that far off from 'Toy Story' (which is actually explained as a major inspiration by the director in the Blu-ray's special features): each night, when arcades close their doors, all of the characters from the various videogames come to life and reveal their true personalities. Some are exactly what you would expect, but others are completely against their character types. Our central character, Ralph (John C. Reilly), plays the villain in 'Fix-It Felix Jr.,' but his only desire is for the other characters in his game to look at him for who he really is, not as the in-game back guy.
Ralph hits rock bottom in the beginning of the film and is told that he could gain the respect and friendship of his peers if he could earn awards and medals like his nice guy in-game nemesis, Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer). With this thought in mind, Ralph heads to the Gaming Central Station – the hub power strip that all of the games in the arcade are plugged into – and jumps into the scary and violent fictional game 'Hero's Duty' to earn his well-deserved accolade. The brilliant thing about 'Wreck-It Ralph' is that absolutely everything in the film serves a purpose. If something seems insignificant, just wait – it will definitely come back with a purpose that's essential to the plot. While the 'Hero's Duty' sequence contains a lot of stuff that may appear as fluff, it's necessary for the plot.
Ralph is rocketed from 'Hero's Duty' and crash lands in the saccharine-coated and colorful world of 'Sugar Rush.' While 'Sugar Rush' is a racing game, the bubble-gum girl characters draws in little girls. Disney wisely chose this game's identity. Balance is given to the film's demographic, as 'Sugar Rush' single-handedly includes the female audiences. It is within this diabetes-inducing setting that we meet the secondary character, a "dirty-haired little brat" named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). With a glitch in her programming, Vanellope's in-game social status is identical to Ralph's – neither are accepted in their home games. Together, the two of them plot to supersede their not-so-great reputations.
A secondary plot is included that allows a few other very entertaining characters to shine. With 'Ralph' bouncing around other games, 'Fix-It Felix Jr.' is left abandoned. When the arcade opens and 'Fix-It Felix Jr.' is found villain-less, the arcade owner calls out a repairman. If Ralph doesn't show up by the time that the repairman gets there, the game will be unplugged and all the characters will either cease to exist or have to become homeless refugees in Game Central Station (like Q*bert). Being the best at fixing things, Felix sets off to track down Ralph and bring him back. When he meets the curvy lead character of 'Hero's Duty' (Jane Lynch), the two race into 'Sugar Rush' to track Ralph down.
The trailers might lead you to believe that one has to be familiar with the iconic arcade games from the '80s in order to enjoy 'Wreck-It Ralph.' That's actually not the case. However, if you know those games, like the aforementioned 'Q*bert,' you'll recognize a lot more of the background jokes than the viewers who don't. Once Ralph begins his journey, those silly and fun Easter Eggs are left aside and the film gets really good. The story is very well written, so much so that I didn't see the end coming. On top of that, like the title character, 'Wreck-It Ralph' has a lot of heart.
'Wreck-It Ralph' is a true win for Disney Animation. Ever since John Lasseter shifted from Pixar to Disney Animation, the studio's films have consistently gotten better and better. 'Ralph' has a little something for everyone – young and old, boys or girls. Disney has successfully kept up with the times while telling a classic tale that won't soon be forgotten or dismissed.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Disney has given the 3D version of 'Wreck-It Ralph' the sub-title "Ultimate Collector's Edition." It contains four discs – a 3D BD-50, a 2D BD-50, a DVD and Digital Copy disc. Aside from the inclusion of the 3D Blu-ray disc and the Digital Copy, the contents of this 3D release are identical to the 2D release. Disney has refrained from using a bulky keepcase by stacking the discs one on top the other – a la 'The Avengers' 3D Blu-ray. At plain sight, it appears to be a two-disc Elite keepcase, but two discs are stacked on each side - but truthfully I'd rather have a bulkier case. A cool lithographic slip cover vertically slides over the keepcase. The usual Disney Rewards code is included that doubles as a the Digital Copy validation code. Upon inserting the 3D disc, a Disney Blu-ray vanity reel plays prior to 3D trailers for 'Monsters University' and 'Planes.' On the 2D disc, we get the same videos in 2D with the addition of the 'Little Mermaid' Blu-ray trailer.
'Wreck-It Ralph' comes with a flawless 3D 1080p/MPEG-4 MVC encoding that expands the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio to 2.39:1. I dare you to find fault with it.
The 3D animators decided to use the 3D in a playful way. When we're first introduced to Ralph's world through the scuffed panel window of an old arcade game, everything is in 2D. The animation of Ralph's world is in 2D, so the film follows suit with how we view. Once we zoom in through the glass, his world becomes 3D. The animated characters become three dimensional, but the blocky textures of 8-bit animation is still there. As we move from videogame to videogame, the textures change accordingly. In 'Hero's Duty,' the dark, sharp, pointy and jagged-edged environment conveys danger. The darkness is thick and the black levels are perfectly set. In 'Sugar Rush,' everything is brightly colored and shiny, sharing the same desirous effect of the candy that it's made out of. If you remove your 3D glasses, you'll notice that the brightness of the image is intensified so that the vibrant colorwheel palette isn't lessened when you have your glasses on. From Nesquik-sand, Mento stalactites and Coca-Cola hot springs, the look of 'Sugar Rush' alone is enough to give you cavities.
There are several subtle instances of brilliant 3D over-achievement that I hadn't noticed while screening 'Wreck-It Ralph' theatrically. In the dingy closet of 'Tapper,' Ralph rummages through a lost-and-found box hoping that another character left a medal behind. As he sorts through the relics of other games, the tiniest of dust particles slowly float out of the box, each appearing at a different distance of depth into the 3D world. The same tender love and care has been applied to "black snow" ash that slowly falls in 'Hero's Duty.' It's in 'Hero's Duty' that we also see the first of many good looking 3D artificial lens flares. Pop-up effects are entirely absent. There a few instances of protruding objects. I typically hate this visual gimmick, but it works quite well in 'Ralph.' The effect of briefly staring down the barrel of a 'Hero's Duty' rifle is awesome.
Exactly as with 'Tangled,' it wasn't until I watched 'Wreck-It Ralph' on Blu-ray that the staggering fine details became evident. Despite being black, you can see the individual strands of Vanellope's hair. With a background consisting of thousands of candy cane trees, the animation of the 'Sugar Rush' forest is so great that aliasing isn't a problem. I also noticed with this viewing that the exhaust from Vanellope's racer is actually composed of millions of pieces of glitter. Honestly, I can't think of a single improvement that could be made to the video quality.
Disney has given 'Ralph' an always-active 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track of note. It's dynamic quality is never fleeting.
Just as each game's world carries a different video style, they also carry their own unique musical styles. That of 'Fix-It Felix Jr.' is simple, but impressive. It sounds like an '80s videogame soundtrack as if it was performed by a digital orchestra. 'Hero's Duty' sounds like a digital techno nightmare that matches Ralph's horrified line, "When did videogames become so violent and scary?" And the music of 'Sugar Rush' is poppy and kid-friendly, like that of a Disney Channel show. No matter the style, the music is always exceptionally mixed.
The audio effects of 'Ralph' are just as impressive. From a passing train in Game Central Station, exploding aerial fireworks or speeding racer carts, sounds seamlessly pass from one channel to another to create fantastic imaging. The rear and surround channels are just as active as the front and center ones. Bass and LFE are used to accentuate or punch specific moments. For example, when Ralph's emotions take control of his actions, he wrecks stuff. Each time this happens, Ralph's destruction carries bassy rumbles.
Vocal mixing is just as strong as the other audio aspects. Dialog is clear and clean. The voice cast for 'Ralph' was perfect. Each makes his/her character come to life. While all are great, there is one performance that stands out above the others: Sarah Silverman as Vanellope. Silverman is downright brilliant as the absolutely lovable snotty annoying kid. I've seen several film critics circles nominate Silverman for the Best Supporting Actress award because of how much she added to Vanellope. Luckily, hers and all of the other great performances sound fantastic and round out this perfect lossless track.
I love the direction that Disney Animation is headed. It reminds me of their winning streak in the '90s. 'Bolt' was much better than it should have been, 'The Princess and the Frog' was a great return to the traditionally animated princess genre, 'Tangled' was refreshingly enjoyable and 'Winnie the Pooh' was the best the series had been since the original. 'Wreck-It Ralph' continues that forward momentum. The characters are lovable, the animation is top notch, and there's something new to catch with each viewing. The story is strong, but could have been just a little bit better. The combination of the perfect video and audio qualities makes this 3D Blu-ray the latest and greatest demo-worthy disc. There are a handful of great special features, but this release could definitely have benefited from a few more. Considering that this is a family flick that adults can enjoy just as much as their kids - if not more - there's no reason 'Wreck-It Ralph' shouldn't be in your collection. Highly recommended.