Wreck It Ralph Meets King of Kong

One of my favorite movies of last year was Wreck It Ralph; as a former video game enthusiast, I appreciated all the inside jokes and it was really nice to walk out of a theater completely delighted after seeing a film. I see a lot of movies in a year, but most of them are pretty serious or a lot of people die in them. Wreck-It Ralph was just straight up fun and provided a nice change of pace from my steady diet of moody independent film, gory horror films, earnest documentaries and explosive action movies. Wreck -It Ralph was so delightful that it didn’t even bother me that I was the only person in the theater who was not there with a child; parents will occasionally give adults in a kids’ movie the side eye, but if they did so during Wreck-It Ralph I was far too wrapped up in the film to notice or care.

True to my word in my original review, I immediately pre-ordered the Blu-ray of the film from amazon.com and it was magically delivered to my office yesterday. Its arrival pretty much made my day, which is either a testament to how great this movie is or a sad comment on how my day was going in general (or perhaps a combination of the two). The movie alone would have been enough to lift my spirits, but yesterday the marketing team behind Wreck-It Ralph also released the thirty minute short “Garlan Hulse: Where Potential Lives,” a delightful faux-documentary  in the style of the 2007 very real documentary King of Kong.

I think I’ve mentioned King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters before on the blog, but it is one of my all-time favorite documentaries. The film chronicles one man’s quest to obtain the world high score on Donkey Kong, as well as profiling the man who is the current record holder and is so perfect for the story that the documentary is trying to tell that you have a hard time believing he isn’t straight from central casting. My favorite documentaries tend to be those that elevate a small story or obscure event and make them feel important and riveting; it’s easy to make a gripping story about war or the AIDS crisis, but if you can make me get emotionally invested in something as mundane as the high score on an old arcade game you have really done something. King of Kong does that – even if you don’t know anything about Donkey Kong, you can’t help but totally get sucked into this underdog’s journey for a flickering moment of relatively obscure greatness. If you haven’t seen this film, I can’t recommend it enough.

 

“Garlan Hulse: Where Potential Lives” applies the King of Kong model to the fictional account of a one-time Fix-It Felix, Jr. high scorer trying to regain his crown. It’s like the people at Disney were in a laboratory trying to dream up the perfect short to appeal to me. This is so in my wheelhouse that I can barely stand it and may be the more effective use of a mesh shirt since that recent episode of Girls.  You can watch the entire 30 minute film online:

 

As documented, I’m not the world’s biggest Disney fan, but between Wreck-It Ralph, this faux documentary and the short Paperman, they may be slowly bringing me into the fold.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Almost the Oscars edition

We’re in the home stretch – the Academy Awards are this Sunday. All I have left in my quest to see all of the Oscar nominated films are some foreign films and some documentaries. If everything goes according to plan, I think I am going to come up two movies short of my goal. It’s proven to be impossible to find the foreign film No and the documentary The Guardians. The closest that either film is playing is NYC and unless I want to take the day off to make the trip downstate (which I did actually consider), I think the dream may be dead. But still – I’ll come pretty darn close!

As I frantically try to find some Oscar screeners, enjoy your biweekly roundup of pop culture stories you may have missed:

  • A happy belated 75th birthday to author Judy Blume!
  • In honor of the season three finale (what did everyone think??), here’s the cast of Downton Abbey performing One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”

 

  • Maybe they were jealous of the attention that Jeopardy! has been receiving lately, but Wheel of Fortune decided to up their game with a dog on a scooter.

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  • The 2013 Bonnaroo line-up was announced yesterday. I want to go!
  • I hate Monopoly – it takes way too long and just isn’t much fun – but I might change my mind if I played this Breaking Bad version.
  • Check out Leonardo DiCaprio’s foreign ad for Jim Beam:

 

  • This is hilarious – Guy Fieri didn’t secure the full URL for his restaurant’s website, so someone else bought it and posted a parody menu. Well played.
  • Josh Duhamel and Fergie are expecting their first child; the singer announced the news on Twitter, using the hashtag #mylovelybabybump (which I have to admit is pretty cute).
  • The movie Lincoln inspired the state of Mississippi to finally ratify the 13th Amendment. They somehow hadn’t managed to get around to that yet. Who says pop culture can’t make a difference?
  • Listen to Mariah Carey’s new song from the upcoming film Oz the Great and Powerful (I’m not a fan – she sounds weird)

 

  • I don’t know that it was in doubt, but It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will be back for a ninth season.

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  • So, is everyone else watching The Following and kind of getting obsessed with it? Intellectually I have a ton of problems with the show, but damn it if it doesn’t manage to drag me in every Monday night.
  • SNL continues to be dreadful; I only made it about halfway through last week’s episode with Christoph Waltz. I did, however, really enjoy this digital short:
  • Whoo-boy. Things are not going well for Renee Zellweger. Lifetime just passed on her pilot Cinnamon Girl. Let that sink in for a moment. The network that gave us Liz & Dick passed on a pilot featuring an Oscar winner. I think we may have just found rock bottom.
  • The great Andre Braugher has joined Andy Samberg’s new police comedy pilot on Fox. The likelihood that I will tune in to this show if it goes to series just jumped to 100%.
  • It’s been a good couple of weeks for me – another one of my favorites joined a pilot. Josh Holloway (aka Sawyer on Lost) will star in the CBS drama Intelligence.
  • The New York Times Magazine has a long profile of blog favorite Connie Britton.
  • Sarah Michelle Geller will be starring opposite Robin Williams in a new sitcom.
  • Don’t cry for the B in Apt. 23 – Krysten Ritter landed a role in a pilot for NBC. Let’s hope James Van Der Beek has as smooth a transition.
  • PBS is trying to become the first nonprofit organization to reach one billion views on YouTube.

 

  • HBO may have pulled the plug on Luck, but it lives on in blog form. Added bonus – no horses can die online.
  • I guess they had a lot of fun filming Silver Linings Playbook; Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are reuniting with director David O. Russell on his next film (and holy hell – this film has an amazing cast!).
  • TV Land had become the go-to network for 90s sitcom stars. They have ordered a new comedy starring Kirstie Alley, Rhea Perlman and Michael Richards.
  • NBC’s new drama Hannibal will debut on Thursday April 4th.

 

  • Jerry Seinfeld stopped by The Late Show with David Letterman to do some stand-up:

 

  • Dean Norris (Hank to Breaking Bad fans) has been cast in the upcoming Stephen King miniseries, Under the Dome.
  • As an unabashed fan of The Golden Girls, I couldn’t pass up this collection of the 10 best musical numbers from the series.
  • The Strokes are back with a new song:

 

  • TV Duck has an infograph of 15 things you didn’t know about The Walking Dead.
  • My baseball husband Mark Teixiera made his Broadway debut in Rock of Ages. Check out video here.
  • The Discovery Channel is launching two new documentary series that focus on marijuana. The are calling the block of programming “Weed Wednesdays.”
  • And finally, a 60 second, live action version of the wonderful Wreck it Ralph:

Wreck-It Ralph – A Review

I have always had an affinity for video games. When I was a kid, my brother and I would battle it out on our Atari 2600. The games were simple and the graphics were terrible, but there was something mesmerizing about those early video games. We could sit there and play for hours and it was one of the few shared interests that we had because of our large gap in age (6 years – a lifetime as a kid). I then graduated to Nintendo, though my family never bought the console so I was relegated to playing at other people’s houses. I may or may not have sent some children that I babysat to bed early so I could get a little extra time in with Super Mario and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

By college and early graduate school the Playstation and Playstation 2 had debuted and I was once again hooked. I didn’t own either console, but the couple (and good friends) who lived in the apartment above me did and pretty much gave me free range to come up and play whenever I wanted. They were feeding the addiction. When they went to the hospital to give birth to their first child, they asked me to look in on their cat and said I could hang out and play games. Societal norms and old fashioned politeness had always dictated that I never overstay my welcome when I played Playstation when they were home, but now that they were temporarily gone, I was free to fully indulge my impulses. 9 hours later, my housemate came upstairs and dragged home so I could go to bed. I had asked him to do this when I went up there and he dutifully did, despite my objections and pleas for “15 more minutes.”

This is all to say that other than children, I’m probably the target audience for Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s latest animated feature that appears to be their answer to the success of Pixar. I was completely charmed by this film and was all-in within the first five minutes. Wreck-It Ralph is incredibly entertaining for both adults and children and doesn’t require a background in gaming to be enjoyed. But if you grew up with video games like I did, you will be especially enthusiastic about this movie.

Wreck-It Ralph can pretty simply be described as the video games version of Toy Story. The characters in the various video games in the arcade come to life; the video game is their job, but when the arcade shuts down for the night they are free to socialize and travel in between games. Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain of his game – he destroys and apartment building that hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) repairs – but he has tired of the ostracism and loneliness that comes from that role. Ralph wants to be the hero for once and sets off to other video games to try and win a medal and prove his worth, while inadvertently unleashing a virus that could destroy the entire arcade. Along the way he teams up with fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and is pursued by Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (Jane Lynch).

Comparing Wreck-It Ralph to Toy Story is in no way to detract from the creativity and execution of the former. Wreck-It Ralph can stand on its own merits. I thought the story was innovative and engaging. There are lots of shout outs to video game tropes (Ralph is clearly a stand in for Donkey Kong, Vanellope’s game Sugar Rush is a derivative of Mario Kart, etc.), but the story does not rely on the viewer picking up on all these references for the movie to work. The film manages to create an entire world within the arcade and create original and developed characters during the course of the story. There is plenty of humor in the movie, for adults and children alike. Wreck-It Ralph is just a straight up fun movie. It is also pretty spectacular to look at.

The actors selected to voice each of the main characters were perfectly cast. Reilly is great at showing that while Ralph is the villain, he’s not a bad guy and just wants to be accepted. McBrayer is perfect as the simple Felix – the artists did a fantastic job of creating a character that bears a striking resemblance to the actor voicing him. I thought that Silverman was the real standout with Vanellope; though better known as a raunchy comedienne, Silverman’s performance fits in perfectly with this family friendly fare and gives the character that added spunk that makes Vanellope the real stand out character of the film, regardless of what the title of the movie is. I was less impressed with Lynch, who has been typecast with her Sue Sylvester role from Glee. Her character in Wreck-It Ralph is more of the same; her performance fits the character, but I do wish she would be allowed to do more in her roles than repeatedly playing the same one note.

Some other thoughts:

  • There is a delightful short that proceeds Wreck-It Ralph, where after a chance encounter with a woman at a subway stop, a man tries to find her again in the city. The short is done without dialogue and is beautifully drawn. I’m not sure how much it would appeal to children, however. The screening I went to was relatively empty and I couldn’t tell if the few kid in attendance were into it or not. But I really enjoyed it and wouldn’t be surprised if it is considered for Best Animated Short at the Oscars. It was very sweet.
  • While the comparison with Toy Story can mostly be drawn from both films giving life to inanimate objects from childhood, there is a scene where Ralph goes to a support group for villains that did conjure up memories of the Toy Story short Small Fry that preceded The Muppets:

I loved Small Fry for many reasons, but specifically for introduction of the character T-Bone, which happens to be my nickname (he makes his appearance around the 2 minute mark). If anyone at Pixar is reading this – PLEASE make a T-Bone action figure. It would have a place of honor on my desk!

  • While I’m sure Disney couldn’t get the licensing for many classic video game characters, there are a few familiar faces that do turn up throughout the movie.
  • Some of the minor characters’ voices may also ring a bell – Alan Tudyk (Firefly), Dennis Haysbert (24, All-State commericals, and my personal favorite, Major League), Adam Carolla and Mindy Kaling all have supporting roles.
  • I didn’t see Wreck-It Ralph in 3-D, so I can’t speak to the graphics. But even in 2-D it was amazing. Very colorful and dazzling. The animation also changes to match the inner world of each video game, giving them their own unique feel.
  • It’s been a while since I’ve used my Wii for anything other than streaming movies or working out, but after watching Wreck-It Ralph I was tempted to dust off my games and start playing again.
  • The saddest part of this movie is I wonder if kids today even know what an arcade is. Do they even exist anymore? I still dream of becoming rich enough that I can have a room full of classic arcade games.

I adored Wreck-It Ralph so much that I’ll pay it one of the highest compliments I can – I would pay to go see it again in the theater. I NEVER go to see films multiple times, so that is a testament to how much I loved it. I will absolutely buy this when it comes out on DVD and I’m not one that normally goes in for kid’s movies. The film does a wonderful job of mashing up nostalgia and newness, so I think it will appeal across generations. It’s funny, clever and sweet; it made for a very enjoyable movie going experience and I was honestly sad when the film was over. If you have kids or love video games, you should definitely check it out.