Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wrecked Ambition

I saw Wreck-It Ralph last week. It has its strengths; the subplot involving the old-fashioned Fix-It Felix Jr. and the Gears of War-esque Sergeant Calhoun benefits from strong writing -- Calhoun's nigh-nonsensical nuggets of tough-guy wisdom are brilliant, reminiscent of The Tick in places -- and good performances from Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer. It's so well done that it threatens on more than one occasion to overwhelm the main storyline, a bog-standard Disney bit of fluff about acceptance and being true to oneself.

The biggest problem with the film is its chronic lack of ambition in terms of visuals and design. The civilians -- non-player characters? -- of Ralph's world have the limited animation and movement of 8-bit sprites, as is appropriate, except they're not sprites. They're smooth, generic cgi, just like every other character in the film and every other character in every other post-Toy Story animated feature. It's a shame because the animators show -- with little touches like the way those NPCs move, or the pixellated blobs of cake icing splattered across the walls after one of Ralph's rampages -- that they've got some sense of how to make the visuals memorable, but they never quite get there. There's even a joke at one point -- in which Felix compliments Calhoun on her high-resolution curves -- that falls flat because Felix himself is rendered in high-resolution cgi. It's so disappointing.

I suppose it's easier, quicker and cheaper to produce animation in such a way, but when there's stuff like Paperman out there turning heads and winning awards based in no small part on its unique look, Wreck-It Ralph looks even more bland in comparison. As such, sticking the aforementioned short at the beginning of the film was probably not the cleverest thing Disney could have done.

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