Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: "Wreck-It Ralph" is the Best Animated Film, and why the Academy Won't Recognize That

As previous speculation had me believe, director Rich Moore's biggest obstacle with Wreck-It Ralph will be the subject matter. Of course, that is only the case for those that ignore the story. Disney has managed to do an impossible feat. They have managed to turn video games into an allegorical tale of accepting others as well as a tale of how disabilities shouldn't ruin your life. Sure there is a lot of video game references, but in general, Wreck-It Ralph succeeds in being one of the more heartfelt animated movies to come out in 2012.

The story follows Ralph (John C. Reilly) as he deals with the conflict of being the villain in the game of his namesake. In order to prove his worth, he visits other games. This not only manages to show contrast between the various platforms for gaming, but also signifies a Toy Story-style connection to the outside world who visit an old arcade. In many ways, it demystifies the video game process while showing us something that we've never seen before. Moving at a face pace, it rarely lags and the last 10 minutes pack an emotional punch that even Brave was lacking.

With this established, what is keeping Wreck-It Ralph from winning Best Animated Feature? While I am still a staunch believer that Paranorman (now out on DVD) is the best animated film, I am convinced that if anyone can take down Pixar, it is Wreck-It Ralph. The advantage is that Brave has not garnered the universal acclaim that Up or even WALL-E featured. In fact, on Rotten Tomatoes, Wreck-It Ralph features a healthy 86% to Brave's 78%. The margin does not express an easy changing of the guard, but already provides hope that things can change quickly.

Still, Scottish folklore has been more accepted than video games, and that alone may be the determining factor. Statistics website Gold Derby even shows Brave still having a strong lead with odds of 13:5. It can also be argued that second place's Tim Burton's Frankenweenie ranks so high not because it is a great film (I haven't seen it so I cannot comment just yet), but because the older voters in the Academy have more familiarity with the iconic monster movies that inspired it, notably James Whale's Frankenstein. Also, Burton seems to have an easy time getting nominated. Alice in Wonderland managed to win Best Art Design and Best Costume Design and also received a nomination for Best Visual Effects. In many ways, I feel like Frankenweenie's statistics of 4:1 over Wreck-It Ralph's 9:2 is simply based on Burton's legacy.

I will support this movie to win Best Animated Feature, but at this point, there is only hope that it gets nominated. That alone will help to establish video game movies as a credible market, which is the least that we can hope for. Also, while Brave features a captivating story about Scottish folklore, it isn't necessarily the most invigorating or innovative film of this year. Paranorman and Wreck-It Ralph beat that by miles. They may tackle more troubling subjects, mostly about deformities and dysfunctional families, but their rawer approach makes the appeal less universal, and Pixar has always been prided on being universal.

At very least, Wreck-It Ralph will win over the audience who are not familiar with video games. While there are characters like Sonic and Q*Bert populating this universe, the references are not so obscure that it distracts from the narration. That alone is an achievement and gives the film more legs. Also, the palate and concepts present show animation going into interesting, new directions. They rarely feel clumsy and define what makes animation such an important medium of entertainment. Brave, in spite of all of its charm, is more tangled up is mysticism than fun.

The success of the film is also beneficial. According to Box Office Mojo, it has made $192 million worldwide on a budget of $165 million. Mind you, the film is still only a few weeks old and stands to profit more. As tragic as it is to claim, success is most often a factor in what succeeds in this category. Pixar films are profitable. The fact that Brave grossed $535 million on a budget of $185 million will play big when considering odds. 

With this said, it is quite possible what just killed the chances of Rise of the Guardians getting a nomination. It grossed $48 million worldwide on a budget of $145 million. Not quite the success that Dreamworks Animation was hoping. Add in it being only rated 75% on Rotten Tomatoes (the lowest of the top five possible nominees), it may just be perceived as another holiday film. While the films are not widely promoted, it is possible that we'll get more surprise Best Animated Feature nominations from foreign markets. Still, from the poor box office of Rise of the Guardians, it is possible that the traction needed to be recognized at awards season has become harder to do. My only problem? Gold Derby has it listed above Paranorman, which may cause both to drop out provided the Academy recognizes foreign markets.

I apologize that this isn't really a review of Wreck-It Ralph, but more of an update on my opinions in the Best Animated Feature category. I still hope that Brave does not win, but will not be surprised if it does. Still, if you have to see one film that far and away proves that animation is a viable market that is ever growing, I feel that Wreck-It Ralph deserves your attention. It is fun, heartfelt, and features some emotional complexity that you wouldn't expect a movie with a town called Sugar Rush to have. The voice work is great and there is little doubt that Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz will quickly become one of Disney's modern iconic characters. At very least, I believe that Wreck-It Ralph will stand the test of time better than Brave and continue to find an audience.

Is Brave being over hyped to the point of not getting a nomination? Can Wreck-It Ralph prove that it can win based on the story and not the concept? Is Frankenweenie or Tim Burton's legacy really what is keeping that film high on the list? Can Paranorman pull an upset, or is it now going to be between three Disney movies?

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