Animation Cage Match: Wreck-It Ralph vs. Rise of the Guardians

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LLLADDIES AAAAND GENTLEMEEEN!!!

For your entertainment tonight, two computer animated children’s films, one internet film column, and only one may leave! Who will win? Who will come out on top? Who will I be able to make more crude jokes about?

In this corner, hailing from Disney, the land of dreams and marketing, it’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s appealing to the gamer crowd, Wreck-it RAAAALPH!!!

And in this corner, coming all the way from Dreamworks, Pixar’s less talented cousin, it’s serious, it’s action-y, it has some jerk with that same douchey smile on his face on the poster, Rise of the GUAAARDIAAANS!!!

And now, gentlefilms…..FIGHT!

(Just a heads up, most of these characters are in the film for maybe a second or two)

Wreck-it Ralph had one thing going for it right from the get go, besides Jane Lynch’s dulcet tones and that’s a guaranteed audience in the gamer crowd. If you can’t tell from the poster, Ralph bills itself almost as a kind of Toy Story for games, the antagonist being a villain from a Donkey Kong style game who seeks a better life in other digital landscapes.

But one of the complaints video game enthusiasts may heap at the foot of the film is that while the premise promises a romp through various worlds modeled after or just inspired by their favorite games new and old, the reality is we get to see about three. After deciding he’s through playing the bad guy, John C. Reilly’s Ralph hops it first into Hero’s Duty, a sci-fi shooter that’s one part Call of Duty and one part Gears of War before quickly jumping again into Sugar Rush, basically Mario Cart meets Candyland. Oh wait that reminds me.

Hey, Universal? Yeah, you know that Candyland movie you want to make? With, like, Adam Sandler? The one that’s totally not a good idea? Might as well pack it in, Ralph beat you to the punch. No need for that now. Or ever. Thanks. Bye.

Ok, right. Where I was headed before is that while the movie does pull out a lot of cheeky gaming references, locales and even some notable character cameos, gamers hoping this is a movie “made for them” may be disappointed. Ralph isn’t so much a “video game movie” as it is a movie that uses video games as set dressing for a fairly generic, been there done that message for the wee-uns. If you’re expecting anything about games, gamer culture, the role games play in our lives or anything pertaining to video games beyond the barest surface aesthetics, you may be out of luck.

Once you can get past that, Ralph is still an enjoyable film. The voice cast is incredibly strong, featuring Reilly, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer (basically still playing Kenneth Parcell) and Sarah Silverman all giving strong performances. The animation is clean, colorful and visually creative and it’ll generally keep you entertained, though it doesn’t ever hold the emotional depth or punch of say the ending of Toy Story 3 or the beginning of Up.

An enjoyable and cleverly made film over all who’s only real sin beyond failing to recreate Reilly’s triumphant curls in digital form is failing or not caring to use the video game trappings in any any really meaningful way.

*DING *

The thing that struck me as early as the first trailer for Dreamwork’s Rise of the Guardians is just how damn serious it seems to be taking itself. For what is basically a superhero style team-up of holiday icons and “Go the hell to sleep, kid”-fairy stories including Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman (sadly bereft of any Neil Gaiman references) and newcomer/expositional dialogue facilitator Jack Frost, there are a lot of serious faces and sentimental speechify-ing going on here.

Of course, this does appeal to me on a certain comic-book nerd type level and that’s probably what the makers of the film had in mind, the ingenious little devils that they are. When I made the superhero comparison early on I wasn’t kidding, either. In their fight against the evil Boogeyman, Santa (never referred to by name, interestingly) whips out a pair of dueling sabers, Easter Bunny chucks exploding eggs and boomerangs, and Jack Frost steals a bunch of moves from Frozone that Frozone stole from Ice-Man.

Of course this is still a kids movie so you never get to see Santa disembowel anyone and do a Cossack dance in their entrails, but this still feels more akin to a superhero action movie than a brightly colored, holiday themed child-distracting device. The colors are darker, the character models are less cartoony and more detailed, and it doesn’t constantly assault you with slapstick, zaniness and cheeky pop-culture references that will probably be out of date by the time it hits dvd.

For some kids, this make make the film either scary, boring or both, but for us grownup folks it makes for an odd brew of entertainingly bizarre action scenes book-ended by somewhat heavy handed monologues about “believing” and “Knowing who you are” and all that pop psychology malarkey designed to not turn impressionable youths into bitter, jaded man-goblins like myself.

The characters by and large also have more depth and intrigue than those of Ralph, due in no small part to a similarly all-star voice acting team including Alec Baldwin, Jude Law and Hugh Jackman

It’s definitely a unique and gutsy movie, worth watching, and will no doubt become one of those little known cult holiday movies a few years down the line.

* DING DING DING *

So which one came out on top?

Both fighters fared well, but have their share of bruises. Wreck-It Ralph seems to have a ruptured sternum. But which should you see?

Paperman. Oh, didn’t I mention? Before Wreck-it Ralph they screened a new Disney animated short called Paperman. Absolutely beautiful, magnificently animated and directed, had me smiling from start to finish. Winner by a mile.

What do you mean that’s cheating?

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