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DVD Watch: 'Wreck-It Ralph' Ultimate Collecter's Edition

A four disc edition, but a solid charmer deserves more
Richard Whittaker, 12:00pm, Tue. Mar. 5, 2013

A serious question: How can a film with a sub-two hour run time, and only a handful of extras, require a four disc edition?

In a year of extraordinary animation achievement, and even a return of feature length stop-motion with Paranorman and Frankenweenie, Disney's videogame-loving Wreck-It Ralph sort of fell by the wayside. Written off as a second-tier release from the House of Mouse, it did OK, but nothing spectacular.

It's not hard to imagine that's there's a creative lull over at Disney. The trailers packaged with the Ultimate Collectors Edition fill me with dread. I mean, abhorrent as I find the NASCAR-buck-shilling, Hotwheels-aping Cars franchise, Planes just seems like a leap into the creative abyss (especially since Jon Cryer, whose voice appears in the trailer, has now reportedly been dumped in favor of Mr. Sophomore Humor himself, Dane Cook). A 3D release of The Little Mermaid is an obvious cash grab, although I will always be glad that more kids will get to see the film that really kickstarted the Disney renaissance. And Monsters University is really the last sign that Pixar and Disney (let's stop pretending there's a difference) need to go back to basics. Where's the Wall-E? Or a new A Bug's Life? Or something that had the innovative spirit of Monsters, Inc., rather than just its name.

And maybe, just maybe, for all its flaws, Wreck-It Ralph has some of that. Yes, it's Toy Story for arcade games. And, yes, it's one more raid of the toy box. Pixar has tied its own hands, stuck to a legacy from which it refuses to run. After all, the nostalgia of Buzz and Woody served them well (financially, if not always artistically: Contrary to popular opinion, I think 3 is a narrative mess that abandons the core relationship of the bickering buddies and pretends the whole franchise was about Andy the human all along).

But Wreck-It Ralph has charm and compassion, summed up in the rolled tones of John C. Reilly as Ralph, the bad guy of fictional arcade classic Fix-It Felix Jr.. Inside the cabinet of the Rampage-esque adventure, there's a whole little world (natch): Ralph wrecks the buildings of Niceland, and Felix (the ever-perky Jack McBrayer) fixes it with his all-purpose hammer. In a knowing nod to the old Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog cartoons, their constant battle is just a daily grind. When the quarters run out, they retire to their respective beds: Felix as the hero of Niceland in his shiny condo, and Ralph back to his pile of bricks.

In earlier drafts, as the making-of doc explains, this was a Felix story, but the creators quickly realized that no-one wants another Woody. Instead, the focus being on the rough-housing but sweet-natured Ralph, and his simple desire to be accepted, to just once be the good guy, means there's a real story to care about here. When he sets off into other arcade games (traveling by power cable) to find somewhere where he can be the hero, it's an awkward, big-hearted but clumsy-handed hero's journey, one that finally dumps him in the super-sickly Sugar Rush. That's where the story really takes flight, as he finds the glitchy outcast Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), another exile in her own world.

There's an adorable tension of having the definitive potty-mouthed comedienne, the eternally creepy Kenneth the page, and Dr. Steve Brule voicing a kids cartoon. Somehow it's even more outre than having Tim Allen voicing a space man doll (he'd already gone family friendly with Tool Time long before Disney CGI'ed him). But Reilly makes Ralph both burly and soulful, and Silverman ramps up her shrillness to candy-coated, sucrose-speeding childhood thrills.

Looking on this as a Toy Story derivative is true but also unfair. Like that was a paean to the toy box, this is a tender homage to childhoods spent in the arcade. It's a testament both to the commitment of the filmmakers and the power of Disney's deep pockets that Ralph's Bad-Anon meeting (motto: One game at a time) is a who's who of video game bad guys. But, more importantly, it's a sign that the film makers are doing a little more than just throwing in some meme-worthy bad guys. C'mon, they fold Q*bert into the mix, and that's worth anyone's quarter for some credits.

The extras convey that this was a story that took some really wrangling. A glimpse of a lost hand-animated maze chase sequence is visually fascinating, just for the contradictions of a penciled 16-bit star. However, we can all stand by the decision to dump the Dobie Gillis-esque deserter sub-plot, especially since it is little more than a chance at a side-swipe at The Sims. This was empty calories that Candy Rush didn't need, and was obviously part of an earlier script draft. A little sad, then, that the rewrites dumped a wonderful little three-hander between Ralph, Felix and Vanellope that established a closer relationship. As is, it remains an artifact of a rougher draft.

If the film is worth the money, there's still a big question about why it needs four discs. Yes, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, DVD and digital download, but who really needs all those formats? Disney and Pixar used to set the gold standard in extras-rich releases. You could spend hours wading through the two-disc versions of The Lion King, and if you ever see the big release of Tarzan, grab it like the last vine in the forest. As for four-disc releases, if it's not something like the massive 2004 Gone With the Wind, or the excruciatingly complete Blade Runner, which has four different edits plus two entire discs of extras, why all the wasted plastic?

What makes it really disappointing is that next week Disney releases startlingly packed three-disc editions of Mulan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the tragically under-rated Brother Bear, all with their sequels packed in. Frankly, if you're split between this monster edition of Wreck-It Ralph, and just the DVD, which comes with the wonderful and revolutionary Oscar-winning short Paperman, you shouldn't take too long to work out which will wreck your wallet less. But, and here's the kicker, if you want any of the other bonus features, like the making-of, you have to buy the Blu-ray, and that only comes in a combo pack with the DVD.

Sigh. Not to sound too nostalgic (but, then again, since the whole movie is coated lovingly with nostalgia, indulge me), but I miss the days of Disney really loading up the content. Back when Roy Disney ran the show, and every disc, every archive trawl, was definitive. Maybe, one day, there will be a much better one disc edition than this four disc leviathan.

Also out this week:

Red Dawn (MGM) The inessential remake of the 80s' most hilariously paranoid release (read our review here).

The Bay (Lionsgate) Oscar-feted director Barry Levison isn't who you'd expect to dabble in found footage horror, but the biological terror made big waves on VOD.

Satan's Angel: Queen of the Fire Tassels (Breaking Glass Pictures) The life and times of a burlesque innovator and freewheeling pioneer.

Waiting For Lightning (First Run Features) Someone jumping on a skate board? Yawn. Wait, what, Danny Way jumped over the Great Wall of China? Jacob Rosenberg's extraordinary documentary gives more answers about "why would you do that?" than just "because it's there." (See our coverage of the SXSW premiere here.)

The Marine 3: Homefront (20th Century Fox) The WWE's cinematic arm puts Mike "The Miz" Mizanin in the lead role for its action franchise.

Schindler's List 20th Anniversary Edition (Universal) Steven Spielberg's most personal statement, and the moment when he transformed from a major director to a serious filmmaker (read our review here).

The Intouchables (Sony) The Cesar-nominated odd couple tale delves deeply, humorlessly but tenderly into the complicated racial politics of contemporary France (read our review here).

College (Kino Lorber) Kino Lorber's slapstick restorations are gaining a great reputation, and Buster Keaton's 1927 romcom seems unlikely to break the streak.

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