The nominations: Animated Feature
The film: For thirty years Wreck-It Ralph has been the terror of the popular game Fix-It Felix, Jr. Despite the integral role he plays in the game, none of the other characters ever try to include him and instead constantly celebrate their hero Felix, relegating Ralph to a lonely existence living in the scrap pile instead of in the fancy apartment building with the others. One night at the regular bad guy support group, Ralph tries to reconcile his feelings of no longer wanting to be the bad guy with the importance of his role in the game. Afterward Ralph comes back to find the other characters celebrating the game’s thirtieth anniversary with a party in Felix’s penthouse. Ralph is tentatively invited to join by a guilty Felix, but the others persist in ostracizing him affirming he would have to win a medal like the one Felix wins in the game to be included.
While at a videogame character hangout called Tapper’s, Ralph learns that he could win a medal in the new high-tech, first-person shooter game Hero’s Duty. After stealing a costume from one of Duty’s characters, Ralph enters the game and is horrified at the intense nature of the play, especially the violence, to the aggravation of the game’s guide Sgt. Calhoun. Ralph goes off on his own to climb the beacon to get the medal at the top. He gets the medal but as he enters the escape pod to leave the game, an evil Cy-Bug attaches itself and escapes the game with Ralph. Meanwhile, a customer reports that Ralph is missing from Fix-It Felix, Jr., and the game becomes in danger of being shut off. Determined to save the game, Felix ventures off to find Ralph and bring him back.
Ralph’s escape pod lands in a candy-themed racecar game called Sugar Rush. As Ralph searches for his medal that he lost in the crash, he meets a glitchy character named Vanellope von Schweetz who has taken the medal to try and buy her way back on to the racing board. Because Vanellope is an outcast too, she and Ralph become friends and Ralph agrees to help her win a race to get his medal back. Unbeknownst to them, the Cy-Bug escaped the pod and now runs rampant, multiplying at will, throughout the Sugar Rush course. Sgt. Calhoun meets Felix pursuit of the pod revealing to him that if the Cy-bug multiplies out of control it will destroy the game.
The odds: The marriage of old-school and new-school was a popular theme for the movies of 2012, none more obvious than in Wreck-It Ralph. Filled with a widely sympathetic nostalgia to appeal to the adult crowd and the more and more popular messages of self-worth, DreamWorks might have finally found its way to Pixar’s level of universality without sacrificing content or aesthetic for either the young or old – and it’s that quality that gives it the greatest edge in a category with an uncommonly even playing field. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still at the mercy of its voters. ParaNorman is a bit too scary; Frankenweenie is a bit too freaky; Brave is a bit too lofty; Pirates! Band of Misfits is a bit too British. Yes, Ralph has its limitations as well, most noticeably that the older crowd might not be able to appreciate a lot of the classic videogame references, but it remains the most accessible movie for the voting crowd. It would certainly be interesting to see what would happen if AMPAS allowed children into the Academy and the exclusive ring of voters – I’m positive that the award would go to another film. As it were though the film still is incredibly precious and clever with its references (I particularly appreciated the villains from “Street Fighter” at the Bad-Guys-Anonymous meeting) as well as with the parts created specifically for the film. I did really like this movie because it, with its unique characters and cutesy sensibility, really primes its viewer for happiness… and it didn’t hurt that it opened with the seriously great animated short Paperman.