Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Cartoon characters seeking trophies
I couldn't help but notice a thematic similarity between the two animated movies I watched this past weekend, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph and Aardman's The Pirates! Band of Misfits.
The following analysis contains some spoilers, so if you haven't seen these movies, you may choose to abstain from this post.
Both movies feature a protagonist who is "bad," whether he likes it or not -- the villain in a classic video game and a pirate captain. The video game villain actually wants to be perceived as less bad, while the pirate captain wishes people would see him as more vicious than he really is. In each case they are driven toward a talisman that they believe will validate them in the eyes of their peers. Wreck-It Ralph just wants to win a medal, any medal, while the Pirate Captain (that is his only given name) has his sights set on the prestigious Pirate of the Year Award.
Earning these trophies, they believe, will help them get out of the shadow of a rival. Ralph is naturally jealous of Fix-It Felix, the hero and namesake of the game, who is bestowed a medal as part of game play, while Ralph (quite diametrically opposite) must go sleep in a pile of trash at the end of the day. The Pirate Captain, on the other hand, has been trying to surpass the exploits of several rival pirate captains, most notably one so fierce and grandiose that he makes his entrance by emerging from the belly of a whale, whose every move he apparently controls.
Determined to reverse the natural order of things, each protagonist embarks on a quixotic quest into unfamiliar territory -- Ralph into the first-person shooter game Hero's Duty, and the Pirate Captain into 19th century London, where Queen Victoria is known for her zero tolerance policy toward pirates. In both cases the hero threatens the existence of his status quo by going after this elusive trophy. Ralph's departure from Fix-It Felix gets the game slapped with an Out of Order sign, which is the natural precursor to it being unplugged for good. And the Pirate Captain is exposing his whole crew to being lynched at the hands of the bloodthirsty queen.
When each hero does get his hands on the trophy, it necessitates a betrayal of a trusted sidekick. Ralph, after getting and then losing his medal, is in the position to get it back, but his new friend Vanellope thinks it's at the cost of selling her out. (It's more complicated than that, but Ralph does feel some guilt over the arrangement.) Meanwhile, the Pirate Captain is bribed by the queen with the kind of booty that will surely win him Pirate of the Year, but he has to relinquish his beloved "parrot" Polly, actually revealed to be a dodo.
Realizing his culpability in what has transpired and the fact that there were unintended consequences to his actions, both Ralph and the Pirate Captain lead daring third-act rescues that will assert once and for all their true capacity for good, while risking everything they have. And since I don't need to also spoil the end of these movies, I will leave off this comparison there.
I guess good story structure isn't that different the world over, but it's still good -- I really liked both films.
Wreck-It Ralph is the best animated movie I've seen since Tangled, pure and simple. I guess it's not such a coincidence that these are both Disney ventures under the watchful eye of Pixar founder John Lasseter. Lasseter simply knows a good story and knows how to tell it. I place this slightly below Tangled in terms of the immediate sense of joy it created in me, but only slightly. Wreck-It Ralph is an unqualified home run.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is not by any means at that level, but it's miles ahead of the previous foray into CG from Aardman Animation that I saw: the terrible Flushed Away. I still prefer when Aardman uses claymation, but I also understand this is an extremely laborious approach to animation, and the animators managed to make the images feel more tactile here than they felt in Flushed Away. Plus, the details of the pirate world are wonderful, the script is smart, and the movie has a couple classic Aardman chase scenes.
Now, off to vanquish several rival bloggers in my impossible quest for Blogger of the Year.