Monday, February 17, 2014

Too much Sugar Rush

I finally got in my second viewing of Wreck-It Ralph this past weekend. Though I had been meaning to rewatch it since it first came out, it was actually my son who was responsible for putting it on the docket. W-I R was one of three movies he independently picked off the shelves and brought back to me at the library on Saturday.

My wife thought I'd picked it out -- knowing that she hadn't seen it -- but I had to give credit to him. That's me, pathologically rejecting credit when credit would be easy enough to accept without deceiving anyone. Besides, I'm trying to stick to a movie diet, and putting a new one on the schedule for a week that had already filled up would be breaking my own rules.

So she and I watched it on Saturday night, and I'm sorry to say, I reached a conclusion that some people had reached when they first saw it:

Too much Sugar Rush.

If you don't remember, or heaven forbid, haven't seen Wreck-It Ralph, Sugar Rush is the name of the video game where the characters spend the last two-thirds of the movie. It's a perfect riff on the modern Japanese sensibilities of video games, featuring a go-kart race between cars made of peppermint and cookies, watched by candy corns in the stands, racing past ponds of chocolate and hills of frosting. It's a big burst of color and a huge injection of pure imagination.

And, it gets old. Kind of like being trapped inside a kaleidoscope long past the point where you get a headache.

At least, that's what I've determined must be the reason I didn't like my #4 movie of 2012 nearly as much on second viewing.

When I first watched Wreck-It Ralph, the movie's delicious conceit and the ways they establish the larger world so enveloped me, Ralph probably could have been stuck in Pong for the last hour and I wouldn't have cared. That's how much I was in this movie's spell.

I heard a few people at the time say "I wish they'd gone to more games, but I still liked it." I generally dismissed those comments. Wreck-It Ralph was pretty much perfect, in my opinion.

This time, though, I felt that same wish. What would Ralph have done inside Galaga? Or Golden Tee? Or Dance Dance Revolution?

I realize that Wreck-It Ralph actually has a similar structure to Up, a movie whose problems presented themselves to me more immediately (though also one I have come to appreciate more on multiple viewings). As with Wreck-It Ralph, I loved the setup of Up -- I was completely under its spell. But Carl and Russell end up spending very little time actually flying in Carl's house. It was when I realized that the last hour-plus of Up was going to involve dragging Carl's house around on their backs while doing unrelated things with dogs and rare birds that I started to question whether they were making the best use of the concept.

Watching Wreck-It Ralph this time around, the time spent in Sugar Rush felt eternal. Look, the writing moves things along at a good pace and there's definitely enough for the characters to do, but I was dying for a change of scenery by the end. It was Carl flying his house like the world's largest kite all over again.

Well, if Up needed to come up a few pegs on my appreciation scale, I'm sure Wreck-It Ralph could afford to come down a few pegs. My #4 ranking now seems pretty high praise, especially when I saw nearly 120 movies by my deadline, and when few other critics even found a spot for it at the bottom of their top ten.

The thing I find troubling me most in this reassessment of the movie, however, is that it changes something essential in the way I have been viewing Disney's recent renaissance. I have been building a case for Disney's dominance based on the greatness of Tangled (a greatness that still holds up after four viewings) followed by the slightly lesser greatness of Wreck-It Ralph. Now those assumptions have been dealt two blows in a month's time. First, Frozen was only a 3.5-star movie (I'd given the previous two 4.5 stars, though Tangled actually deserves 5). Then, Wreck-It Ralph came back down to earth a bit on my second viewing.

I don't know that it matters that Tangled is now more of a standalone great. I mean, I have no special incentive to have Disney up on a pedestal. However, I'd definitely taken sides in the ongoing war between Disney and Dreamworks, and felt it was important to continue to acknowledge Disney as the superior combatant.

And I do still feel that way, especially having just seen and been charmed by Disney's animated feature immediately preceding Tangled: Bolt (review coming later this week). I just don't feel it quite as much.

I guess the real loss here is not Disney stepping off a pedestal, but Wreck-It Ralph doing so. I loved loving Wreck-It Ralph, and it sucks that I now only have to really like it. That's the danger of watching movies a second time.

At the same time, I would never counsel a viewer to stop at one viewing for fear of spoiling -- or wrecking -- something great. If it really is great, it'll stand up to multiple viewings, and you should gradually love it more with each one.

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