Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the villain of an arcade game called “Fix-It Felix Jr.” whose sole purpose was to destroy a building only for Felix (Jack McBrayer) to restore, was aware of how lucky he was to be a part something that had endured for almost thirty years. However, he was tired of not being appreciated by his colleagues, treated as a bad guy even when their game was not being played. When the arcade closed for the night and everyone celebrated the day’s success, he was often left on his own, with no companion except for a comfortable tree stump located on a pile of bricks. Ralph concluded that if he could get his hands on a medal, like Felix after a successful mission, everyone would finally realize his worth. Based on the screenplay by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, while it was apparent that “Wreck-It Ralph” had fun alluding to a buffet of games, from “Pac-Man” to “Q*bert,” it didn’t rely on the coolness of retro as a crutch to not construct and develop a legitimate story that we could remain interested in as it unraveled. Most of the flashier cameos were appropriately placed in the beginning to help us orient into a universe where video game characters could cross onto different game worlds and interact. The most visually striking sections in the film took place in a station where all sorts of creations, from pudgy-cute to bizarre concoction of monstrosities, passed by one another like they were on a rush to go somewhere. Perhaps they were. They had only so little time until they had to return to their respective games. Its energetic creativity mixed with a sense of community brought to mind Peter Docter, David Silverman, and Lee Unkrich’s “Monsters, Inc.” It was possible to appreciate the hustle and bustle of the background without forcing away our attention from what was happening in the foreground. The two worlds visited by Ralph were both visually outstanding. “Hero’s Duty” consisted of forebodingly dark and angular environment, with men in bulky metallic suits eradicating ugly giant bugs using massive guns. On the other hand, “Sugar Rush” was all about the mouthwatering confections of various colors, textures, and sizes. Ruled by King Candy (Alan Tudyk), it was a place of sticky pink happiness but it wasn’t without its secrets. The contrast between the two gaming worlds was impressive, hinting at the animators’ sheer technical range, but I was less thrilled in the fact that most of the time was spent in candy land. It offered a handful of very funny bits involving Felix and Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the commander of alien exterminators, acclimating to a picturesque but dangerous environs. I laughed myself silly when they fell into Nesquik sand and attempted to get out. Unfortunately, the scenes between Ralph and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a pariah in what was supposed to be a happy place for car racing, weren’t especially touching nor consistently amusing. The jokes during their interactions were often corny, almost infantile. There were moments when I grew bored of their exchanges. Also, when a pop song begins to play to get an emotion out of us, it is most often a sign of weakness. Why not use silence as an alternative to force us to consider what we are feeling instead of feeding us a specific emotion? Such a technique was utilized here and, admittedly, I cringed at the false note. While done only once, it felt manipulative enough to take me out of the moment. Despite its shortcomings, “Wreck-It Ralph,” directed by Rich Moore, was still very good work in that it oozed potential even until the very last frame. It just needed more of that potential to be substantiated.
I, Robot (2004)
★ / ★★★★
Detective Spooner (Will Smith) was assigned to investigate the suicide of Dr. Lanning, the main scientist in charge of commercialization of robots on 2035. Spooner suspected that the murder was staged to look as a suicide by a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and it was only the first step of the robots’ plan to take over the world. “I, Robot” completely missed the mark to make an intelligent film about humans’ increasing dependence on technology. Much of the movie was a predictable set-up to make the main character run after or shoot at something. The uninspired false alarms were transparent. For instance, early in the movie, Spooner saw a robot running with a purse. He thought it was trying to steal the purse. Naturally, smart audiences would most likely surmise it was simply delivering the purse to its rightful owner because no tension was established regarding rogue robots yet. Spooner looked like a fool because his fear was only in his mind. The scene would have been more effective if placed after the murder of the prominent scientist to serve as a small rising action, regardless of the pettiness of the crime, to make us believe that perhaps the robot was up to something more devious than it seemed. Another scientist that jumped into the mix of the mystery was Dr. Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who, despite all the reasonable doubt placed in front of her, could not seem to make up her mind where to place her loyalty. For a character who was supposed to be the voice of reason regarding the advantages of having robots in the home or at work, her logic was flawed. Her character was tantamount to those horror movie characters who decided to look for something in a dark room during the most inopportune times. Her eventual acknowledgement that the detective was right to be suspicious of the robots felt too forced. Granted, I did admire the special and visual effects. There were two action sequences that I thought were exciting to watch. The first was when Spooner had to face about a hundred robots in an underground freeway while going about 125 miles per hour. The second was when the robots climbed on their manufacturer’s building in an attempt to stop Spooner and Dr. Calvin from ruining their revolution. I do have to say, however, that there was another glaring inconsistency concerning those two scenes. In the first, the detective had a very difficult time destroying the robots. He had to use his car, gun, and high speed to survive. But in the latter, he was able to use his hands to rip the robots apart. Finding out that Alex Proyas, who directed the slightly brilliant “Dark City,” directed this film was all the more disappointing. If the film’s special and visual effects had been stripped away, not a thing would have kept it afloat because it lacked heart and intelligence. I found it ironic that Haley Joel Osment in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” were far more convincing robots despite the fact that they were played by actual humans.