This isn't a "thoughts on upcoming animation" sort of thing, since I'm finished with that. This isn't a series either, this is basically my thoughts on a certain upcoming animated film that doesn't have any trailer out. Today I'll be focusing on Walt Disney Animation Studios' next animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph, which will be #52 in the animated feature "canon". It is supposed to hit theaters this autumn, on November 2nd.
The story sounds interesting, and it's definitely unlike anything Disney's animation studio has tackled. It's not an adaptation of a fairy tale or a classic novel. It's an original idea, much like one of their more recent films, Bolt. This story is more akin to Tron than anything else. This story screams "ambitious". A family-friendly adventure comedy about video games? Well, if Tron: Legacy worked, so could this. Looking at the whole plot and the details from last summer's D23 expo, it seems like a lot of effort was put into the storyline.
Just think about it. One minute, everything looks like an 8-bit video game. Then the next minute it's really good computer animation. Then next minute, everything is hand-drawn or done in a less realistic style. Imagine that, an animated film with so many art shifts. (which is what TV Tropes calls them) That could make the film worth seeing, even if the story is flimsy or the writing isn't up to par.
Everything else has gotten very good reviews. Bolt's charm and simplicity, along with its likable characters, won itself great reviews. The Princess and the Frog got good reviews as most critics felt it was a very good return to hand-drawn animation and the Disney musical format. Tangled was very entertaining, thus it got great reviews. Winnie the Pooh may have been a box office flop, but got extremely positive reviews. With a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, it stands higher than the recent crop. Will Wreck-It Ralph continue this streak? I'd say a big maybe, if the storytellers at Disney offer an engaging story with great characters. Why? Films based on video games or films about video gaming usually don't have any of that. Disney's own Tron: Legacy was criticized for being a cold, hollow film that lacked a strong story and great characters. All Wreck-It Ralph needs is likable characters, a great story and heart. It doesn't need to be a love story or anything, but still, the film has to have characters that you root for. Disney can still aim for fun action and spectacle, but they can also tell a very good story at the same time.
Why am I rooting for Wreck-It Ralph so much? The answer: It's a big risk. A HUGE risk. I love it when Disney takes risks, and pulls them off.
Wreck-It Ralph, to me, is a risk along the lines of Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet. Both of those films had a more sci-fi/fantasy-like tone and boasted pulse-pounding blockbuster action. Animation is perfect for this kind of thing, but unfortunately, those two films fell short of their ambitions. Atlantis: The Lost Empire was originally envisioned as a Jules Verne-styled adventure film (and Disney has tackled Verne before, with the masterful 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1954, In Search of the Castaways in 1961 and The Island at the Top of the World in 1974) with tons of battles with monsters. It was going to be an epic 2-hour adventure film, and it showed that directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale wanted to break away from the Disney formula that plagued the 1990s films.
Treasure Planet's story was stronger, but the characters weren't as likable as the ones in Atlantis. While some of the characters (John Silver, Doppler) were likable, the others were either okay or just uninteresting. You also had the typical annoying sidekick. (B.E.N.) Treasure Planet and Atlantis suffer from what I like to call the Titan A.E. syndrome. That 2000 Don Bluth film was aimed at preteen boys who normally shun animated films as kids' stuff, with its sci-fi tone and blockbuster-style action. The film received mixed reviews, but it bombed at the box office. Atlantis managed to gross $84 million stateside, but it still underperformed. Treasure Planet went on to become one of Disney's biggest box office bombs, although it did very well on home video.
Wreck-It Ralph is similar to these two films, but it most likely won't be plagued with the problems that plagued them. Those films were produced when Disney executives had their way. Read up on all the horror stories. A love song called "If I Never Knew You" being cut from Pocahontas because kids at test screenings got antsy, the decision to throw comic relief into something dark and adult like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the various cuts done to Lilo & Stitch (not counting the revised final chase scene, they had a good reason for altering that) and the butchering of Atlantis... The list goes on. Now that the Eisner era is over, Walt Disney Animation Studios' artists and storytellers don't have to worry about this. No more pandering to kids, no attempts to make the film more appealing to younger audiences. They're following Walt Disney's footsteps, creating great films for all ages without having to pander to any particular audience.
This is why the recent output is superior to a majority of the films released in the last 15 years. I'll take Bolt, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled and Winnie the Pooh over Dinosaur, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Home on the Range any day. Still, fascinating work shines through in these films. Look past the executive meddling and you'd be surprised. Now we're in an era where we don't have to look past that. I have a feeling that Wreck-It Ralph could be the first ambitious Disney animated film that will work, because no executives will be sticking their spoons into the broth. Disney hasn't made a risky, ambitious film that worked for a while. Now the time has come...
So if the film turns out to be a risky, ambitious film that delivers, will it be a box office hit? Bolt, The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh got great reviews. Bolt had a small opening weekend, but pulled a good-sized multiplier and crept past $110 million domestically. The Princess and the Frog performed similarly. Winnie the Pooh came and went, grossing only $30 million domestically making it one of Disney's least-attended animated films of all time if not the lowest. Yet it was a very good film. What happened? How come these films couldn't clear $150 million domestically? $200 million?
With no teaser for Wreck-It Ralph out, or any marketing, I fear that this will be another underperformer. If it underperforms, Disney might can any ambitious projects. Frozen, Disney's Snow Queen project, was thought to be a hand-drawn film. Apparently, Frog and Pooh's performances probably convinced them that no one cares for hand-drawn animation anymore. People do care for hand-drawn animation. You have to make them care! Better marketing, come on! The Princess and the Frog had strong legs that carried it to $100 million. It could've made twice that amount if it had a better opening weekend, but no, marketing held it back.
Anyways, before this turns into a Disney marketing rant, I will say this: If Wreck-It Ralph turns out to be a great film that exceeds expectations but it doesn't do well, I won't be happy. This won't spell a good future for Disney animation, they'll play it safe after that. While I'm very happy with the recent output, some of it feels a little too safe. This film doesn't look safe at all, and while I can't make any judgments, I have high hopes for this film. This is the ambitious blockbuster Disney has been waiting for. We need the marketing campaign to kick off now, before it's too late. If Disney were smart, they'd give us the first trailer before The Avengers. Being a Disney release, and being a film that's sure to clear $300 million at the domestic box office, attaching the trailer could bring things off to a great start. That is, if the trailer is any good. Maybe they'll wait until Brave comes out. Maybe not, but they better get the word out soon.
What are your thoughts on this upcoming film? Do you think it looks good? Or do you think it looks like an absolute turkey? When do you think the first trailer will debut? Do you think it will be a success? Sound off!