What’s In a Character: Vanellope von Schweetz

The spunky Sugar Rush racer revs up her engine for the spotlight.

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With the new year comes new character pieces! It has been quite a while since one of these appeared, but between reviewing both Wreck-It Ralph films and the brief highlight on Vanellope in my end-of-year character pick-5, I found myself extremely compelled to write about the little candy racer. So “why” Vanellope, aside from being “a real racer”? There’s plenty of reasons, and hopefully, you’ll find several sweet layers here, like the layers of a jawbreaker.

(Major SPOILERS for Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet.)

 

“I’m already a real racer. And I’m gonna win.”- Vanellope, when Ralph tells her she just has to cross the finish line in her first race to reset Sugar Rush

Part sweet little girl, part candy and part sharp-flavored adventure with a hint of Sarah Silverman, Vanellope is a handful, regardless of your own opinion on her. A crack racer and the unlikely best friend of 80’s arcade villain Wreck-It Ralph, her story is interesting precisely of how relationship dynamics form and emerge in her story, playing an integral part in her development as a character and an individual.

A large part of the reason Vanellope has so much to analyze is that she gets two movies’ worth of character development as opposed to just one. In turn, her story shifts from a plucky outcast to someone who comes of age in the hopes of gaining a bigger dream- but in the process, forced to make some tough decisions as well. At the center of these decisions is ultimately her relationship with Ralph- and how that is impacted, both through her actions and those of the wrecker, neither of which necessarily occur in a vacuum.

“You’re not from here, are you?”- Vanellope von Schweetz, upon first meeting Wreck-It Ralph

The first film sees Vanellope as she initially was- an individual hardened by the life she was forced to live under King Candy’s sugar-coated fist in Sugar Rush. Beyond just being an outcast, she was also a full-on criminal as decreed by the corrupt regime, and so regardless of what her initial disposition might have been like (we have no idea, her game has been plugged in 15 years by that point), she’s got a sharp tongue of sarcasm and wit no doubt honed from dealing with hostile individuals constantly. Therefore, her initial meeting with Ralph makes perfect sense- she had a) no perspective on the wrecker or why exactly a medal would be so important to him (she even asks what the big deal about the “crummy medal” is later in the film) and b) she had never encountered anyone vaguely kind to her, by virtue of being isolated in Sugar Rush for her whole existence, along with King Candy’s attempt to delete her code, which left her with her signature “glitch” and a stigma of ostracization.

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“C’mon, do we have a deal or not? My arm’s getting tired.”- Vanellope, when her and Ralph agree to work together for the first time

The duo bonds over the unlikely bond they wind up sharing in feeling socially outcast from the games they hail from- Vanellope, for reasons already outlined and Ralph due to his treatment as a “bad guy” even outside of game hours, where he’s really not a bad guy, per se. However, it takes some time for this partnership to actually develop into a meaningful relationship, given that it’s a agreement initially born of mutual interest, even moreso to Ralph, self-absorbed in his medal quest- but the language Vanellope uses to strike the deal (“what do you say, friend?”) suggests that while she also has a mutual goal (become a real racer with a real kart) she was more open to the idea towards actually wanting a relationship, given it was likely the first act of kindness she’d known- in this case, Ralph scaring off the other Sugar Rush racers who had destroyed her homemade cart.

While Vanellope’s tale is largely one featuring her relationship with Ralph, the first movie also see her in an interesting dynamic with King Candy- the treacherous ruler of the game who in turn is actually the old rogue racer Turbo alluded to throughout the film. The villain goes to extreme lengths to try and literally kill her, first by attempting to delete her code, and when that fails, turns her into a state criminal while also locking up the memories of everyone else in Sugar Rush to suppress both his own misdeed and Vanellope’s true identity as the princess of the game. While Candy is ultimately defeated by Ralph at the climax, his megalomaniac tendencies are brought into an even sharper light by the hard-luck but innocent Vanellope, and nowhere is this in sharper contrast when Turbo is finally revealed in the climax of the final race.

 

If it was really one and done for films with Wreck-It Ralph, Vanellope would have still been a fine character with a satisfying arc that occurred, but she, along with Ralph, got a chance at a sequel which allowed for an even more in-depth exploration of the relationship that had been built by the end of the original film. In this way, the little racer hit the jackpot: a followup movie which actually did exactly what you’d hope to see in a developing relationship dynamic, and the fact that said followup film was both quite good (here’s the review) and that Disney rarely does official sequels. Talk about luck.

“Do you ever think about how we’re just bits of code, 0’s and 1’s? What if there’s more out there?”- Vanellope, pondering greater possibilities to Ralph.

With a slight real-world time skip of 6 years (the exact frame between Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet), Vanellope and Ralph have developed a comfortable routine- one that is genuinely perfection on some level for the latter, but starting to get boring for the former. It’s true the duo greatly enjoyed each other’s company, but Vanellope had long since grown bored of the place where she’d once been imprisoned, and as the game’s best racer, she’d become the proverbial “big fish in a small pond.” Enter one broken steering wheel and the introduction of WiFi to Litwak’s Arcade, and the impetus for things to take off was in place.

It’s clear from the start the candy-haired racer is open to change in her life, from her excitement at going into the internet, to her eye-opening interest in Slaughter Race, and even her humorous foray into a room full of Disney princesses. It’s true that she set out to save her game with Ralph, but in the process, she’d found a bigger world, and like a young adult searching out careers and dreams, she wanted to take her racing talents to a bigger level and a platform that would keep her excited every day. Of course, with that realization came the difficult fact that her relationship with Ralph- who she virtually spent all of her time with- would have to change, and while Vanellope accepted this would have to happen quickly enough, the Fix-It Felix, Jr. bad guy had quite a few more struggles with it.

Ralph’s genuine care for Vanellope as his friend devolves to a certain point where the original goal (the steering wheel) is in question whether it’s for Vanellope or his own self-interest. The wrecker is content in routine and happy in his own way. He can’t comprehend Vanellope finding a different dream or something bigger than what she knew, and resistance to that major change fuel Ralph’s childish and ultimately dangerous actions, or namely, his emotional insecurities, which become visually represented by the monstrous viral Ralph clones, and later, the King Kong Ralph homage.

“You really are a bad guy.”- Vanellope, after Ralph crushes her kart in Wreck-It Ralph

Ralph’s betrayals hurting Vanellope on a fundamental level in both films makes a lot of sense, not only from a realistic human perspective, but given the amount of faith and trust she put into the big guy for it to be betrayed. Between the crushing of the candy kart and the reveal that Ralph unleashed the dangerous virus upon Slaughter Race, both scenes are two of the most emotionally painful things between both films, and both times, Ralph acts out of a certain ignorance- but the intent differs. In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph truly believes he’s done the right thing, and Vanellope’s pain comes from the one person she now saw as a hero (she gave her homemade medal right before, which really makes this hurt) betray her and destroy her dreams at the time. By contrast, the betrayal in Ralph Breaks the Internet is not caused in part from an outside party, like King Candy- but rather, Ralph’s own-self centeredness and insecurity over the idea of losing Vanellope. And in turn, the reaction is even more crushing, when the same medal that Ralph kept all those years is chucked into the abyss of the web, broken in two, symbolizing a permanent change in that relationship. In both instances, there is forgiveness- but again, the context differs as a contrite Ralph returns to help Vanellope after admitting his mistake with a fixed kart and a sincere apology in the first film, while the sequel instead sees Ralph accept change and in turn, allows Vanellope to do her own thing.

By the end of Ralph Breaks the Internet, Vanellope has transformed into someone who’s grown up a bit, even if her physical appearance hasn’t changed. Perhaps in a way that’s a metaphor for parent who always see their kids as they were, rather than how they look grown-up, and indeed, while she and Ralph are the best of friends, the relationship is more like that of an older brother and sister or even a father to a daughter at times. The long-distance relationship the duo maintains by the time the film ends hits hard after the emotional buildup and goodbye in this movie- while mirroring the ending of Wreck-It Ralph’s parting hug in Sugar Rush, this occasion is much more bittersweet. It’s the real human connection of change- and it’s inherently not easy to digest, even if it represents real growth in one’s own life or relationships. Furthermore, it represents something much more quiet and contemplative than anything else we’d actually seen from Vanellope and Ralph over the rest of the two films, with a maturity that is surprisingly complex.

The dynamic duo. Changed, but stronger for it.

Whatever her circumstances,  “the glitch” proved to have both a mental fortitude and conviction that served her well. There was something natural in a way about her leaving Sugar Rush by the end purely from a character perspective standpoint- here was a game she was once unable to leave at all, she grew to dominate its raceways to the point of boredom, and now she left it it for good, with a much bigger world out there to explore. Her friendship with Ralph, integral to her character, was both organic and beautifully executed, showcasing both a loving bond- but also one that was severely tested and continued to change with the characters. But Vanellope was also adorable, which didn’t hurt, but looks alone don’t win you an in-depth character piece, or a chance to pursue dreams, or even the ability to be an incredible race car driver. Make no mistake, the deuteragonist of Wreck-It Ralph and arguably the co-lead of Ralph Breaks the Internet is a remarkably developed character, with an arc that is worth watching and re-watching again.


Like what you see? Big fan of Wreck-It Ralph or Vanellope? Leave a comment!

 

Week 1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Once again, a happy new year to everyone! I’m kicking off the year-long project to watch the entire Walt Disney Animation Studios film canon, and of course, it begins with the iconic Snow White, a film with more than a little historical significance, not only to the House of Mouse, but also cinema on the whole.

The Lowdown:

Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1937

AniB’s thoughts: “Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s off the work we go!” Indeed, the dwarfs’ iconic mining song seems apt to describe the beginning of this journey, which goes back over 80 years now (at the time of this writing) and points to the first of several iconic Walt Disney-era films. There was a lot of firsts in fact, when it came to this film:

-the first feature length animated film; prior to this release Snow White was seen as “Disney’s folly” and something that couldn’t be done;

-the first American movie to feature a soundtrack for release with the picture; Bourne Co. Music Publishers actually owned the rights (and still does!) to the music in this film as Disney hadn’t conceived its own in-house studio yet and wouldn’t yet still for a number of years.

-the first Disney princess movie: Snow White established all the archetypes and hallmarks for these films in the animated canon moving forward, and aside from Snow herself, the ideal princess in a lot of ways, it also gave us the first in a line of deliciously fun and evil Disney villains- the Queen.

 

So what of the film itself? In my honest opinion, its fame and praise is warranted, even long after its peak in the limelight faded and animated films went from an almost unimaginable dream to commonplace fare in the modern era. The animation still pops, perfectly synced in with the lively orchestral score, and everything just feels fluid and impactful as it was form the time it was made. No, it’s not some technological marvel like today’s Disney flicks are, but it’s a timeless hand-drawn, professionally crafted work of art with a simple, unforgettable tale at its center, and the innovator for all the films that came after it in the canon order.


Animation: 2-D classic, hand-drawn animation. Both an innovative and unprecendented film at the time, the quality of the work here by Disney animators is still quite a treat despite the many, many years that have passed. Facial expressions are fluid, the actions on screen sync perfectly with the orchestral score, and Disney created a set of iconic character designs here, from the dwarfs to Snow White and her iconic dress, and even both of the Queen’s appearance- as royal ruler and haggard witch. 5/5 points.

Characters: Fairly straightforward cast, based off the Brothers Grimm story, but as far as advancing animation and its foray into the movies, this was a super important set of characters.

Snow White is the first in the line of Disney princesses- and in many ways, serves as both the ideal and archetype for this character in the canon. She’s “the fairest one of all,” has a beautiful singing voice, a kind countenance beloved by all, from charming princes to woodland animals and even the surly dwarfs, and practical skills, from cleaning to cooking and a warm sense of caregiving. She’s innovative in her simplicity, but also as a model that set the template in place.

Then there’s the dwarfs- Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful, Happy, and of course, Grumpy. Each one is a great literal interpretation of their names- and allowed the animators some liberty to craft a good deal of humor around those naming schemes and actions. The dwarfs are really the most “classic cartoon” characters in the film between their actions and roles- from their simple lives mining priceless gems in an unnamed mine, to Grumpy’s tough exterior melting at the undeniable kindness and charm of Snow White, and even to Dopey’s charming clumsiness, or Doc’s well-intentioned bumbling. The first major supporting characters in a Disney film, you could even argue these guys are collectively the “deteuragonist” role.

Of course, no Snow White review or analysis is complete without talking about the Queen- the first in a long line of iconic Disney villains. Vain and self-absorbed, this wicked ruler orders a huntsman to bring back Snow White’s heart in a box- and when that fails, she dons the dark magical disguise of a hag to deliver the iconic poisoned apple. The Queen set the tone for how Disney villains were to be by and large: truly awful people with megalomaniac tendencies and a lot of innovative scheming. Others would innovate more though, in the tradition of having charisma to go along with the rest of the recipe.

Finally, there’s the prince. He’s more or less a plot device for “true love’s first kiss” and the “happily ever after” sort of ending, but in this film, it works…because again, context matters. As a result, this cast gets a bit more credit for being innovative at the time. 4.75/5 points.

 

Story: Again, with the basis off the fairy tale it comes from, Snow White is a familiar story to most people- the fair princess, hated with a furious envy from the Queen, is set up to be killed by the huntsman, only to flee into the woods and find the dwarfs’ home after the former spares her. It’s a simple, timeless tale with simple, timeless morals, motivations…and in this film, it was executed as a very high level, which still shines forth today. It’s still impressive to watch the action unfold (and might I say the entire chase sequence with the dwarfs racing to rescue Snow White from the witch is still incredible?) Sometimes, a film can be innovative by being a masterpiece of technical work, and I think that was evident from Disney’s first film. 4.25/5 points.

Themes: From “jealousy never leads to anywhere but doom” with the Queen to Snow’s waiting for “love’s true kiss,” this is a simple thematic exercise, with a lot of ideals built into Snow’s character herself, while the Queen is set up as the antithesis in every imaginable way. There’s also some stuff about compassion and caring from the dwarfs as they develop a bit in the narrative, and it’s just an enjoyable set of clear thematic aims without pretense or pomp, and easy to digest. 3.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: The old witch might frighten some of the youngest viewers still to this day, as well as Snow’s escape into the forest scene, but overall, this is a family-friendly experience with straightforward writing and characters. The score also includes some classics, such as the dwarfs’ mining song and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the first princess “theme song,” if you will. All around, a classic experience. 5/5 points.

Overall: 22.5/25 (90%): Walt Disney’s first feature-length film still holds up over the annals of time as a true testament to excellence and innovation in cinema. For the modern viewer, it may feel a bit simple, but it still proves to be an entertaining watch with superb technical execution and the establishment of key archetypes and building blocks for Disney films as they moved forward. A true classic.


Like what you see? Excited for all the Disney films that will be covered? Love Snow White? Leave a comment!

AniB’s State of the Blog: 2019!

Hi everyone!

It’s very exciting to be embarking on the new year, and with that in mind, it’s time for the first official update announcement from me in a while! I’ve got some big plans for this upcoming year with any luck, starting with the headliner: I’m going to be covering every official film in the Walt Disney Animation studio canon!

That’s right, every film. I’m looking to make a year-long series on the 57 current films in the canon, starting from Snow White and going all the way to Ralph Break the Internet (which I’ll write something else about when the time comes, given my recent review here.) It should be a good bit of fun, I think, and aside from just reviews and analysis, it should actually allow me to make a ranking of all these films by the end. Despite my knowledge in animation, I can’t honestly say I’ve seen every last one of these films, or even know all of them as well as I’d like, so it should be an excellent experience!

Of course, this announcement doesn’t mean I’ll be abandoning my usual pieces on shows, or anime. I have plenty of new ideas to try and bring to everyone this upcoming year, and as always, it should be fun discovering new shows as I go along. I’m also pleased to announce that new character pieces will be coming in 2019; it’s been a while since I released one of the highly popular analyses (which was Daffy Duck, back in the summer of 2018), so I’m eager to take a deep dive into some new characters. Stay tuned!

Aside from my own general plans being laid out for this year, I wanted to give a big thank you to everyone who has read my stuff, commented and been supportive over the nearly 2 years now that I’ve run AniB Productions. It is immeasurably special to share in this adventure with all of you, and I’m eager to keep digging into the world of animation “from a unique perspective,” just as I promised from Day 1. I wish everyone a Happy New Year, and I couldn’t be more excited to keep writing as the final year of the decade begins!

-Christian, aka “AniB”


Suggestions for the new year to write? Shows to cover? Characters to analyze? Leave a comment!

 

Happy New Year! 5 Characters I liked from things I watched in 2018

A quick pick of some good characters .

Alright, so today’s a more informal post for the first time in a while. I’ve been banging out a lot of reviews, so with the year coming to a close and 2019 starting, it seemed like a fun idea to look back on 5 characters I really liked from things I watched this year. That could be movies or shows, East or West- but animated, as always. (Before anyone asks: Killua is an all-time favorite. There’s also a character piece I did. Check it out if you haven’t!) There was plenty to choose from, as it’s been an action-packed year of viewing, so here we go!


Vanellope von Schweetz (Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet):

Honestly, I could (and probably will) give the sweet little racer from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph films the full “What’s in a Character” treatment at some point, especially with 2 full movies’ worth of excellent character development, but Vanellope re-entered the scope of my mind with the sequel. A superbly fun character (voiced by Sarah Silverman, of all people) with a terrific dynamic that she has with Ralph, the regent of Sugar Rush is a surprisingly complex character, bundled into an adorable bundle of messy hair, a signature green hoodie, and boundless energy.

Yukko Aioi (Nichijou):

Nichijou, while a 2011 release in real-time, came into my life in a big way in 2018. While the many charming, quirky characters on the cast might all warrant some kind of mention, Yukko’s brand of terrible luck, persistent attempts at humor and futile battle against schoolwork all while never giving up is something to behold. Silly as Nichijou can be, it has smart moments of some pretty deep and touching stuff, and while Yukko isn’t a genius, she is someone who can be a great friend- and it’s through her actions that the robot girl Nano Shinonome is able to find comfort in the transition to being a schoolgirl, and her surprisingly up and down relationship with Mio Naganohara is a great joy of humor to watch unfold.

Anti (SSSS.Gridman):

Beyond the anime public’s adoring gaze upon Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo, the breakout character of this cast was none other than this man- a one-time kaiju whose initial casting drew a strong resemblance to Viral from Gurren Lagann. As time went on though, Anti’s varying hardships, coupled with his persistence in his goals (which originally was a single-minded, and I do mean single-minded obsession to destroy Gridman) found him both a strangely sympathetic character and a likable one who also delivered some major hype in a show you’d expect to have plenty of it. By the end of Gridman, Viral has undergone a complete character arc and transformation- and that, perhaps more than anything else in the show, is why he’s on this list.

Jack-Jack Parr (The Incredibles, Incredibles 2):

The youngest member of the Parr family had his big-screen coming out party this past year, where he transformed from a bit part in the original Incredibles film to a more active role, with a great deal of comedy and humor. From his backyard brawl with a raccoon to his unlikely heroics at the climax of Incredibles 2, Jack-Jack was about as humanly entertaining as you can make a baby character without him becoming annoying. No small feat there.

Kōhei Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

Father to the adorable Tsumugi in this sweet little slice of life anime, Kōhei struck me as interesting precisely because of his balancing act between being a good father (in the stead of his recently deceased wife) and his career as a teacher, which was handled with a lot of tact and care. While this show released back in 2016, it’s still worth going back to take a look (and here was my review of it.) This man’s selfless care, despite all the challenges he faces regularly, is a treat to watch, and a character archetype that seems far too scarce at time. Good dads (and parents) are never out of style!


So there’s my pick-5 for the past year. I hope everyone had a great 2018, and here’s a happy New Year as we get into 2019! I’m looking forward to another fantastic year here on AniB Productions, and to the excitement of my readers as they continue to grow. Feel free to leave a comment!

Movie Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

The wrecker’s second outing proves to be a different, yet enjoyable sequel.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! A big thank you to those who read the many days of the Advent Calendar that got out, and the warmest wishes to everyone that they have enjoyed the holidays as they continue into the new year. It’s been a terrific 2018 here at AniB Productions, and while I may slip in another piece or two before the calendar flips to 2019, it has been a pleasure to keep this blog going for you, the readers. And now…for a review of a film I’ve wanted to tackle for a month, but finally got to sit down and see in theaters at last- Wreck-It Ralph 2, or more formally, Ralph Breaks the Internet.

The Lowdown:

Film: Ralph Breaks the Internet (Wreck-It Ralph 2)

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 2018

AniB’s thoughts: There’s a lot to unpack from Disney’s first official animated sequel since The Rescuers Down Under, and also a followup to what is one of my personal favorites in the original Wreck-It Ralph, which was a film full of personality and character. (Here’s my review for that here.) While sequels are usually not up to the standards of the original film that inspired them, Ralph’s second outing proves to be a good one, featuring a deep dive into character dynamics and relationships, splashed against the background of perhaps the best take a film has done yet on the beast of an idea known as the Internet.

Set 6 real-world years after the events of the first film, Ralph Breaks the Internet starts off by showing the routine of two best friends had established at the arcade- but also some lingering want for something more from Vanellope, who while happy with her friendship with Ralph, had started to grow bored of the same thing every day. Ralph on the other hand, fully enjoyed his life as it was- and we wouldn’t have a film if this pattern held, which it doesn’t, as Sugar Rush, the racing game prominently featured in Wreck-It Ralph, has the steering wheel of its arcade console broken through a certain event- and coupled with Mr. Litwak’s (the arcade owner) purchase of a Wi-Fi router, the hunt is on for the surprisingly rare part to save Vanellope’s game- along with a world bigger than the duo ever imagined.

Unlike past horror shows like like The Emoiji Movie, this film actually manages to tackle the Internet’s vastness with a good deal of savviness and creativity. Product placement is fairly unavoidable- but in this case, feels authentic, much like the game characters from the first film, and plenty of clever references abound (my favorite might be a certain area where an AOL logo pops up. You’ll know when you see it.) And Ralph might just be the perfect universe to actually approach this subject material- especially as it continues the series trend of keeping the narrative character and story-driven, while using the internet to frame it in clever and inventive ways.

(SPOILER SECTION:)

 

Vanellope’s character arc represents someone who had grown far beyond her initial encounter with Ralph in the original film. Finally allowed to realize her original dream of being a real racer and having the best friend in the whole world for 6 years, she had grown past the point of mere contentment, although she was starting to dream bigger. Forget about the Internet for a moment- the opening part of the film in the arcade foreshadows it, from Ralph’s failure to pick up on Vanellope’s longing for more in her life, to her attitude towards Sugar Rush– which while still her domain, had long since grown past the point of challenging her, enough so that even in the middle of a race she dozed off. By preserving the real-world time that elapsed between the two films, there was an emphasis that the world had changed- though Litwak’s Arcade, not so much. It was a surprising and bold move to actually have Vanellope stay in Slaughter Race at the end of the film, partially because I never thought they’d actually do it- and in turn, it’s a genuinely emotional and bittersweet moment that still has me reflective on how this actually happens in life too. Super impressive writing right there.

Ralph on the other hand, was content because he’d ultimately achieved his version of happiness by the end of the first film. That said, while his bond with Vanellope remained the glue and backbone of this film, his aversion to any sort of change with Vanellope and general jealousy of her own developing dreams was a lesson personified about obsession. Yes, the King Kong inspired final act was a bit heavy handed, but the character dynamics rang true in that scenario, and I think it touched me deeply on some profound level about how life changes- and relationships evolve. This is a message that will go over much more strongly with the older crowd now and into the future. It was also fairly ambitious to not go for a traditional antagonist- instead using the surprisingly complex web of relationships (pun maybe intended) and the initial steering wheel issue to kickstart the plot as a much more abstract series of problems.

There was a bit of a natural arc with the dynamic duo- Vanellope went from being “the glitch” without a place under King Candy’s iron fist in Wreck-It Ralph, to living her dream as a “real racer”- but now she needed literally and figuratively, a bigger racetrack than what Sugar Rush could provide- and in the ultimate twist, wound up leaving the game that once imprisoned her for good. She’s had an interesting, often heartwarming and also bittersweet roller-coaster of a relationship with Ralph over two films, and in the end, it’s hard not to acknowledge the duo’s chemistry as one of Disney’s best, simply because of the way their dynamics continued to evolve over both films.

(End SPOILERS.)

Was this film better than the original? Hard to say, as they represent very different plots on a number of levels, but in this critic’s opinion, they are both worthy of praise in their own rights, and this is a sequel worth seeing if you haven’t already.


Animation Quality: Modern 3-D animated film. As always, these films have been gorgeous this decade, and Ralph is no different, continuing to show the savviness to detail that its predecessor established. Everything pops, the character models work well for what they are doing (Vanellope is somehow even cuter than the first film, I think), and everything comes together so well to help tell the story they want to tell. That’s impressive. 5/5 points.

 

Characters: I pretty much expounded on the main 2 characters in my spoilers, but to reiterate: Wreck-It Ralph is the big, hulking bad guy of 80’s arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. and best friends with Vanellope von Schweetz, the star racer of Sugar Rush, where the duo established a relationship in the first film that carried over into this film. The two are co-leads in this film- and as Vanellope is a fully established character from the start in this movie, it actually allows a much deeper exploration of her character on some interesting levels.

Aside from the main duo, new character mostly step up to fill other roles in this film. Yes, Felix and Calhoun still make appearances early in the film and at the end, but aren’t the major supporting characters in this go round. Neither are the Sugar Rush racers, who find themselves under the care of the couple after their game’s hardware malfunction (and I can sense a mini-film featuring what happened there to be hilarious.) Instead, there’s colorful Internet denizens who step into key roles, such as J.P. Spamley- a seedy personification of clickbait ads on the web, or Yesss- the head algorithm of “BuzzTube” who determines trending content. There’s also Shank- a beautiful, tough woman racer voiced by Gal Gadot in the online game “Slaughter Race,” which appears to parody both online MMO’s and franchises like Grand Theft Auto. It all comes together in a way that works- and yes, the Disney Princess cameos you’ve all probably heard about or seen are terrific. Just a lot of fun from this cast, but this is ultimately held together by Ralph and Vanellope- and it delivers an emotional punch on that level. 4.5/5 points.

 

Story: A simple premise launches Ralph 2’s plot- a broken arcade cabinet wheel, which proves to be rare and expensive to find, to the dismay of both Mr. Litwak and the denizens of Sugar Rush. Vanellope in particular takes it hard, sensing a loss of what made her her, despite recent complaints that the game had gotten painfully boring for her- and so, the journey to the Internet launches a grand quest.

Premise-wise, this was always going to be convoluted on some level, but it works within the framework of the story, which is character-driven. The narrative takes drastic shifts in stride, although the final act is a slightly mixed bag (though the emotional, character driven bits are still absolutely on point there.) It had a decently tough act to follow Wreck-It Ralph’s narrative- and it did reasonably well. 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: This movie was surprisingly complex in terms of exploring interpersonal relationships, along with the positive and negative impacts of the web. Sure, I wonder how well this film will age considering the subject material, but the character stuff is meaty and lasting, and honestly this will resonate strongly with mostly an older audience, which is great. The younger audience will still find plenty to like as usual, but the endgame plot may be a little complex (and for the very young ones, terrifying)- but overall, good stuff. 4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: For my money, an entertaining family friendly film with some fun musical stuff in there, some very funny bits (and very few cringy ones, at that), and a narrative that felt more complex that the first film. It’s a treat. 5/5 points.

 

Overall: 22.5/25 (89%): A worthy followup act to Wreck-It Ralph, this film takes the best part of the first film- Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship- and pushes it to another level against some really difficult subject material, and does it well. It’s definitely worth a look!


Like what you see? Big fan of the first or second film? Leave a comment!

Day 21: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

Hello everyone! I didn’t forget about the Advent Calendar countdown; rather, it was important to attend to some academic priorities as they wrapped up, and so I still intend to finish up the countdown, albeit slightly condensed. (Speaking of which, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup isn’t a bad pick for lunch this time of year.)

As Christmas draws ever closer, we enter yet another leg of the Rudolph sequel saga- and this time, it’s a full-blown movie with a big time crossover. So is it more of a Rudolph followup again or a Frosty continuation? Let’s find out.

The Lowdown:

Movie: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

Studio/year released: Rankin-Bass, 1979

AniB’s thoughts: The red-nosed reindeer’s saga continued on after Rudolph’s Shiny New Year with this ambitious feature-length crossover film with fellow Christmas star Frosty the Snowman. Yes, this film finally crossed the pair in Rankin-Bass lore, and technically counted as the trilogy piece for both characters, considering Frosty also recieved a sequel in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (which I haven’t covered on this countdown, but it explains in this film why he has a wife and kids.)

This film actually does a fair bit of tweaking and expansion on Rudolph’s origin, while continuing to keep and change equally odd bits of continuity throughout its runtime. While Rudolph’s red nose is simply explained as an odd anomaly in the original special, this film lets us know it was a divine blessing from the aurora borealis. No, I’m not making this up- Lady Boreal is a character in this film, and before she just merely became the northern lights, she carried on her power via Rudolph’s shiny honker. Of course, this begs the question why the aurora borealis needed to be in this film or pass on her powers, and of course, Rankin-Bass brought us another villain equal to this task: Winterbolt.

This wizened old mage of icy heart and evil constitutions was the archenemy of Lady Boreal (as the story expositions), and once the ruler of the North Pole until he was sealed away for centuries. During that point, Santa came into the area, set up shop, and now for plot-specific reasons, this guy wakes up, intent on reclaiming his throne. While conniving, he’s true to the framework of Rankin’s usual Christmas baddies: prone to monologues, quite a bit of bumbling and scheming with precious little in the way of permanent results, and with a fatal weakness. (Not that I assume many of you will seek out this movie with fervor, but this might be the film’s biggest spoiler, no joke.)

The other bizarre major plot point is that somehow all this winds up involving a circus down on its luck at some generic beachside, but man, they must be hiding money somewhere to purchase all the high rent animals and performers they have. Seriously, this circus by the sea has everything you can think of when it comes to circuses, which might suggest they need a better promoter or something…which comes in the form of Rudolph and Frosty. And how might you ask did they wind up here? Milton the ice cream man, of course!….who’s he? Well, this affable fellow has a romance plot going on with the star acrobat of the circus in question, and just so happened to show up at the North Pole when this film takes place, running into Rudolph and Frosty, to talk about his problems. Winterbolt then does some mind manipulation magic and things proceed from there.

Again, in the realm of Rudolph specials (or even Frosty), expecting the unexpected seems to be the rule of thumb. Big Ben, the whale from Rudolph’s Shiny New Year makes a cameo; the “We’re a Couple of Misfits” makes its first reprise since the original Rudolph special, and Winterbolt has some interesting…ideas, such as creating a rival team of flying cobras in contrast to Santa’s reindeer. A weird, quirky film for sure- but still kitschy and charming when it’s all said and done. It’s probably become more obscure in the public eye as time has gone on, but it ties in nicely to the animated history of thes character as established by the studio in question.


Animation Quality: Stop-motion puppetry; Rankin-Bass’s so-called “Animagic” process. If nothing else, the smoothness of how things were executed in this method were much cleaner than in earlier specials featuring it, and this was the most ambitious undertaking at the time using the process, given the length of this film. 4/5 points.

Characterization: Most of the characters are self-explanatory at this point, such as Rudolph and Frosty, and in my thoughts I talked a bit about the film’s villain, Winterbolt, but there’s at least two more characters worth mentioning:

Scratcher is an anemic-looking reindeer with buckteeth, noted for being a reject from Santa’s team due to his habit of “stealing presents and candy canes.” While he serves as a secondary antagonist in this film, he mysteriously disappears after he pulls some dirty work, and it’s never quite explained at all what happened to him- a curious plot hole, for sure.

Lily Lorraine is the eccentric, energetic ringmaster of the circus by the sea. She’s noted for her cowgirl getup, complete with a ten-gallon hat and a pair of six-shooters, and naturally, she’s overjoyed to meet Rudolph and Frosty at a critical time in her buisness ventures. Her rival in the buisness is Sam Spangles- a generic underhanded carny who will use any means necessary to take the circus out from underneath her.

Also of note: Santa reappears here, but curiously enough, this is the Santa from the Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town continuity (Day 5 of this countdown), which means certain references, such as magical feed corn and the seemingly odd change from elves to “little Kringles” helping him out makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen that particular special. It’s worth noting though, because otherwise it seems very strange. 3/5 points.

Story: I already delved into this narrative a bit, but it’s certainly strange and unusual, for sure. I wouldn’t call this a good story, but it’s strangely entertaining in its own right despite being weird and unexpected in a lot of ways. 2.25/5 points.

Themes: Like most Rankin specials, this is more pure entertainment than it is any sort of rich moral tapestry, or complex thematic paragon. The main villain has flying, laughin’ snakes, among other things. Perhaps that should tell you how seriously you ought to take this. 1.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: On the flip side, it’s fairly easy entertainment to swallow, family friendly, charming in its own way and brings back a lot of songs from other specials. General story holes that seem odd though, make you question how anyone over the age of 12 wouldn’t notice them. 4.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 15.25/25 (61%): Ambitious for its time, with some famed characters and a patently silly plot, this film is a bit of an anomaly, and a curious one at that. Still, it’s worth mentioning within the world of Rankin-Bass’s Christmas-themed productions, even if its cherished leads let it have far more staying power than it otherwise would have had.


Like what you see? Eager to see the rest of the countdown as it finished up? Leave a comment!

Day 16: Jack Frost

The mischievous winter sprite got his own stop-motion special.

Day 16! Although a day late, this piece is still here as promised, and along with it comes yet another winter legend.  In perhaps the least surprising news for anyone who’s been following the Advent Calendar countdown, Rankin-Bass made several other specials outside of the ones you might know…and this was one of them, about that old wintry trickster himself, Jack Frost.

The Lowdown:

Special: Jack Frost

Studio/years released: Rankin-Bass, 1979

AniB’s thoughts: Yet again, the company remembered for its Christmas specials released one that was decidedly more “winter themed” in December of 1979 with this production, which actually is narrated by Punxsutawney Phil, known as “Pardon-Me-Pete” through this special. In a sense, this special has to do with Groundhog Day and general winter as opposed to the actual holiday season, but it still had its debut during Advent of its release year- go figure.

Interestingly, this was not Jack’s first role in a Rankin-Bass picture. The frosty pixie made his debut in 1976’s Frosty Winter Wonderland, where he serves as the main antagonist, a a decidedly grumpy on at that (feeling underappreciated), while playing up the impish nature of the character. Frost’s debut as a puppet though, would be in Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, a feature length film released roughly a half year before his solo outing here. In that movie, Jack makes a late cameo to resuscitate a melted Frosty and family, clearly reconciled over previous differences from the other special.

While there have been several different spins on the character of Jack Frost over the years, this special mostly forgoes his role as the impish trickster of winter, instead opting for a love story of sorts- and Jack’s recasting as a hero when he falls head over heels for a human girl. And in the grandest of Rankin-Bass traditions, there’s a big supernatural entity guiding Jack along in Father Winter. After Jack rescues the girl, Elisa and dreams of marriage enter his head, Winter grants him a chance to become human and have the girl of this dreams- provided he met very specific conditions, such as obtaining a house, gold, a horse and of course, marriage itself. In this way, Jack takes on a fully human form- “Jack Snip,” and starts a tailor’s shop in the small locale of choice, aptly named “January Junction.”

Of course, none of these specials would be complete without an eccentric and completely silly villain, and the role here is filled by Kubla Kraus- an evil Cossack king who lives on the self-explained Miserable Mountain alone with his ventriloquist dummy and his army of mechanical soldiers (called “Keh-Nights. No, I’m not making this up.) Between Jack’s goal of wooing Elisa and Kubla’s involvement in making life thoroughly unpleasant for January Junction, the two come into conflict inevitably over the girl…though things turn out both as you might expect and not expect all at the same time.

Now I will give a lot of credit in this special because as far as building any sort of mythical lore for Jack Frost, Rankin and Bass had a lot of creative license on this film, in part because Frost didn’t have a hugely defined role in the general cultural ethos of the holiday. He wasn’t Santa Claus, or even Rudolph, whom I discussed already a bit at length about in some other pieces, or even Frosty who had his own number of sequels as well. It’s a little easier to swallow some of the usual absurdity because of Jack Frost’s supernatural origins, and it really feels in some ways like a fairy tail type of backstory for the titular lead. For an enjoyable, different experience, this one still airs seasonally on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), so if you’ve got the channel still, you’re likely to be able to see it if you’re just scrolling around for a watch.


Animation Quality: Rankin-Bass returns yet again with the “Animagic” stop-motion style. One thing is evident; the animators in Tokyo who did the actual work with the puppets had improved over the years, and everything seems a bit smoother and cleaner, especially when compared to an earlier special like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (which was back in 1964!) Here, the same sort of charm is preserved, as this style of stop-motion helped preserve the unique character of all the company’s specials that used it. 4.25/5 points.

Characters: Jack Frost is the lead and pretty self-explanatory. He’s both carefree and energetic, both as a sprite and a human, but he also shows a good heart to go with it.

Aside from Jack, there’s a bunch of other supporting characters, chiefly narrator “Pardon-Me Pete,” the famous groundhog who enjoys his winter slumbers thoroughly, Elisa as the love interest (she’s a pleasant girl but there’s not a lot more to say about her), Sir Ravenal Rightfellow- a heroic knight who is Jack’s main competition for the girl’s heart and hand in marriage (but not an antagonist), and Kubla Kraus as previously mentioned- a thoroughly evil king who enjoys his solitude and greed along with being a terrible ruler. Jack is also joined by two other sprites in his human endeavors- Snip and Holly, who assist Father Winter normally, and this comprises most of it. Simple cast, simple but effective lead, self explanatory protagonist. Perfectly adequate. 3.25/5 points.

Story: This is both a legendary story (about Jack Frost) and a love story as well considering the contents. Not terribly complicated, but decently entertaining. 3/5 points.

Themes: This special is really meant more for enjoyment than any strong moral tale, although I suppose opposing an evil king is a righteous thing to do. Doesn’t quite have the Christmas pull either with the more general “winter theming.” 2/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A variety of original songs, family friendly entertainment and a lasting shelf-life that has kept it in the seasonal rotation of a network are all some nice points in its favor. 5/5 points.

 Overall: 17.5/25 (70%): While Rankin and Bass certainly made a lot of these holiday specials, this was solid, creative work on a character they had a bit more license to do what they wanted with. No, it doesn’t get as crazy as something like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, but that’s just as well; this one might be worth a look not only during December but for a quick watch at any point in the winter.


Like what you see? Enjoying the many specials and shows covered here? Leave a comment!