Brave vs Wreck It Ralph: Who Will Be the Ultimate Champion?

It’s time for a smack-down, pixelated style.

In this corner, coming in at 8-bits, nine feet, and 643 pounds, off of a recent Annie win for Best Animated Film, let’s hear it for Wreck It Ralph!

And in this corner, weighing in at what we guess is 46 pounds, 103 if you count her hair, the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Animated Film, Brave!

They’re fighting for the ultimate belt: the Academy Award for Best Animated Film of 2013.

First, who wants it more? Well, folks, Pixar’s latest film was such an embarrasment we don’t even like to mention its name. But hey, it got a whole land in Disneyland. And critics weren’t too kind to this year’s flick either, so Pixar could use a bounce back to prove they’re still number one.

On the other hand, Disney has been suffering from a serious animation slump this past decade or so. Since the 90’s, their only serious hits have come from Pixar. So this is their chance to prove they’re still an animation giant in their own right.

But none of that matters, really; it all comes down to the fight. Let’s look at the scorecard, shall we?

Animation Quality

Wreck it Ralph – They did a really fantastic job taking advantage of the quirks of movement in a video game universe without making it too distracting. The animators understood that a little bit goes a long way. If Ralph moved like an 8-bit video game character the whole time, it would be overly distracting. But seeing the Nicelanders jerk around and pop up and down like actual video game characters was inventive and entertaining. I also loved the utilization of visual puns, especially in the Sugar Rush scene. When I saw a geyser formed from a diet coke lake and mentos stalagmites, I nearly died.

Brave – Sorry Ralph, but you really didn’t have a chance here. Brave has the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen in a computer animated film. The majestic landscapes capture the beauty of Scotland while still retaining the feeling of an animated, fantastical land. This definitely feels like a fairy tale land where magic is not only possible; it is a reality. Beyond the production design, the level of skill involved in the primarily visual storytelling is craftsmanship at its finest. The devilish princes’ mischief all seemed like a well choreographed yet comical dance. The most impressive achievement was the animation of the “Mum Bear.” She moved exactly like a person trying to express herself while stuck in a bear’s body. And, miraculously, we actually get the message. I think this made it even more affecting when the Mom turned into her “feral” bear state, suddenly all her personality was gone and her eyes were black. Clear and clean visual storytelling. Don’t even get me started on the hair in this movie. The hair on the horse (who was stunningly realistic-looking in general), the bear, the fur coats, and especially Merida’s ginger curls added another level of depth and texture that we haven’t seen previously in, I’ll dare say, any animated feature to date.

Although Wreck It Ralph put in an admirable performance, it’s a KO by Brave.

Voice Acting

Wreck it Ralph – We’re a bit star studded here, and that often annoys me. I’d rather have voices I don’t know so I can think of the character and not Chris Rock as a zebra. But, you know what, the celebrity voices really work here. The actors are tailor made for their parts, and they each put in strong performances.

As my brother pointed out, Ralph was a very difficult part to cast because he needs to sound big enough to be a legitimate bad guy, yet soft enough to truly be a sympathetic character. There are very few actors that can walk that fine line, and John C. Reilly did it beautifully. Jack McBrayer is probably the only one who could have pulled off playing a character as nice and corny as Felix without making him annoying. Same goes for Sarah Silverman, who played an annoying brat without (most of the time) actually being annoying. The great husky tone Silverman brought to the role made her wonderfully endearing. Jane Lynch was in her typical fine form as the comically brusque sergeant. I did, however, find Alan Tudyk’s performance as King Candy incredibly distracting. He did an almost perfect imitation of Ed Wynn, and, as such, all I could see was the Mad Hatter turned dictator. Tudyk recently picked up a Best Voice Acting Annie for his portrayal, so I guess I’m in the minority on this one.

Brave – This really isn’t the fairest of comparisons, as Brave relies much more heavily on visual storytelling than vocal, but even so, I didn’t find any of the vocal performances in Brave as engaging as they were in Wreck It Ralph. I did enjoy Julie Walters as the witch immensely, and Emma Thompson as the Queen certainly had her moments of brilliance. Kelly McDonald was well cast as Merida, but she came off as fairly one-note in her vocal acting. Especially when she initially accidentally turned her mom into a bear and was worried that she would be killed by Merida’s bear-hunting father…seemed like Merida should have been a bit more panicked there. That being said, having the more subdued vocal performances allowed for the visual storytelling to shine even more, and I did enjoy that.

However, Wreck It Ralph still delivered more vocal talent and skill, and so they take the prize for best vocal acting.

Strength of the Characters

Wreck it Ralph – They may be archetypal, but they’re well done archetypes. Sure, you know exactly who they are in three seconds, but you like them anyway and you want to take a ride with them. I also enjoy how Ralph doesn’t overcome his dilemma by stopping what he does or changing who he is; throughout the movie he’s still wrecking everything. He just figures out how to find fulfillment from it. Even Felix finds a moment when his compulsive fixing is more a curse than a blessing. Beyond that, though, they’re not the most dynamic of characters. Still, they’re people who are fun to watch for 90 minutes. 

Brave – Except for the two main characters, Merida and Elinor, the characters come off as a little one-dimensional and cartoonish, but still fun and entertaining. Fergus is an adventurous, yet admittedly whipped, fun-loving barbarian.  The little princes are devilish tykes- who, oddly, nobody seems to be much concerned about despite the fact that one of them is going to inherit the kingdom. Merida doesn’t even seem worried when they too turn into bears. Maybe they’re all afraid of civil war and are hoping two of them die off?

Anyway, the focus of the movie is on the character developments of Merida and Elinor, so they’re the ones that really matter. Merida is a fiery little whipper snapper who comes off, initially, as the typical modern Disney princess (there is a great moment where Fergus pokes fun at the similarity). However, the lesson she learns definitely strays from the typical Disney princess story. She learns that she has obligations to her family and her kingdom, not just to herself. I also like how she doesn’t look like the typical model-perfect princess; she has a funny face and wild hair. She looks like a real girl. I think everybody knows an Elinor: that well-intentioned but overbearing (haha, bear, get it?) mother. It’s compelling because you understand both characters’ dilemmas and you understand their struggle to meet halfway with their loved one. They’re not the most memorable characters Pixar has ever created, but they’re believable and you invest in their journey.

This one’s a close one, folks. Although I think Wreck it Ralph has a stronger ensemble, Brave’s leading ladies have more depth. Brave wins this round by a nose.

Strength of Story

Brave – Here’s the biggest pitfall of Brave. It’s a bit confused about what story it is trying to tell. The trailer, the title, the opening and closing voiceovers, the existence of the whisps, and the ambience all set up a story about fate. However, the actual story they tell is one about misunderstanding. The entire conflict stems from Merida and Elinor’s inability to see eye to eye. The whole curse started because Merida just wanted to make her mother understand her point of view, and she thought she had to change her mother to do that. Merida may have been led to the witch’s cottage by the whisps, but it’s not as if the witch had a grand scheme in mind to mend the bond between mother and daughter. She just wanted to make a sale, and then she disappeared and we never hear from her again (strange for such a pivotal character). Merida accidentally turns her mother into a bear because she misunderstands the implications of the spell. Then Elinor is almost killed by her husband because he misunderstands the identity of the bear he’s hunting. It is only when everyone listens to each other and works together that the conflicts are resolved. It’s a nice, intimate story that’s trying to tell itself in an epic landscape, which doesn’t always work. And what does it all have to do with finding your fate? It was Merida’s fate to get along with her mother? I was really expecting a story about an adventure where Merida runs off somewhere and saves the kingdom and then has some deep revelation about her inner self. So when I got to the part where Elinor turned into a bear, I was completely thrown, and not in a good way. It was less of a plot twist and more of an incongruity. You can tell there was a last minute redirect that happened in the development process. Director Brenda Chapman was replaced by Mark Andrews at the eleventh hour, and it is evident that there were two different visions in play here. I like the idea of both stories that Brave was trying to tell, they just needed to pick one and follow all the way through.

Wreck it Ralph – It’s a pretty simple concept, but one that is very effective: what happens when a bad guy decides he’s tired of being a bad guy? Even more basic, what happens when you decide you’re unhappy with your lot in life? There are many stories about characters trying to “change their fate” (oh hey, Brave), and they all usually end with the main character finding a new life (Aladdin, Cinderella, Anastasia, Pretty Woman, etc). This movie ends in Ralph not changing his lot in life, but finding a way to be happy with it. One critic described the moral of this story as “maybe you should just accept the fact that you suck.” While that’s putting it a bit crudely, there’s something to be said with finding happiness with the hand of cards you’ve been dealt, and being tolerant to those around you who are also stuck in their roles. It’s somewhat similar to Brave in that aspect, but Wreck it Ralph achieves it in a much cleaner, well paced manner. This movie is definitely focused. Some critics have griped that it’s hectic and complicated; I couldn’t disagree more. Every scene adds to the progression of the plot; there was hardly any filler. At no point in this film did I look at my watch. Not to mention, the general concept of the whole thing was incredibly clever, and they utilized it to the utmost. The universe they created seemed almost logical. The digital characters travel through the outlets to hang out with other characters, but if they don’t show up for “game time” they get “unplugged” and become homeless. The “bad guy” support group that took place in the ghost’s box thing in Pacman? Clever. And yet, even with all these sly jokes, everything still contributed to the story.

Without question, this round belongs to Wreck it Ralph.

Which Would Walt Pick?

Yes, I realize he’s dead. I’m not that far gone. But we can still speculate. After all, we all know that Walt loved his European fairy tales. Plus he would have loved how much Pixar pushed the envelope animation-wise in this film. But I think even more he would have loved the different worlds explored in Wreck it Ralph, and how they were trying something they hadn’t really been done before (although there is a dash of Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in there). I think it’s a close call, but in the end Walt would have picked Wreck it Ralph.


Brave is a good movie. It’s much better, I think, than critics gave it credit for and worth seeing for the animation alone. And even with its flaws, it does achieve some moments of really beautiful storytelling. I think if Brave had lived up to its potential and straightened out its story, this might have been a different fight. However, Wreck it Ralph is just a tighter, well-made film.

The winner, by split decision, is Wreck it Ralph!

We’ll just have to tune in on Sunday to see if the Academy agrees.


Apparently the Academy did not agree, as Brave took home the Oscar for Best Animated film.  I tell ya, man, if I ran things…

Perhaps people were blinded by the beautiful animation. I mean, Brave certainly looks like a more ‘legitimate’ animated film than Wreck It does, which has a stronger visual resemblance to the less critically acclaimed Dreamworks films than that of the award-winning Pixar films. Visual associations gone wrong? Perhaps.  Maybe Ralph was hurt by the fact that the short in front of it, Paperman, was better than the feature itself (unlikely, though ironic). Or maybe the Academy is just biased towards Pixar films because of their reputation (more likely). I keep saying they should just rename the award “The Movie Pixar Made this Year was Called…”

Whatever the reason, I think the Academy made a serious misstep in their voting. But hey, at least we got to see directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Champman’s adorable scottish garb.

Pixar people rock.