Though it’s based on a popular video game that’s been a solid seller for PlayStation for more than a decade, “Ratchet & Clank” actually seems to have been cobbled together from bits and pieces of previous animated children’s movies. There’s a cute robot—Clank—that’s reminiscent of Wall-E, though R2D2 isn’t far behind, and the hugely arrogant leader of the heroic ranger squad certainly calls to mind Buzz Lightyear and “The Incredibles,” even if he temporarily goes over to the dark side. And the hero—Ratchet, who’s apparently some sort of feline although that’s never directly spelled out, is the typical young aspirant to glory who overcomes all obstacles to learn lessons about teamwork and never giving up.
As to the plot, it’s strangely familiar too—or should be to anyone who might have seen the second “Fantastic Four” picture, the 2007 “Rise of the Silver Surfer.” The lynchpin is a device that’s literally gobbling up planets, though in a galaxy far, far away (Solana) rather than in earth’s solar system. Here the world-destroyer is in the hands of maniacal businessman with a grudge, Chairman Drek of the Blargs (voiced by Paul Giamatti), who’s being assisted in his scheme by brutish Victor Von Ion (Sylvester Stallone and the creepy Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), a brainy fellow who once worked for the heroic squad of Galactic Rangers headed by full-of-himself Captain Qwark (Jim Ward). With Nefarious’ help Drek is blasting planets to bits to assemble their core parts into a new sphere to replace his own home world, Orxon, which has become polluted beyond repair. Joining Qwark’s team, which also includes energetic Cora (Bella Thorne), engineer Elaris (Rosario Dawson) and brawny Brax (Dean Redman), is rookie Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), a mechanic working for Grimroth (John Goodman), who’s accompanied by the calm, ultra-competent little robot Clank (David Kaye) that he’s saved from destruction.
The centerpiece of the story is Nefarious’ admonition to Drek that he should destroy the Rangers from within by persuading the insecure Qwark to defect when Ratchet steals his thunder. His betrayal will, of course, lead to initial defeat for the squad, but the despondent Ratchet will ultimately be roused by Clank to reassemble the squad and try again. The situation is complicated by the fact that Drek has been supplanted by the even more determined Nefarious, but you still shouldn’t bet against the revivified Rangers’ success.
“Ratchet & Clank” has some elements in its favor. The animation is colorful, and both the direction (by Kevin Munroe and Jericca Cleland) and editing (by Braden Oberson) keep things moving briskly, even if logic isn’t always an integral component in the action. The voice work is excellent, with expectedly strong contributions from the likes of Goodman and Giamatti, and expert support from Dawson, Thorne and their lesser-known collaborators, especially Kaye, whose subdued delivery brings some welcome calm to an otherwise hectic piece. Otherwise, however, the humor tends to be adolescent, with only the occasional pop culture reference that might tickle a parent’s funnybone, and one’s pleasure at a general lack of coarseness in most of the picture is undermined at the end, when the makers suddenly feel compelled to toss in an upchuck gag that might make youngsters titter but is so gratuitous that it comes across as pandering.
“Ratchet & Clank” is far too derivative and frenetic to be a particularly good family movie, but kids under the age of ten or so should enjoy its nonstop pacing and silly gags—and as video game adaptations go, it’s less offensive than most. Of course, that’ an awfully low bar.