Ralph (Voiced by a spot on John C. Reilly) has starred as the villainous Wreck-It Ralph in the arcade game “Fix-It Felix” for over 30 years now. Tired of being labeled as the bad guy, Ralph sets out to prove he is more than that by jumping around different arcade machines around him in hopes of earning a medal to show everyone he can be a hero too. After jumping into the racing game Sugar Rush, Ralph meets Vanellope (Voiced by a surprisingly adorable Sarah Silverman), a glitched video game character who needs to compete in the next race to prove she is more than just a mistake, However trouble arises after Ralph unwittingly releases a virus into the system that threatens all of the games in their arcade.
Whether you’re a fan of classic arcade games or just love gorgeous visuals with a fun sense of humor, “Wreck-it Ralph” delivers. Disney has relied way too heavily on Pixar to produce quality films that appeals to both kids and adults this past decade and in recent years they have been showing signs of fatigue. Although they still churn out good films, a myriad of sequels and 3D re-releases has taken its toll on the once untouchable animation house. One of the signs of this changing of the guard are films like “Wreck-it Ralph”, a film that calls forth immediate nostalgia for a past time and era long gone while also providing plenty of entertainment for both families and the growing geek culture that has been neglected for far too long.
This is just a fun movie, from it’s surprising amount of emotional weight to its nostalgia fueled homages and references to arcade classics abound for anyone alive and experiencing puberty in the early to mid 80s. Anyone even remotely familiar with arcade classics such as Donkey Kong and Rampage will immediately recognize that the filmmakers clearly have a deep love and appreciation for video game culture and history. The actual Wreck-it Ralph arcade game feels so authentic and well thought out that most will be hard pressed to even realize it was a game manufactured for a film and doesn’t exist in the real world (although it has been released in conjunction with the film). The notion that they went the extra mile to not only create their own fully realized arcade game but that they did it this well and with this much respect to the games of yesteryear is something any gamer can appreciate.
That is only the beginning though as the world of “Wreck-it Ralph” expands well beyond the confines of its arcade cabinet and into turns into a Toy Storyesque world of other famous video games and their characters who live within a network of power cords where they freely visit one anothers games once the arcade is shutdown for the night. Is your game in an arcade with the bartending Tapper game? Then head on over there for a drink after work. Having trouble fully accepting your role in your particular game? Head on over to Pac-Man and join a counseling session with fellow troubled villains. The film is filled to the brim with recognizable video game characters that will have gamers everywhere grinning from cheek to cheek.
Younger audience members who won’t get most of the gags centered on those classic arcade games aren’t left out to pasture though. Although they might not fully grasp the clever and inventive world of “Wreck-it Ralph”, they certainly won’t have anything to complain about as its simple, yet heartfelt, story of a person trying to come to terms with who they are and their place in the world is something that people of all ages can relate to. Ralph’s journey of self discovery and self worth are tried and true story devices that Disney and many others have used to death, but that doesn’t take away from how well executed it is here. Ralph’s constant struggle with being labeled as the guy who breaks stuff all the time is an extremely obvious metaphor for any person’s disability or lack of confidence in themselves, but with the combination of John C. Reilly’s perfect delivery and the relationship that develops between him and Vanellope, you will be hard pressed not to get caught up in his plight.
That is the true emotional heart of the film, when Ralph finally does enter the delicious racing game Sugar Rush and we are introduced to Vanellope, a seemingly spoiled and bratty little thing who gets attached to Ralph almost immediately. They instantly click, each is viewed as an outcast and unwanted in their own ways but both understand how the other feels and the bond they form creates probably one of the most endearing duos of the year. The one unfortunate side effect to bringing Vanellope into the picture and making her such a central figure is that due to her “condition” she is unable to leave her game and thus we never leave it either. This is where a fine line is drawn between those who will love “Wreck-it Ralph” and those who will see nothing but wasted potential in its premise.
All those fun nods to video games past and present are essentially ditched when we enter the deliciously colorful landscape of Sugar Rush. While that is a video game in and of itself, the theme of the game (candy/sugar/chocolate/anything bad for you) takes center stage and relegates those fun video game gags to the curb (although they still pop up from time time, love that Konami code). If you came into this film expecting wall to wall video game references you will be sorely disappointed. Which isn’t to say there is a dip in quality during all the Sugar Rush sequences, the film just stays there for far too long. All the little jokes focused on sugary sweets such as the Oreo guards, the donut henchmen named Wynchel and Duncan or the deadly Nestle quicksand are funny and even clever but feel like they have been ripped straight out of another movie. For there being such a strong focus on the video game aspect in its first half, it is jarring to say the least when it shifts from the digital to the sweet.
What saves this drastic alteration is Ralph and Vanellope’s journey together. While it would have been nice if they would have been able to travel together in search of Ralph’s ultimate goal to other video games instead of hanging out in Sugar Rush for so long, it doesn’t ever detract from their personal stories in the least. The many periphery characters also add a lot of flavor as well. For as much as we are focused on Ralph and his handicap of only knowing how to wreck things, it comes as a pleasant surprise when we slowly discover that his nemesis, and hero from Ralph’s game, Fix-it Felix (Voiced by a very enthusiastic Jack McBrayer) is frustrated that all he can do is fix things. It becomes even more complex (and comical) when Felix crosses paths with the hardened solider from the game “Hero’s Duty” Calhoun (Voiced by Jane Lynch) and we learn of her tragic (yet darkly comical) backstory. Their connection is a little forced for sure, but it is still very sweet.
“Wreck-it Ralph” isn’t a perfect movie, but it has it’s heart in the right place. Whatever your feelings are on how it switches from a more video game centric movie into a candy filled wonderland, there is no denying how well developed and rich each and every character is. Ralph makes for a perfect antagonist and his adventure is full of imaginative sights that will please kids and adults alike which is the earmark of any successful Disney animated film. It’s just kind of strange and kind of great that this quality came out of a non-Pixar film. Here is hoping that Disney continues down this path of inventive, imaginative and fun features that don’t pander to only one demographic.