Anybody who grew up in Fresno or anywhere else in world during my generation was likely raised on video games. Ah, those glory days of Nintendo, Sega and Capcom, the era of Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and Street Fighter. All of those hours we happily wasted in the arcade. Well, the video game world is a very different place than what we have today, lets face it, as tragic as it is, with the multi-billion dollar industry that is the home consule market, the old-tame arcades are still around, but they are merely a fraction of what they once were. But as Generation X has matured into adults, nostalgia for the 8-bit era has since resurfaced and the classic video games and iconic video game characters of the 70s, 80s and 90s continue to stay strong. And now, what the Walt Disney Company has given us is a well-crafted love letter to video games fans old and new.
Wreck-It Ralph has been referred to by Spill.Com as the Who Framed Roger Rabbit of video game movies. I can agree with that to a point because the biggest thrills that the older members of the audience will get out of it are the numerous cameos made by competing companies characters all in one movie. The difference, of course, is that Roger Rabbit has also gone down in history as a landmark in film animation and special effects that helped reinvigorate a declining interest in the animation industry it was paying homage to. Wreck-It Ralph will not have that kind of lasting legacy, sure the animation is very good and crisp, but nothing revolutionary. Still, that does not matter because it fulfills its mission of being an entertaining and even moving film that caters to audiences of different ages.
The film takes place in an arcade where, after the kids all leave and the arcade closes, all of the characters in the video games take time off to go about their daily lives and even meet each other, always making sure to be back inside their proper game before the arcade opens again the next morning. The story is about Wreck-It- Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the villain of an 8-bit game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. While the game’s hero, Fix-It Felix, Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer), is treated with absolute respect every night by the game’s supporting cast, Ralph is forced to sleep outside alone in the rubble he is programmed to create ever day. As the cast of his game prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the game, Ralph attends a support group for fellow video game villains where he reveals that no longer wants to be a villain. This creates concern among Ralph’s peers that he will mess with the program and “go Turbo,” which would result in disaster for his game and everyone in it. After being rudely booted out of an anniversary party the the rest of his game did not invite him to, Ralph finally decides to prove he can be a good guy by vowing to get himself a medal.
To do this, Ralph crosses over into a brand new game called Hero’s Duty, a first-person shooter where players enter a futuristic environment infected with creatures called Cy-Bugs; those who win the game earn a hero’s medal. The leader of the game, Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), gets angry at Ralph for ruining one player’s experience, but Ralph is able to get his medal anyway. Through a series of mishaps, he ends up inside a rocket that transports him into yet another game, Sugar Rush, a candy-themes racing game, where he meets a little girl avatar named Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), who has been ostracized by her own game for being a glitch. Vanellope swipes Ralph’s medal as a means of entering the next race so she may become an official part of the game, and Ralph goes after her to get his medal back. Long story short, Vanellope wants to enter a race, but cannot because she is a glitch; Ralph wants his medal back, and is forced to help out Vanellope to get it back, and bot Felix and Calhoun go into Sugar Rush together to get Ralph back because one of the Cy-Bug virus had inadvertently traveled into the game with Ralph, and because unless Ralph returns to his own game by morning, Fix-It Felix, Jr. will be unplugged forever.
As I said, the major appeal this film will have on older viewers is going to be the numerous video game characters that appear on screen, many of them in non-speaking roles. Many of the younger kids in the audience may or may not know every cameo or reference that appears on screen, such as Qbert, Dig Dug and Tapper; heck, many of them may not have even been inside an arcade and instead played all of their video games on hoe consules. But in this information age, those things don’t really matter; even if kids have never been to to an arcade, their still going to know what it is. My hope is that this film will help kids take an interest in some of those older games and characters in addition to providing nostalgia for older viewers who remember playing those games. Besides, there are still cameos from other older characters like Sonic the Hedgehog, Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Bowser, M. Bison, Zangief, and other characters that kids will still be quite familiar with.
But in truth, there is a surprisingly good story here as well concerning Ralph and his desire to prove himself a good guy, as well as Vanellope’s desire to become part of her game despite being a glitch. The friendship that forms between these two becomes touching despite Vanellope’s character, much like the game world she lives in, being a bit too bright and annoying when we first meet her. Both of these characters are out to proves that they are more than what they are and as an audience we want them both to succeed.
In speaking of the game world that Vanellope comes from, Korey from Spill.com has commented that he felt that too much time was spent in the Sugar Rush world and he got annoyed at how all of the video game references were suddenly dropped in favor of candy puns. I agree that this was a problem and that, while it did not bother me as much and, in fact, I felt some of those puns and jokes were creative in places, I can definitely see how those same jokes and all the bright colors would annoys other viewers.
By contrast, the Hero’s Duty world looked awesome. Obviously a parody of popular first-person shooters like Halo, this was a perfect version of a Disney-fied version of that style of gaming. The background were dark, futuristic, and dangerous, a stark contrast to the bright and colorful world of Sugar Rush that were saw immediately after.
But I think I enjoyed the world of Fix-It Felix, Jr. the most because of the simplistic nature of it and the flawlessly executed movements of that game’s supporting characters. The animators found the perfect way to give those characters the stilted, jittery movement that 8-bit characters are infamous for, but never making them seem lifeless. The classic 8-bit sound effects were, of course, a necessity. It is hard for this examiner to describe it at this time except that those who made this films really understood those old games and brought that classic arcade dynamic to the screen in a very convincing way.
I did not end up seeing the film in 3-D, and that it unfortunate because this looks like that kind of animated film that 3-D would be perfect for. So, the only advice I can give in that respect is that if you have the money to pay for a 3-D ticket, I expect that it will be worth it.
The cast of this film is also a lot of fun. John C. Reilly is perfect as the voice of Wreck-It Ralph, giving the character an innocence, likability and also an attitude and toughness since, lets face it, he is still a video game villain. Sarah Silverman is charming, if at times annoying, as Vanellope von Schweetz, who despite those annoyingly childish qualities makes the character adorably charming for those same reasons; I think a lot of mother’s who take their kids to see this film will have an appreciation for her. Jack McBrayer is funny as Fix-It Felix, jr., playing a comic relief for the most part, but what I liked about his performance is that even though he is clearly oblivious to how left-out Ralph feels within the realm of their game, he does not come across as disliking of Ralph either, making it seem like they have a brotherly relationship; plus, his dorky crush on Calhoun is quite funny. In speaking of whom, Jane Lynch plays Sergeant Calhoun almost like a parody of her character Sue Sylvester from Glee, and it doesn’t surprise me that the biggest hard case in the film is also, ultimately, one of the biggest sources of comedy, especially given her hilariously over-the-top back story. Alan Tudyk appears as King Candy, the ruler of Sugar Rush and his portrayal is very cartoonish, but in a amusing sort of way; plus, there are some surprising twists to his character that are revealed throughout the film. Mindy Kaling appears as Taffyta Muttonfudge, Vanellope’s nemesis who is portrayed as someone we can recognizably dislike, and her final turn at the end got one of the biggest laughs from the audience I saw the film with with. Besides these actors, there is a massive cast of supporting voice actors as well, including some who are portraying cameos of existing video games characters. Other performances in the film include Joe Lo Truglio as Markowski, Ed O’Neill as Mr. Litwak, Dennis Haysbert as General Hologram, Edie McClurg as Mary, Raymond Persi as Mayor Gene and a Zombie (based on Cyril from House of the Dead), Jess Harnell as Don, Rachael Harris as Deanna, Skylar Astin as Roy, Adam Carolla as Wynnchel, Horatio Sanz as Duncan, Maurice LaMarche as Root Beer Tapper, Stefanie Scott as Moppet Girl, John DiMaggio as Beard Papa, Rich Moore as Sour Bill and Zangief from Street Fighter, Katie Lowes as Candlehead, Jamie Elman as Rancis Fluggerbutter, Josie Trinidad as Jubileena Bing-Bing, Cymbre Walk as Crumbelina DiCaramello, Brandon Scott as Kohut, Tim Mertens as Dr. Brad Scott, Kevin Deters as Clyde from Pac-Man, Gerald C. Rivers as M. Bison from Street Fighter, Martin Jarvis as Satine, Brian Kesinger as a Cyborg (based on Kano from Mortal Kombat), Roger Craig Smith as Sonic the Hedgehog, Phil Johnston as Surge Protector, Kyle Hebert as Ryu from Street Fighter, Reuben Langdon as Ken Masters from Street Fighter, and Jamie Sparer Roberts as Yuni Verse from Dance Dance Revolution.
Overall, Wreck-It Ralph is a delightfully fun family film that serves a a love letter the the video game community young and old. The story is entertaining enough and the numerous references to classic video games will help it to appeal to an older audience as well as to children. I give the film a solid three stars.