A classic arcade game villain goes on a hero’s quest in Wreck-It Ralph, a surprisingly fun animated movie from Disney.
Wreck-It Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) is the building-destroying bad guy of Fix-It Felix Jr., a vaguely Donkey Kong-ish game that still gets the occasional player in the arcade. Plucky Felix (Jack McBrayer) is treated like a hero, but even though Ralph is an integral part of the game, he is shunned by the game’s other characters. When the arcade closes and the video game denizens are free to hang out, Ralph is shunned and spends his lonely evenings at his home — a tree stump in the dump. After Ralph’s attempts to join in the fun lead to some inadvertent wrecking, one of the building-dwellers tells him that the only way he’d be welcome is if he won a medal the way Felix does for all his fixing.
Ralph, determined not to be left out, decides he will indeed win a medal. While hanging out at the tavern-like video game (most characters can travel between games via the power cord), Ralph meets a soldier from a first-person shooter who tells him that his game — Hero’s Duty — has a medal. Ralph decides to work his way in to the game and search for the medal.
When these cross-game adventures lead to trouble, Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a tough-as-nails soldier from Hero’s Duty, leaves the game to find Ralph (and a mindless, game-destroying bug that may have traveled with him). Meanwhile, Fit-It Felix Jr. is suddenly without a villain and if Ralph doesn’t come back, it is at risk for being unplugged (which would leave its characters homeless or lost in a void). Felix decides to set off to find Ralph and bring him home. Though Ralph is headed back to his own game, he gets sidetracked and winds up in Sugar Rush, a game that sets a NASCAR like race in a Candy Land-like universe. Here, he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a little girl with dreams of winning the Candy Land race.
It’s the little details that really elevate a movie like this. Animation as a medium is excellent for creating an entirely new universe, and when it’s done right, it has texture and richness. Wreck-It Ralph is full of great details and clever moments. There’s the BadAnon meeting you’ve likely seen in the trailers (video game villains affirm that just because you’re a Bad Guy doesn’t mean you are a bad guy). There are the cameos of video game characters — a homeless Q*bert hangs out in the intersection of all the video game portals; Sonic appears in a PSA about dying outside your own game; one of the Pac-Man ghosts plays group leader of BadAnon. There are the fun little moments of commentary about arcade games — the difference between 8-bit classics and the current hyper-real games; the way a villain controls his world by controlling the code. Wreck-It Ralph does that thing that Pixar so often does in a movie (and while this is a Disney film, it isn’t from Pixar), which is to fully imagine its world and then set jokes and stories within the rules of this world while still cracking the occasional joke that references our world. You don’t have to know anything about video games to get the jokes in this movie but if you do know something about video games, the little details are that much richer.
In this exceptionally well-crafted setting are placed some truly winning characters. Reilly helps make Ralph a likeable, relateable guy while still capturing his wreck-it side. Silverman is excellent as Vanellope — I don’t know that a character has ever suited her voice and delivery more. A plucky, quirky little girl with candy sprinkled on her head and a homemade racecar, Vanellope is a loveable oddball — she’s called a “glitch” because of the way her image pixilates, particularly when she gets anxious or angry or excited. Their friendship is sweet and gives the film a warm heart at its core.
Wreck-It Ralph isn’t perfect — it has a slow, draggy period that kicks off its final third — but it is a fresh, innovative story placed in a dazzling visual universe. B+
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence. Directed by Rich Moore with a screenplay by Phil Johnson and Jennifer Lee, Wreck-It Ralph is an hour and 48 minutes long and is distributed by Walt Disney.