Ralph is the destructive bad guy in an 8-bit arcade game that’s celebrating its 30th Anniversary. The problem is that he’s not happy with his role. Wreck-It Ralph is the story of his search for something better – and possibly the best video game movie ever.
In the game Fix-It Felix Jr., Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly, who also gets a story credit) is an oversized engine of destruction. His job is to destroy the apartment block in which the good folks of Niceland live – and he hates it. When the day ends and the games are shut off, he is snubbed by the Nicelanders and reaches his limit when he isn’t even invited to their 30th anniversary party. So, he leaves the game and sets out to prove himself a good guy by doing something heroic and winning a gold medal.
The conceit of Wreck-It Ralph is that all the characters in the arcade games have lives that carry on when the games aren’t in use. Ralph, for example, attends Bad Guys anonymous meetings to seek affirmation that even though he’s a Bad Guy, he’s not a bad guy. Sadly, even when he’s just changing trains in the out-of-game equivalent of Grand Central Station, he still terrifies most of the characters from the other games – except for the out of work Q*Bert (his game has long since been canceled), whom he gives food.
Although the movie uses only three games for the majority of the film – Fix-It Felix Jr., Hero’s Duty (think sci-fi first-person-shooters like Call of Duty, Halo, or Gears of War) and Sugar Rush (think road racing game set in Candyland) – the film is filled with details and cameos (Zangrief, General Bison, the abovementioned Q*Bert and more) that add depth to the world and let gamers know that this is not a game that exploits games but understands them.
To get recognition for being a good guy, he enters Hero’s Duty, where space marines led by Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch) – whose drill sergeant demeanor and riffs on standard ‘tough guy’ dialogue are exquisitely on target and hide a tragic secret – face a horde of cyber-bugs.
Once he’s got his medal, he winds up in Sugar Rush, where encounters a fellow misunderstood loner in Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). She wants to be a racer more than anything else in the world but is forbidden because she’s a glitch – at least that’s the story according to King Candy (Alan Tudyk, channelling Ed, or possibly Keenan Wynn).
Before she can race, though, she has to build her racer – kind of like a challenge that might be encountered in a real game, where one has to customize one’s vehicle before being able to race – and learn to drive!
In the meantime, Felix (Jack Brayer) is trying to find Ralph and persuade him to come home before the game is shut down forever. This leads to an unlikely team-up and an even more unlikely romance.
Wreck-It Ralph is a fast-paced joyride of a movie that captures the spirit of both the best of Disney storytelling and the world of video games. The script, by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnson, is spun in fine fashion by director Rich Moore. By the time the incredibly fun closing credits roll, we’ve come to not only accept the characters as much more than video game stereotypes and have become involved in their lives.
Like the best Disney movies, Wreck-It Ralph has something to say about those kinds of stereotypes and learning to see beyond the superficiality of physical appearances. Though it flirts with becoming too sweet (some of the conventions of Sugar Rush could have induced diabetes if not handled with restraint), it never goes over the edge. It’s a big-hearted, engaging film that features incredible CG animation in a variety of styles – nailing the classic 8-bit look of a Super Mario-type game for Fix-It Felix Jr., but also getting the look just right for both Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush.
Though it seems like a simple Disney fable for the 21st century, Wreck-It Ralph will reward multiple viewings. It’s one of the best animated films of the year and is in the same league as Pixar’s Toy Story Trilogy.
Final Grade: A
Photos courtesy of Disney Pictures