Anyone who has ever been caught up in the videogame revolution that exploded in the late 1970s and early 1980s – which has all but consumed popular culture for kids and teens in the time since – should have a ball with “Wreck-It Ralph.”
But you don’t need to be a gamer – or the parent of a gamer – to appreciate the humor and heart of “Wreck-It Ralph.” Director Rich Moore, working from a script by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, makes this a computer-animated treat that is as funny for what it is doing on the surface as for the inside jokes that will serve as “Easter eggs” for the initiated.
John C. Reilly voices the title character, the villain in a “Donkey Kong”-like arcade game called “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” For 30 years, every time someone plugs a quarter into the machine, Ralph wrecks the same apartment building – only to have the game’s hero, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock”) come along with his magic hammer and fix everything Ralph has destroyed. Then Ralph is unceremoniously dumped off the top of the apartment building roof into the mud, while Felix is given a medal by the apartment dwellers.
Ralph has lived with that for a long time; it’s the way he’s programmed, after all. But, as he tells other electronic villains at a Bad-Anon meeting, he has feelings, too. Being the bad guy is his job, he says – but it’s not who he is. The last straw: a 30th anniversary party that the apartment dwellers throw for Felix, without inviting Ralph.
So Ralph goes rogue – or “Turbo,” in the parlance of the characters in this film, after an early videogame character in a car-racing game who got jealous of a newer, more popular racing game and, through electronic wizardry, jumped to that game. Turbo became a glitch that forced the new game to be scrapped. In the arcade, an “Out of Order” sign is like a death sentence, one step away from pulling the plug.
Ralph, however, has a different plan. He wants to earn a medal, like the ones that Felix receives every time he defeats Ralph. So he escapes into a first-person-shooter game called “Hero’s Duty,” in hopes of doing just that. All he does, however, is muck up a mission led by the tough-talking (and very funny) Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch), against the ravenously destructive Cy-bugs.
He is able, however, to grab a medal, just before he’s expelled from that game (unwittingly taking a Cy-bug with him). He lands in “Sugar Rush,” a witty car-racing game for kids, populated by candy-colored little-girl drivers with names like Taffyta Muttonfudge (Mindy Kaling). He is befriended by a smart-mouthed little girl named Vanellope von Schweetz (the perfectly cast Sarah Silverman), an outcast who is derided by the other little-girl drivers because she’s a glitch – an electronic anomaly who could wreck the game and attract the dreaded “Out of Order” sign, if she’s allowed to race (which, of course, is her dream).
The “Out of Order” sign, however, has found its way on to the screen of the “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” game because Ralph fails to appear when someone plugs a quarter into the machine. So it’s up to Felix to search for Ralph and bring him back. As Felix combs the other games in the arcade for Ralph, Ralph is trying to make Vanellope’s dream – of racing in “Sugar Rush” – come true, despite opposition by the game’s ruler, King Candy (Alan Tudyk). And then, of course, there are those Cy-bugs…
The computer animation is dazzlingly imaginative, particularly when the story takes up residence in the Candyland environs of “Sugar Rush.” (There’s already a “Wreck-It Ralph” videogame available that includes all the different games from the movie.) The imagery is amazing – and always witty. This is a Disney cartoon – but it’s got the imagination and brains of a Pixar feature. Then again, Pixar’s resident genius, John Lasseter, is its executive producer.
But what sells this film, finally, are the performances by Reilly and Silverman as Ralph and Vanellope. Their initially prickly relationship eventually turns into a friendship, without losing the things that rub each other the wrong way. McBrayer is the perfect choice for the squeaky-clean Felix; Tudyk, doing a malevolent Ed Wynn impression, is a delightful villain. And the invaluable Jane Lynch snarls one-liners that snap with wit.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is set in the world of arcade games, and not the online or home videogame universe that have all but supplanted it. But while some critics have complained about this throwback vision of gaming, they’re over-thinking it, I suspect. Audiences – from tots to grandparents – can’t help but be both charmed and entertained by this film, one of the year’s best animated offerings.Print This Post