Wreck-It Ralph, the latest CGI film from Disney, shares a name with its protagonist, who happens to be the antagonist of a retro arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr. In the game, a twist on Donkey Kong, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) climbs to the top of an apartment building, smashing windows and walls, until Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) arrives and makes repairs, ultimately defeating Ralph. After 30 years of playing out this same scenario, Ralph is tired of being the bad guy and yearns for the acceptance and glory of being a hero. The townspeople in the Fix-It Felix Jr. video game do not respect Ralph’s ambitions, so he breaks a cardinal rule of the gaming universe and begins “game jumping” in hopes of finding of a game that will allow him to become the hero he wants to be.
Wreck-It Ralph is a film that I expected nothing from, especially given its long gestation in Development Hell, but it proved to be surprisingly moving. I loved this movie because not only was it heartwarming, but every character in the film had a purpose. Ralph is a totally endearing character, someone audiences will root for as he goes on his quest to become a hero. John C. Reilly does a superb job of making the character lovable and determined. But, as much as I loved Ralph as a character, I was actually more moved by a character named Vanellope, voiced to perfection by Sarah Silverman.
Vanellope is a glitch in a game called Sugar Rush, and, like Ralph, all she wants is a chance to prove that she can be a winner in her game (and, by extension, her life). Her character has some beautifully poignant moments with Ralph that elevate the film to such a degree that it’s easy to forget it isn’t a Pixar product.
The main problem I have with the film lies in what I found to be a weak villain. The villain is literally mentioned all throughout the movie and explained in full only once. This makes it very hard for the audience to believe that this villain could cause all the havoc he has in such a short span of time. I personally found myself scratching my head as to why the film’s writers did not give that character a deeper and darker reason for his or her dastardly deeds.
The other problem is that the film spent way too much time in the world of Sugar Rush, the game where Vanellope is fated to reside. While I find the concept of Candy Land mixed with Mario Kart to be a delectable idea for a video game, there weren’t enough things to do inside the game to make it a compelling place to spend the bulk of the film. I believe the story would have been greatly enhanced had the writers given Ralph — who also travels into a first-person shooter spin on Starship Troopers called Hero’s Duty — more games to explore.
The animation of this film is stellar. Video game nerds will absolutely love the references to the old games they used to love. I found myself especially enjoying the brief cameos by Q-Bert and Dr. Robotnik. And, even if you’re bored by the story of Wreck-It Ralph, you will be absolutely amazed and fascinated by all of the various video game references.
Wreck-It Ralph is more than just a video game movie; it is a carefully crafted story about how heroism comes in all forms, no matter who you are. See it.