To say that I couldn't wait for this film is an understatement. From the sneak peek we got at the D23 Expo in the summer of 2011, it appeared to have some of my favorite things: old school arcade games, John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, and a ton of 80s pop culture references. So by the time I finally sat down to watch the film, it had a lot of expectations to live up to.
I can happily say that it blew past each one of those expectations with relative ease. Wreck-It Ralph is animated movie perfection for kids and those who were kids in the 80s.
Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of a video game villain who is lonely and tired of being the bad guy, always getting beat up and shunned by the other characters in the Fix-It Felix Jr game where he lives. You see, there’s a world beyond the games we see. Much like how the toys come to life when a child leaves the room, the video game characters live a life beyond the hours the arcades are open. They are able to leave their games and enter Game Central Station, basically a power strip where all the machines are connected, allowing them to hang out with each other for whatever reason, including take part in a bad guy support group, like Ralph does.
The movie is chock-full of characters and references to classic 80s arcade games. When Ralph wants to drown his sorrows, he doesn’t just go to a bar, he visits Tapper. Those destitute and homeless characters sitting in Game Central Station holding up signs panhandling for food since their game was unplugged, that’s Q*bert and his now out of work foes. Of course, many of the references are things that only people in their 30s and 40s will get, but it doesn’t matter. The kids will be drawn in by the bold characters and the worlds they inhabit. The movie won’t ever be able to claim that it’s overly complex, but it doesn’t need to in order to be entertaining. The highest compliment I can give it is, much like Tangled a few years ago, this is a Disney Pixar film without actually coming from Pixar. It’s 100% all Disney.
Ralph is immediately likable from the first moments of the film as John C Reilly narrates our hero-villain’s lot in life. They couldn’t have picked a better voice for the character. You just want to give the big guy a hug. I would say more, but I think his performance will speak for itself.
Every villain needs a hero, so we’re quickly introduced to Fix-It Felix, Jr (not just Fix-It Felix… I suspect there’s a story in there somewhere), who is a nice guy just doing his job, fixing the apartment building that Ralph wrecks as part of the game. Voiced with an affable downhome charm by 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer, he’s a good guy and deserves the accolades he gets from the residents and Ralph has no beef with him. He could have easily been written as a prick-ish bad “good guy” to contrast Ralph’s good “bad guy”, but thankfully not, as he becomes an integral part of Ralph’s story.
One character I thought would get annoying fairly quickly was Vanellope von Schweetz, the cutesy but smart-alecky girl from the racing game Sugar Rush, voiced by Sarah Silverman (and pitched up a bit to sound more kid-like). But thanks to the comedian’s skill for delivering any line with brazen honesty, especially when said line is supposed to be adorable, menacing, and ticklish all at once, Vanellope comes across as someone you will root for and eventually sympathize with, especially when tragedy strikes. She’s thankfully not portrayed as an adult in a child’s body (well, not always). I expected her to be the cliche smart-ass wise-cracker or the Only Smart Person in the Room that most kids tend to be in these types of films, but once we get past the facade, we discover she’s definitely just a kid with a naivete that leaves her extremely vulnerable in certain situations.
Vanellope and Ralph make a deal
Rounding out the electric cast is Jane Lynch from Glee, who plays the hard-nosed soldier, Sergeant Calhoun, from the game Hero’s Duty, an obvious nod to not just gaming shooters like Mass Effect and Halo, but also, undeniably, the movie Aliens. She’s got the uber-tragic, almost cliche back story and a mission to stop the bugs in her game from consuming her world. She knows how to deliver a gritty, battle-hardened line like a female, latter-day R Lee Ermey, except with a lot more curves and a lot less profanity.
Fix-It Felix Jr meets Sergeant Calhoun
I have to give a special nod to the man behind King Candy in the Sugar Rush game: Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Dollhouse). If you were a fan and you didn’t know he was in the film, you wouldn’t know it was him. His performance evokes Tom Kenny’s Mayor from Powerpuff Girls and hints of Mel Blanc’s many classic voices.
Whether you’re still a little kid born with a controller in his or her hands or you’re an old school gamer with fond memories of endlessly pumping quarters into your favorite arcade game for hours, Wreck-It Ralph will make you feel right at home. Lovable characters, thrilling action, a few emotionally jarring bits, lots of gaming nostalgia, and a sense of humor that swings wildly between silly and sly throughout, gives Wreck-It Ralph the high score among the movies to see this week in theaters. It’s a rush of fun for the whole family and I can’t wait to see it again.