Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Disney Pictures
Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Rated: PG (for some rude humor and mild action/violence)
Director: Rich Moore
Writers: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch
Sarah Silverman
Animation | Comedy | Family

Wreck-it Ralph is the movie about the video game, and unlike most movies that have anything to do with their video games, this one doesn’t suck. And many movies have only one hero, but this one has at least three. It’s center-most is “Wreck-it Ralph” (John C. Reilly, voice) who is nothing more than a blip of coding inside an arcade game where, as the bad guy, he is responsible for smashing apart a building, leaving the good guy, “Fix-It Felix” (Jack McBrayer, voice) to undo his damage and receive all the praise from the little coding blips that are the building tenants.

Every time a kid puts a quarter in, the game repeats. The high scorers that do really well have their names displayed on the screen as an incentive for the next player to try and beat them. But somewhere along the line, Wreck-it Ralph got tired of playing the bad guy and decided he deserved to be the good guy, the celebrated winner who gets the medal.

Ralph’s interaction with his fellow video game pieces first comes to us when he visits a “Bad-anon” villain support group where everyone from Zangief to the villains from many games (whose names we’ve forgotten) are present to deal with the shame in being perpetually portrayed as “the bad guy.”

It’s been 30 years since the arcade game was made, and to celebrate, Felix and the building tenants are having a party in the penthouse, a party Ralph hasn’t been invited to and can’t help but interrupt. Quickly overstaying his welcome, Ralph realizes his true destiny is to become the hero. So he leaves his game and travels into newer ones where his quest to be honored as a brave hero is met with, first, frustration and then with more of the same when he crosses paths with a lovely but annoying “Glitch / Vanellope von Schweetz” (Sarah Silverman, voice).

“King Candy” (Alan Tudyk, voice), the ruler of the candy worlds in the game called Sugar Rush, seeks to expunge her. After all, she’s only a glitch in the game. She can’t rightly race like the other properly coded characters who keep their noses in the air at her anytime they see her. So he needs a metal and she needs to win a race, but the clock is ticking when Ralph accidentally sets lose a dangerous sci-bug in Candy World that threatens to destroy them all. Can Felix and the Hero leader “Calhoun” (Jane Lynch, voice) find Ralph and undo the damage in time to stop it?

In an admittedly sweeter than usual package, Wreck-it Ralph delivers the goods as both a geek’s guilty pleasure and as a tribute to the great games that came before the likes of Halo and the Modern Warfare series. And there’s more to like than that.

When we aren’t being treated to old-timey references and characters, we are getting used to the pacing, which, at first, struggles to keep even. But when the borders of the plot have been erected, the film takes on a faster and more engaging tempo that has us eager for more.

Regrettably, however, it aims conservative from the get-go in the humor department. In fact, there is very little by way of humor in Wreck-it Ralph, although a few substantive jewels do stand out. But this one won’t be remembered for its humor.

What really separates Wreck-it Ralph is its uncanny writing and surprises that – although formulaically introduced and concluded for us – still count as surprises that reach out and touch us in a story with an all too human message.

Call it a nostalgic piece, but that definitely isn’t all that it is. It is a powerfully creative and expressive look at the values of self-assessment and esteem and one of the best animated films this year. With the additional voice talents of Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Skylar Astin, and Adam Carolla, Wreck-it Ralph is the icing on its own cake.