Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

(screenshots from JoBlo.com)

Disney’s 52nd animated feature is essentially a Toy Story for the digital generation, Wreck-It Ralph. In it, characters from video games in an arcade inhabit a connected electronic world and live their lives after all the humans have left. They are able to visit the individual games by passing through the arcade’s surge protector, which acts as their central station. Their respective games function as both a career and a home world for them to live in.  Their actions during gameplay are like theatrical performances, their lives essentially a reality show with some human interference. It’s a brilliant concept and full of references to classic games. More than that, Wreck-It Ralph features a very funny (if by-the-numbers) script and a wide appeal that should leave everyone satisfied.

The hero of the film is, much to his dismay, the villain of his arcade game. Wreck-It Ralph, voiced perfectly as an innocent buffon by John C. Reilly, is a Donkey Kong-esque villain in a game named (and starring) Fix-It Felix, Jr. It might not be such a bad gig, destroying buildings and terrorizing town folk, but the denizens of his game shun him even after the gameplay is over. They lock him out of their high-rise and don’t invite him to their 30 year anniversary. Sick of being the bad guy, Ralph sets out to earn his acceptance, even if it means traveling to games other than his own – a dangerous venture, since any death outside of one’s home game is permanent.

The best part about Wreck-It Ralph is the fully fleshed out world of these video game characters. Reminiscent of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., they share a culture of their own while living in a society like ours. There are countless references for video game enthusiasts (the Konami code is used as a master password) and our human perspective is worked into the environment seamlessly.  When the orange “Out of Order” sign gets taped to a screen, it eclipses the characters in a prophetic orange light of doom – since when a game gets unplugged, everything left inside is gone forever. If that happens, anyone who manages to escape is left a vagrant, like Q*bert, whose game was unplugged long ago. This threat looms over Ralph and his eventual friend Vanellope, a glitchy character in a candy-themed racing game voiced by Sarah Silverman.

Ralph and Vanellope are both outcasts, rejected by their respective worlds because of who they are and who society expects them to be. There’s a strong message of accepting who you are throughout the film, but not without the uplifting idea that you can become more than just what your coding dictates. Even when Vanellope triumphs in the end and is given a chance to become a real, more princess-y character, she chooses her own individuality and remains a punky glitch girl instead. It’s a message about following your heart that never gets old for kids.

Also great for kids is the equal gender representation. Obviously the ogre-ish Ralph will appeal to young boys and the Bratz-style Vanellope will strike a chord with young girls, but secondary characters throw some variety into the mix as well. Felix Jr., the protagonist of Ralph’s game, is a passive milquetoast voiced by 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer, but even though his abilities and experiences are limited, he has moments of triumph showing that the nice guy can come out on top, too. He falls in love with Sergeant Calhoun, a no-nonsense badass from a First Person Shooter voiced by Jane Lynch, providing a strong role model for girls who might not be that interested in Vanellope’s pretty pink candy-themed world.

All four main characters are voiced by actors playing to their strengths, so we get performances that are well-honed and hilarious throughout. Alan Tudyk lends his talents to King Candy, the evil dictator of Vanellope’s game, and steals a lot of scenes with random guffaws and a sinister goofiness. His final transformation is pretty over-the-top and unnecessary, but for the most part, there’s a well-written story weaved throughout the film, with plenty of personal and larger-scale stakes for both protagonists.

Wreck-It Ralph isn’t perfect. The quest that gets Ralph moving in the first place – winning a medal so he can sleep in the village’s high-rise – is foisted upon us suddenly, but as long as it gets him moving and exploring this world, I’m not complaining. It is kind of a drag that the characters all settle down in Vanellope’s candy world for the second half of the film instead of exploring more of the arcade’s games, but I’d rather them do that and focus on story than have the characters mindlessly romp about this enticing intercircuitry world.

Wreck-It Ralph is a phenomenal animated film that has appeal for kids, video gamers, and anyone with an operational heart. The animators get to stretch their legs, drawing various games in drastically different styles, and the voice cast is spot-on from the heroes to the supporting players. A sequel’s already been discussed, something about bringing the characters up to speed with console and online gaming, and I know I’ll be waiting in line to see it when it comes out. Do yourself a favor and see this movie, because it truly is the next generation’s Toy Story – the highest compliment possible for an animated film.

Final rating: 8.5/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Gotta love all the puns in that candytastic world. Nestle Quicksand and the laughing taffy vines. Reminds me of Candystand.
  • Okay, that stuff in the end about establishing a constitutional democracy was a little out of place, right?
  • One of the things that captured me about the animation was the jerky movement of the villagers in Ralph’s game, mimicking the appearance of sprites in older games like that.
  • “Pixlexia”. Nice.
  • Oh, snap, they got the actual voice actor for Sonic to lend his talents. I liked the way Sonic showed up, providing a PSA to orient the audience early on, and I enjoyed that Mario was only teased.
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2 responses

  1. onizuka-gto

    yeah, the “Constitutional Democracy” blurt out was random and jarring, i get that some american films like to throw out a political message and all but that was strange and it was a little insulting. What’s wrong with a democratic monarchy? she is a princess and they won’t change that fact since its all programmed into them.

    January 4, 2013 at 6:48 pm

  2. I thought the Constitutional Democracy jokes was great. Wasn’t jarring in the slightest.

    June 16, 2013 at 11:37 pm

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