Wreck-It Ralph: Put Your Quarter in Now!

by Sandra Olmsted

As in many childhood stories and earlier cartoons, and Toy Story was by no means the first, children’s playthings and the characters from books come to life at night in Wreck-It Ralph. Director Rich Moore and screenwriters Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee update the idea in their film with video game characters bursting out of their games after the arcade closes and having very relatable struggles, mostly work related since the characters all have specific jobs in their games. The good guys and heroes are contented, even if they have “the most tragic backstory ever,” but the ones, especially Wreck-It Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly), who must be bad, because “it’s in their code.”  They are so unhappy about always being the bad guy and being treated badly, that they even have a support group.

When Ralph returns home from his group meeting, he discovers that Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer) and the Nicelanders from the Fit-It Felix game are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the game and didn’t invite him, so he crashes the party. Unfortunately, his innocent desire for a slice of cake, which he’s never had, turns into him accidentally wrecking the apartment of the hosting Nicelander, who tells Ralph if he gets a medal he can live in the penthouse apartment. Ralph’s quest is set, and he game hops, eventually landing in Hero’s Duty, where a troop of soldier lead by Sgt. Calhoun (voice of Jane Lynch) battle cybugs, which become whatever they eat. After getting a medal, Ralph escapes that game only to crash land in Sugar Rush, a candy-coated go-cart racing game. Unfortunately, Ralph brings a cybug with him.

Meanwhile, in Fix-It Felix, Felix and the Nicelanders realize Ralph isn’t there to wreck things when the arcade opens, and an out-of-order sticker is placed on the screen.

Worried that they may be unplugged if Ralph doesn’t return, Felix set out to find Ralph and bring him home before he either dies in another game and, therefore, can’t regenerate or goes “Turbo,” which refers to a character from an early 8-bit game which tried to take over another game and got his own game and another one unplugged. Felix meets Calhoun and the two set off for Sugar Rush to stop the cybug and get Ralph back.

Meanwhile, Ralph’s medal is taken by Vanellope (voice of Sarah Silverman), who uses it to enter the race and earn a place in the video game. The problem is that Vanellope is a glitch, and King Candy (voice of Alan Tudyk), who’s the boss of Sugar Rush, doesn’t want Vanellope to race and is willing to do anything to stop her. Although Ralph is initially angry with Vanellope for using his medal to enter the race, he later understands her need to race and become something more than a glitch who’s ridiculed and ostracized. Ralph also helps Vanellope because her winning is the only way to get his medal back and get to live in the penthouse apartment instead of the dump where he currently must reside each night.

Unfortunately, King Candy is crunching code in a sinister way and is determined to stop Vanellope from ever crossing the finish line. When the cybugs multiply, Sugar Rush is out of order, and if it’s unplugged, Vanellope won’t be able to escape because glitches can’t leave their game.

Wreck-It Ralph plays with the 7 minute short “Paperman” by John Kahrs, the animation supervisor for Tangled with music by Christophe Beck. This added delight is primarily in black and white with splashes of red used to emphasize important elements. A boy and girl met cute on the train platform but loose each other. Later, the boy, an office worker, sees the girl in the building opposite his and has only paper airplanes to get her attention.

With a retro feel and something for young and old, Wreck-It Ralph is a fun film with moments of real tension and excitement. The casting is perfect, and Reilly, Silverman, McBrayer, Lynch, and Tudyk embody their characters to the fullest, giving each a realistic emotional basis which ultimately carries the story.

Director Moore also makes good, non-obtrusive use of the 3-D, which often has particles realistically spinning out into the audience without pandering for a response.

Unfortunately, there’s a little saccharin with the sweet. The big climax feels a little forced because many of little climaxes along the way are made to feel too important, too much the way first-person-shooter games use drama to create excitement. The finale brings all the homeless characters, whose games have been unplugged, together in one super Disney game and portends a Disney takeover of the game world. Although Disney was unable or unwilling to pay the fee requested by Nintendo for an appearance by Mario and Luigi, the music by Henry Jackman recalls the sounds of Namco and Nintendo games.

Wreck-It Ralph, a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Walt Disney Animation Studios production, is rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence and runs 108 minutes. More of Olmsted’s reviews are available at www.thecinematicskinny.com.

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