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Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

November 27, 2012

written by: Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee

produced by: Clark Spencer

directed by: Rich Moore

rating: PG (for some rude humor and mild action/violence) 

runtime: 108 min.

U.S. release date: November 2, 2012

Here is a movie that I absolutely and unabashedly adored. It’s not only fun, funny and clever, but it’s also that rare animated feature that left me wanting to watch again as soon as possible. Granted, I kind of knew I’d feel this way going in, since I’m admittedly Disney’s target audience, having spent countless hours and many rolls of quarters at video arcades back in the day. While much of “Wreck-It Ralph” will be lost on those kids who’ve grown up with PlayStation and Wii consoles, with such beautiful animation and kaleidoscope colors, you don’t have to know the difference between Sonic the Hedgehog and Q*bert to enjoy this vibrant and entertaining picture.  Some may dismiss it for its video game setting, but they’d be surprised at what this film has to offer any viewer, regardless of age or gender.

When the doors close at Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade for the night, the characters in the arcade games can punch out. When their actions aren’t being controlled by entranced adolescents, they can relax in their world located inside a power strip. Or they can become restless and start to question their place in life, their very purpose?

That’s where Ralph (John C. Reilly), a giant monolith of a man, is at. He’s been destroying a penthouse building filled with residents in Niceland for the past 30 years in the retro game “Fix-It Felix, Jr.”, where he’s known as big bad Wreck-It Ralph. Only Ralph doesn’t see himself that way and he’s grown tired of his bad guy status, where all his destruction is repaired by Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his magic hammer. Longing to bust out of his routine and earn the accolades that the good guy always gets, Ralph sets out to be a hero and comes to the conclusion that he has to get a medal in order to be considered one.

In pursuit of his prize, Ralph breaks the rules and jumps games, finding himself in the violent world of “Hero’s Duty” with its realistic graphics and fast-paced first-person shooter game. There he runs into Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the forceful leader of a tactical team, who’s busy battling hundreds of evil Cy-bugs (like something out of “The Matrix”), while Ralph goes for the gold. Ralph’s inexperience in the military environment sends him unexpectedly thrown into another game, “Sugar Rush”, a Skittle-rific racing game (with a Cy-bug stowaway) where he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), an annoying yet adorable glitch who takes a curious interest in Ralph.

Ralph learns that Vanellope has been ostracized in her own game, banned by the maniacal King Candy (Alan Tudyk) from competing in the races that she achingly longs to compete in. Surprised to find a kindred spirit, Ralph takes it upon himself to help Vanellope get into the race, unknowingly committing an act of nobility. He’ll have to step up his game though, in order to assist both Calhoun and Felix (an unlikely duo) from preventing a full-on bug invasion in “Sugar Rush” as well as stop King Candy from following through with his own dastardly agenda.

What you’ll immediately find in “Wreck-It Ralph” is how absolutely enjoyable these characters are, which has a great deal to do with the actors cast voicing them, but also in how the animators have designed them to perfectly align with the talent.  Not only do the characters played by Reilly, Silverman, McBrayer and Lynch resemble the actors, but they also come to live in such an uncanny way, more than any other animated feature this year. Sure, Kelly Macdonald was well-suited to carry “Brave”, but the main cast is exceptional, across the board they are a fine example of how actors can inject life into animation.

Other vocal talents such as Mindy Kaling, Ed O’ Neil (as arcade owner, Mr. Litwak) and Dennis Haysbert offer fun supporting bit parts, but it’s the main players, especially Reilly (one of my favorite working actors, who left me wondering why he hasn‘t done more voice work) that had me laughing and even left me a little choked-up.  Not since we first heard Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in “Toy Story” has there been such dead-on (and distraction free) portrayals in animation.

Yet as much as the characters are a major draw here, they wouldn’t be much without the fully-realized video game world that we see on-screen. Some of that has to do with the bright colors and intense detail of the visuals- I especially enjoyed seeing certain characters move around in choppy 8-bit motion – but most of it has to do with fantastic screenplay. Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston (“Cedar Rapids”) wrote the screenplay from a story by Johnston, Jim Reardon (“WALL-E”) and director Rich Moore (who’s helmed episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” and also voices Zangief, from the “Street Fighter” video game here) and it’s chock full of all sorts of familiar faces from popular 80s games (like”Frogger”, “Dig Dug” and “BurgerTime”) who hilarious frequent the local watering hole (aka the saloon from “Tapper’s”). It doesn’t matter that the kiddos in the audience won’t experience the warm nostalgic glow that the adults who brought them will assuredly bask in, since Moore knows that introducing them to a new crowd is just as entertaining.

The writers provide a creative take on the perspective the video game characters have of our world. When a game suffers unrepairable glitches, everyone’s lives are at stake when the dreaded “Out of Order” sign gets taped to the game’s screen, causing a deterrent to the eager kids with quarters in their pockets. What’s an inconvenience for the human players becomes a certain death sentence to those who live in the game. Another fun concept is of that of the first-person shooter in “Heroe’s Duty”. In the game, the human player on the outside is seen as a flat-screen monitor with robotic legs that is guided through chaotic battle by Calhoun and her armored warriors. It’s one of many ‘functional comedy’ moments in a movie filled with elbow-nudges and kinetic action scenes.

What surprised me about “Wreck-It Ralph” was how touching it actually was. Such unexpected emotional development can be found in the budding friendship between brawny Ralph and pixie-fied Vanellope. Despite their humorous introduction, the two are a hoot when they fight and manage to convey a genuine vulnerability (that’s right, these are toons) – the kind of emotional range we’ve come to know from the “Toy Story” gang. Because of the way they wound up resonating with me, I could easily see myself revisiting Ralph and his various costars.

“Wreck-It Ralph” deserves a wider audience apart from the viewers that will typically be drawn to such a movie. It’s a sweet treat filled with Mentos-and-diet-soda volcanoes, where cops are donuts and King Candy’s valet is a disgruntled sour ball. What’s not to like? Nothing.

While I didn’t see it in 3D, I can’t imagine the extra dimension would offer much in the way of enhancing my enjoyment. 3D is usually better in animated features, what I saw here was already quite immersive.

An added level of enjoyment can be found in the black-and-white animated short, “Paperman”, created by veteran Pixar animator John Kahrs. It’s a wonderful silent love story between a hesitant young man and the woman who catches his attention on a New York City train platform and the paper airplanes that come between them. It’s a reminder of the power and wonder of how animated visuals can tell a compelling story sans dialogue.

RATING: ****


3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2012 9:49 am

    Spot on review of a really good film (and short). We watched it last night, also in 2D, and it was captivating – for both my 47 year old and 15 year old selves!…and for my 6 year old son. I really enjoyed the different animation styles, voice work, and themes. Already looking forward to catching it on Blu-ray when it comes out.


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