Director(s): Rich Moore
Writer(s): Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Nov 2, 2012 - Wide
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The arcade game world view is fairly binary: you’re either a good guy or a bad guy. Wreck-It Ralph is the hammer-fisted bad guy in the game Fix-It Felix, Jr. and spends his days dutifully destroying the Nicelanders’ apartment building so that Felix can fix it with his magic hammer. When the lights in the arcade dim and the game characters mingle, Ralph (John C. Reilly) is treated like a destructive enemy and Felix (Jack McBrayer) like a hero even though both are just fulfilling their designated roles in the game.
This doesn’t sit well with Ralph who attends a Bad Anon meeting where fellow bad characters like Street Fighter’s Zangief and Sonic the Hedgehog’s Doctor Eggman tell him that “being a bad guy doesn’t make you a bad guy” but their words of encouragement don’t help Ralph. He wanders Game Central Station (the arcade’s surge protector and a portal to all the other games) in search of something heroic. To the dismay of Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a shapely soldier in the game Hero’s Duty, Ralph joins the game and gets a medal, only to end up crashing in the anime-inspired Sugar Rush. Felix and Calhoun team up to retrieve Ralph and capture a cybug that threatens all the games, while Ralph finds himself helping Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a young wannabe racer in the Sugar Rush game that everyone feels is just a glitch.
It’d be easy to just fill Wreck-It Ralph with in-jokes, characters and game play references that would satisfy hardcore gamers, but Wreck-It Ralph goes past the pixels and finds a heart. Ralph and Vanellope may have tough exteriors but they looking for a change in their life and acceptance for who they are. The film touches upon the themes of acceptance, individuality and bullying and moves from action to emotion with ease.
Directed by Rich Moore, whose background includes The Simpsons, Wreck-It Ralph’s look jumps easily from the 8-bit worlds of early arcade games, to the dark and militaristic look of first person shooters, to the saccharine overload of the Japanese pop culture inspired Sugar Rush. The artists at Disney Animation Studios use the 3D effectively to take us inside the video games and make us part of the action and the various cameos from game heroes and villains taps a vein of nostalgia that will have former arcade dwellers wistfully remembering their spent change or reaching for retro updates on modern game consoles.
With a great foundation of visuals, the real strength of Wreck-It Ralph comes from its vocal performances. John C. Reilly, a gem of a performer who is comfortable in the most serious drama to the most outlandish comedy, is perfectly suited as Ralph. His voice is able to convey the weariness of a man who is tired of his lot in life but he’s not just a sad sack character but a person who is discovering his real power lies outside his massive fists. Jack McBrayer’s Felix balances on the edge of an upbeat character who is always one pixel away from losing it. Jane Lynch’s Calhoun, leader of the forces in Hero’s Duty, shows that behind the outlandishly curvaceous body lusted after by lonely male gamers lies a woman of strength and intelligence. Alan Tudyk’s King Candy imagines what would happen if Ed Wynn’s voice, the Mad Hatter’s style, and a despotic dictator’s sense of governing were combined in a sugary ruler.
Next to Reilly, the real stand out performance in Wreck-It Ralph belongs to Sarah Silverman, who brings to life Vanellope von Schweetz, the young girl who just wants to race and not be tormented for being a coding glitch. She moves effortlessly from cheeky sarcasm to bare vulnerability. Silverman’s Vanellope will have you laughing, cheering, and tearing up.
There’s action and comedy for the young ones, enough inside jokes for the adults and fun and emotion for the whole family. Though the games may only cost quarters, Wreck-It Ralph’s emotions are priceless.
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