Review: Video game reverence and infectious charm make Wreck-It Ralph a must-see
Wreck-It Ralph could have gone bad. The premise—to explore the world of video games through a Donkey Kong-esque bad guy—could have easily been high concept and low execution. After all, it's rare that Hollywood really "gets" games and without nailing that the film would have been a mess of licensed characters and typical kid's movie fodder. In an alternate universe, a pandering, focus-tested Wreck-It Ralph probably exists. Thankfully, in our reality, that isn't the case at all.
Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain inside a classic arcade machine called Fix-It Felix Jr. Every day is the same routine: when the arcade opens, Ralph becomes the bad guy of his game, destroying an apartment building until players assume the role of Felix (Jack McBrayer), repair the building, save the day, and toss Ralph off the rooftop. When the arcade closes for the night he returns home to his dump or heads out to Game Central, a hub where all the arcade game characters hang out or jump into other games.
One day the routine becomes too much. After all, Ralph isn't actually a bad guy, more misunderstood than anything. He decides his best shot at a new beginning is to jump games and win a medal. But he's still an oafish klutz, and his path of destruction causes a mess that threatens his own game world and the entire arcade.
From the little touches like the stilted way Fix-It Felix Jr.'s denizens animate, to the larger strokes like housing Game Central within one of the arcade's power strips, Wreck-It Ralph is flowing with creativity. It doesn't just reference games like Street Fighter and Q*Bert, it explores the little quirks that anyone who has spent time playing games can appreciate. Everything from glitches and cheat codes, to the ever-increasing complexity and graphical fidelity in games is touched on in brilliant fashion. The basics can be appreciated by anyone, but some of the little references in the background are so obscure they act as a wink and nod from the creators that says, "Yes, we truly love video games."
Even the games made up for Wreck-It Ralph are evocative and awe-inspiring. Beyond Fix-It Felix Jr. (which Disney released as a playable game), Ralph explores Hero's Duty, a mish-mash of Gears or War and Call of Duty, as well as Sugar Rush, a Willy Wonka-inspired Mario Kart clone. Sugar Rush is especially surprising. The film is already a hilarious examination of the quirks of video games, but then it pulls double duty and cracks jokes in a world made almost entirely of candy.
To say Wreck-It Ralph is funny would perhaps be the understatement of the year. John C. Reilly is a phenomenon as Ralph, leaving me wondering why he hasn't been in more leading voice acting roles. Outstanding performances by funnymen (and women!) like Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman, and Jane Lynch as well as a surprise performance by Alan Tudyk as King Candy make for one of the most well-utilized voice casts of all time. When Dennis Haysbert makes an appearance as the commander in Hero's Duty, rewarding players for their commendable performance in his booming voice, it's clear the creators at Disney knew exactly what they were doing.
To put it simply, Wreck-It Ralph is outstanding. While it may be a bit of a snake-eating-its-own-tail situation, Disney's Animation Studio even managed to outdo Pixar at their own game this year. As a gamer writing for a game website, I may be a bit biased, but Wreck-It Ralph is so much more than its reverence to video games. It's smart, funny, charming, and its plot comes together in stunning fashion. Any attempt to conclude the review with a clever pun about it deserving the high score would simply result in a kill screen.