It’s like comparing a new car to a Ferrari. It may not be entirely original, but it’s darn good.
Like the Toy Story franchise, this film takes us into a world that comes to life when human beings go away. This time, we travel into the circuits of the video games in an arcade and experience the struggles and dreams of those blinking bundles of code that entertain us when we plunk in our quarters.
Those characters that race and fight and fly and bash and eat on the arcade screens? They’re just like us. They work their day job, endlessly taking laps around a track or blasting invading enemies. But when the day ends and the arcade closes, they socialize, celebrate, and dream of bettering themselves.
They travel through the electrical wires to a sort of Grand Central Station of games, where they compare notes and drink root beer at the restaurant game. They celebrate anniversaries, bicker amongst themselves, and hassle each other. They even care for those poor homeless characters whose games broke, leaving them stranded without a job.
Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly), particularly, dreams of bettering himself. A denizen of an old, basic game, he spends each day wrecking a brick building. The hero, Felix (voiced by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer), springs into action, fixing Ralph’s mayhem. It’s a living, but Ralph wants more. He would like to be the hero, to win accolades, to build instead of destroy. Besides, the other members of his game see him as nothing more than the villain, leaving Ralph to sigh alone on his pile of bricks while they party the night away with PacMan.
In a cyber mid-life crisis, Ralph breaks the primary law of video game characters. He abandons his post and enlists as a fighter in a shoot-em up, modern sci-fi warfare game. He wants to be a hero and here’s his chance; it’s right there in the game title! Pursued by a no-nonsense, shapely warrior with a suitably sadly written backstory, Calhoun, Ralph careens through the battle-weary game.
Unfortunately, Vanelope is a glitch, a character with a slight tendency to flicker in times of stress. In King Candy’s confectionery kingdom, she is defined by her disability and restricted from participating in the game.
Ralph knows a little something about being left out. The two outcasts make the perfect team.
Showing the influence of Pixar who merged with Disney in 2006, the movie is a good time with attention to detail and easy humor. There are nods to beloved video games, to be sure, but also a deeper playing with the video game meme. Older, 8 bit characters live and move in jerky, square movements while citizens of newer games are rendered in vivacious 3D. In fact, one thing Fix It Felix first notices about Calhoun (Jane Lynch) is her remarkable, um, rendering.
The wizards of animation really had fun with creating interior worlds for the games. The candy kingdom, complete with cheering lolypop citizens, candy cane forests, and landscaping of gumdrops, is particularly delightful.
But the creators, more than most, understand that a good setting and fun sight gags are secondary to a story with heart. The unlikely friendship of a mild villain and a little glitch carries the movie. At its core, it’s a story of creating family between two lonely hearts.
Rated PG, the film has good-humored crudity, mostly Ralph and Vanelope calling each other mildly rude names in affection (Hello, frazzle-butt! How are you, stinkbrain?). There are some fairly intense parts that may be frightening for younger viewers: A zombie at a villain support group, a swarm of attacking bugs in the shooting game. However, when the true villain is revealed toward the end, he becomes an honest-to-goodness bad guy, complete with a scary clown face and pincers. Even my twelve year old said it was pretty freaky.
Wreck-It Ralph offers a movie that is thoroughly entertaining and satisfyingly warm. I recommend it.
Note: A previous version of this review credited Pixar with making the movie. I can only blame a hurricane-addled brain that lived without power for days for the error. The review has been updated to reflect reality.