By Rebecca Cusey, Special Contributor…
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence
If Disney’s latest animated creation, Wreck-It Ralph, feels a little familiar, hewing closely to the lines of Pixar’s Toy Story, who can say that’s a bad thing? 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 jobs, 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 a restaurant. They celebrate anniversaries, bicker amongst themselves and hassle each other. They even care for those poor homeless characters whose games have broken, 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 game’s hero, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock), always 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. But the other members of his game see him as nothing more than the villain.
So Ralph breaks the primary law of video game characters. He abandons his post and enlists as a fighter in a modern sci-fi warfare game. He wants to be a hero, and here’s his chance; it’s right there in the game title, “Hero’s Duty”! Pursued by no-nonsense, shapely warrior Calhoun (Jane Lynch), Ralph careens through the battle-weary game.
But it isn’t until it all goes wrong and Ralph finds himself elbow deep in a pool of chocolate in a candy-themed game called “Sugar Rush,” that he gets a chance to be a true hero. Little Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) just wants a chance to race in the game’s sticky-sweet cupcake go-cart trails, but she has been relegated to obscurity.
Unfortunately, Vanellope is a “glitch,” a character with a slight tendency to flicker in times of stress. In King Candy’s confectionery kingdom, she’s 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—which 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 video game memes. Older, eight-bit characters live and move in jerky, square movements, while citizens of newer games are rendered in vivacious 3-D. In fact, the first thing Fix-It Felix notices about Calhoun 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 lollipop citizens, candy cane forests, and landscaping of gumdrops, is particularly delightful.
But the creators of Wreck-It Ralph also understand that a good setting and fun sight gags are secondary to a story with heart. The unlikely friendship of a reluctant 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 Vanellope calling each other mildly rude names in an affectionate manner (“Hello, Frazzle Butt!” “How are you, Stink Brain?”). 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 12-year-old said that was pretty freaky.
Wreck-It Ralph offers a movie that is thoroughly entertaining and satisfyingly warm. I recommend it.
Ms. Cusey is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. This review first appeared on Patheos.com.