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Dan's Review: Wreck-It Ralph

A video game villain gets his moment in the sun.
Wreck-It Ralph (Disney)

Rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence.

Starring (voices of) John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Adam Carolla, Jamie Elman, Rachael Harris, Dennis Haysbert, Mindy Kaling, Edie McClurg, Ed O'Neill, Horatio Sanz, Stefanie Scott, Alan Tudyk.

Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston.

Directed by Rich Moore.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW:


Video games are now a major part of our home entertainment culture, so it seems natural that we are seeing an increase in films based on them. The latest is Wreck It Ralph, which is not based on an actual game, but a fictional one called Fix It Felix Jr.

Disney went to a lot of trouble to make the Fix It Felix game look authentic, including the viral release of a fictional 1982 arcade commercial featuring the game. An actual version of the game is online here. They certainly fooled me, and even went so far as to create an actual online game. The game is very much like Donkey Kong, as a large hulkish villain named Wreck It Ralph climbs to the top of an apartment building, smashing walls and windows with his large fists along the way. The main mission of the arcade player is to control a small character named Fix It Felix as he climbs after, using his magic hammer to repair the building while avoiding falling debris thrown by Ralph. At the end of the game, the apartment dwellers throw Ralph off the top of the building.

The main story in Wreck It Ralph is set within the game world, where the characters have real lives and socialize with characters from other games, via the power lines in the arcade, which serve as a mass transit system after the arcade closes.

It's been 30 years since Fix It Felix Jr. debuted, and Ralph (John C. Reilly) has grown tired of being thrown off the building and living in the dump while Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his adoring fans live it up in the apartment penthouse. He even attends a bad-guy support group led by one of the ghosts from Pac-Man to deal with his depression.

Ralph decides that the only way he can break out of his bad guy lifestyle is to win a hero's medal. He enters the Hero's Duty game, a brand new first-person shooter in the arcade where tough talking military leads missions against an army of bugs (not a real game - yet), led by the beautiful but tough-talking Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch). Ralph wins his medal, but is inadvertently transported into a racing game called Sugar Rush (also, not a real game-yet), where cute little avatars battle on a Candyland-style track made of all kinds of sweets. Ralph's medal falls into the hands of Vanellope Von Schweets (Sarah Silverman), who uses it to enter a race that will allow her glitchy avatar to race during arcade operating hours, a privilege long denied by the silly, foppish King Candy (Alan Tudyk).

Vanellope and Ralph eventually form an alliance to help her win the race so he can get the medal back, but King Candy continually thwarts their every move. Meanwhile, Felix recruits Calhoun to search for Ralph and get him back to his own game before his absence causes it to be shut down for good. In the end, Ralph must risk his own life to save Vanellope, and shut down an evil plot to dominate the entire arcade.

Wreck It Ralph is a fantastic movie that will appeal to kids and parents, especially those parents who grew up in arcades and witnessed the birth of the home video game phenomenon in the 1980s and 90s. There are a lot of inside jokes and cameo appearances from some of the most beloved games of the past 3 decades, yet the film's narrative is simple and sweet enough for kids to understand.

In terms of animation quality, it's safe to say that the Disney studios have bridged the gap between themselves and the Pixar folks. The same could be said for their creative teams that are putting out some high-quality stuff (Tangled, Bolt) that rivals recent Pixar releases. Pixar gets credit for setting a high bar, but the distance between them and their competitors in shrinking rapidly. Wreck It Ralph certainly helps bring Disney's computerized animation reputation along nicely.

The Wreck It Ralph voice cast is equally superb, with Jack McBrayer (that goofy page on 30 Rock) Reilly, Tudyk and Silverman (although you might not want your kids to 'Google' any of her well-known obscene jokes), but Jane Lynch really steals the show with her raspy, quasi-expletive dialogue.

If you love video games, then you will love Wreck It Ralph, but if you're not into gaming, the movie has a great message and characters you will love.


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