Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch
Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” is like the love child of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “TRON.” Where “Roger Rabbit” brought together a collection of classic toons such as Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, “Wreck-It Ralph” assembles a roster of video game characters that includes Sonic the Hedgehog and Q*Bert. Remember how surreally awesome it was to see the likes of Donald Duck and Daffy Duck performing a piano duet together? “Wreck-It Ralph” evokes that same fantastic sensation in its opening scene with Bowser, Dr. Robotnik, M. Bison, and Clyde the orange Pac-Man ghost together at a support group for villains. Aside from the novelty of getting to see some of your favorite video game characters on the big screen, “Wreck-It Ralph” is also an imaginatively though-out story with great original characters. Throw in the stunning opening short, “Paperman,” and the experience has the whole package.
The setup for the movie is brilliant. A number of video games, both new-aged and retro, reside in an arcade. When the arcade closes its doors for the night, the characters that inhabit these games spring to life in “Toy Story” fashion. A surge protector acts as a train station of sorts, allowing these characters to travel from the world of “Street Fighter” to the bar in “Tapper.” One of the numerous characters that make up this video game realm is John C. Reilly’s Wreck-It Ralph, an overgrown hulk with the physique of Donkey Kong. Ralph has been acting as a bad guy for 30 years, destroying the same apartment building with his Shrek-sized hands. Fix-It-Felix Jr., a jolly, pint-sized handyman voiced by Jack McBrayer, is always there to thwart Ralph’s destructive deeds and clean up the mess.
Tired of being viewed as nothing more than a monster, Ralph decides to ditch his game and win a medal in another. Ralph quickly finds himself out of his element in “Hero’s Duty,” an HD first-person shooter lead by Jane Lynch’s Sgt. Calhoun. A majority of Ralph’s journey takes place in a Mario Kart-inspired racing game called “Sugar Rush,” where just about everything is constructed from junk food. How nobody in this Candy Land has been diagnosed with diabetes is beyond me. Ralph finds a friend in Vanellope von Schweetz, a glitching little girl voiced by Sarah Silverman. The hilarious and sweet dynamic between the giant, aggressive Ralph and the pipsqueak Vanellope makes the entire film as they join forces to achieve a medal, win an upcoming race, and thwart Alan Tudyk’s deviously flamboyant King Candy.
A number of video games have inspired films, such as the never-ending “Resident Evil” series and that “Super Mario Bros.” movie that inexplicable starred Bob Hoskins. There have been several movies about video games, the most notorious being the feature-length Nintendo commercial, “The Wizard,” which continues to remind us why the power glove was so bad. The problem with all of these movies is that you never sensed that the filmmakers took the time to play the games or really liked video games to begin with. The minds behind “Wreck-It Ralph,” however, clearly have a passion for video games and a wide knowledge of the subject. Director Rich Moore has made a definitive movie for diehard gamers with ingenious references you’ll often have to look closely to catch. Even if you’ve never picked up a controller in your life though, you can still appreciate the infinitely creative world “Wreck-It Ralph” creates.
At its bare bones, “Wreck-It Ralph” is a familiar, yet meaningful, narrative about unlikely friendships and discovering what’s important in life. But to criticize the familiar nature of the formula is pointless since most movies, especially the ones targeted at kids, follow a similar structure. What’s really important in a movie like “Wreck-It Ralph” is the strength of the characters, environment, and storytelling. On that basis, the film achieves the highest score in just about every area. It’s a lot of fun to see Disney tackle a topic as modern as video games, especially since the studio is mostly known for stories that take place once upon a time ago. With a clever, unique premise and contemporary setting, “Wreck-It Ralph” has more of a Pixar atmosphere to it. Ironically, this year’s Pixar animation, “Brave,” was more in the tradition of a Disney fairytale.
While there have been many strait-to-video Disney sequels, the only true follow-up in the studio’s cannon is “The Rescuer’s Down Under.” If any Disney animation had the potential to spawn a theatrical franchise like “Shrek” or “Toy Story” though, it would be “Wreck-It Ralph.” The wonderful world of “Wreck-It Ralph” is full of possibilities that are open to further installments, and of course video game tie-ins. I’d love to travel deeper into its universe alongside Ralph, Vanellope, Felix and any copyrighted Nintendo characters Disney can get the rights to. At the very least we’ll hopefully see Ralph and the gang again when “Kingdom Hearts III” finally comes out.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.