Mark Reviews Movies

Wreck-It Ralph


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Rich Moore

Cast: The voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk

MPAA Rating: PG (for some rude humor and mild action/violence)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 11/2/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 4, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph knows that it can only play at its inside jokes for so long before the shtick gets old. The setup, which features a universe centered on the various video-game worlds and characters that occupy an arcade, is rife with possibilities, and it's obvious that director Rich Moore, screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, and the various animators and designers at Walt Disney Animation Studios have more than a little affection for the medium. A lot of the pleasure in the first act of the film is spotting the details—from appearances by game characters of diverse levels of fame to little quirks in the animation that mirror the unsophisticated graphics of games from the 1980s.

Just like those graphics, the film has its own limitations. Despite the seemingly boundless possibilities presented by the range of game genres available in the setting, the screenplay is restricted by the needs of a narrative. With too much game-hopping, the film could quickly lose focus, so Lee and Johnston's decision to be selective in where its hero goes actually ensures that we don't get too tired of the central conceit. Once the screenplay decides to hold him to one game, it allows the film to settle into a story that at once pays homage to video games while developing a sweet relationship between two endearing characters that exists within this world but doesn't need it or its gimmickry to work.

For 30 years, Wreck-It Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) has existed in a game as a villain. Every day he goes through an endless cycle: He gets mad (only because he's programmed to have a quick temper), jumps atop an apartment building, and starts demolishing it. He's nine feet tall, weighs over 600 pounds, and has massive fists, so this isn't difficult work for him. It incredibly unrewarding, though, as every time he starts tearing down the structure, the building's super Fix-It Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer) appears on the scene to do what he does best. In case the name isn't a giveaway, that would be to fix all the damage Ralph causes—with a magical hammer to boot.

Felix gets the attention, an occasional pie from a tenant for a power-up and some points, and a shiny, gold medal when he reaches the roof. For his troubles, Ralph gets unceremoniously dropped from the roof into a puddle of mud on the ground below, and at night, he sleeps in the dump across the way, where he has a perfect view of Felix and his friends enjoying their comfortable lives. Ralph wants some of the glory his foe the hero receives, no matter how many times the other bad guys at his support group assure him that a villain cannot ever be the hero. The rest of the group is very Zenic about their lot in life; "Just because I'm a bad guy doesn't mean I'm a bad guy," one of them explains.

At the 30th anniversary celebration for their existence, the residents of the building Ralph routinely tries to destroy say that they'll look at their persecutor as a hero if he's able to obtain a medal, which sets Ralph on a quest to find one. The arcade's central hub—Game Central Station—is located inside a surge protector, where characters can travel from one game to another after the arcade is closed for the night (There are a couple of amusing cutaways from inside the game to the console itself, like when the neighborhood bartender must complete a few orders in the middle of a conversation).

Ralph takes to a shooting game, where the player (represented by a mobile computer screen with a gun attached—the "first-person shooter") must follow the instructions of the tough-as-nails, high-definition Calhoun (voice of Jane Lynch) to infiltrate a fortress full of giant bugs (Ralph, unaccustomed to that level of violence in a game, is terrified when the chaos starts), and to a bright, colorful world made of candy (so bright, in fact, that the 3-D—even though it obviously does—doesn't seem to have much of an effect in terms of dimming the image), where a group of pixie girls with absurdly cutesy names race for a pot of gold. There he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman), whom the other racers have dubbed a "glitch;" she's part plucky heroine, part chattering sidekick. Meanwhile, Felix tries to track down his nemesis to avoid having his game go out of order on a permanent basis (The characters unsuccessfully try to go about the game without Ralph).

The film's imaginative riffs on games are enjoyable, but when the story leaves them behind as Ralph and Vanellope grow from rivals over Ralph's medal to friends who want to do what's best for each other, the film finds some affecting if familiar footing. Reilly gives Ralph a worn and weary melancholy, while Silverman's boisterous vocal performance as Vanellope is effortless in both the sarcastic and vulnerable parts of the character's personality.

It's much to the film's benefit that Wreck-It Ralph forgoes the heavy reliance on video-game references. The film makes a smooth transition from clever to surprisingly touching without any clunky steps.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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