Wreck-It Ralph – A Review

I have always had an affinity for video games. When I was a kid, my brother and I would battle it out on our Atari 2600. The games were simple and the graphics were terrible, but there was something mesmerizing about those early video games. We could sit there and play for hours and it was one of the few shared interests that we had because of our large gap in age (6 years – a lifetime as a kid). I then graduated to Nintendo, though my family never bought the console so I was relegated to playing at other people’s houses. I may or may not have sent some children that I babysat to bed early so I could get a little extra time in with Super Mario and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

By college and early graduate school the Playstation and Playstation 2 had debuted and I was once again hooked. I didn’t own either console, but the couple (and good friends) who lived in the apartment above me did and pretty much gave me free range to come up and play whenever I wanted. They were feeding the addiction. When they went to the hospital to give birth to their first child, they asked me to look in on their cat and said I could hang out and play games. Societal norms and old fashioned politeness had always dictated that I never overstay my welcome when I played Playstation when they were home, but now that they were temporarily gone, I was free to fully indulge my impulses. 9 hours later, my housemate came upstairs and dragged home so I could go to bed. I had asked him to do this when I went up there and he dutifully did, despite my objections and pleas for “15 more minutes.”

This is all to say that other than children, I’m probably the target audience for Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s latest animated feature that appears to be their answer to the success of Pixar. I was completely charmed by this film and was all-in within the first five minutes. Wreck-It Ralph is incredibly entertaining for both adults and children and doesn’t require a background in gaming to be enjoyed. But if you grew up with video games like I did, you will be especially enthusiastic about this movie.

Wreck-It Ralph can pretty simply be described as the video games version of Toy Story. The characters in the various video games in the arcade come to life; the video game is their job, but when the arcade shuts down for the night they are free to socialize and travel in between games. Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain of his game – he destroys and apartment building that hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) repairs – but he has tired of the ostracism and loneliness that comes from that role. Ralph wants to be the hero for once and sets off to other video games to try and win a medal and prove his worth, while inadvertently unleashing a virus that could destroy the entire arcade. Along the way he teams up with fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and is pursued by Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (Jane Lynch).

Comparing Wreck-It Ralph to Toy Story is in no way to detract from the creativity and execution of the former. Wreck-It Ralph can stand on its own merits. I thought the story was innovative and engaging. There are lots of shout outs to video game tropes (Ralph is clearly a stand in for Donkey Kong, Vanellope’s game Sugar Rush is a derivative of Mario Kart, etc.), but the story does not rely on the viewer picking up on all these references for the movie to work. The film manages to create an entire world within the arcade and create original and developed characters during the course of the story. There is plenty of humor in the movie, for adults and children alike. Wreck-It Ralph is just a straight up fun movie. It is also pretty spectacular to look at.

The actors selected to voice each of the main characters were perfectly cast. Reilly is great at showing that while Ralph is the villain, he’s not a bad guy and just wants to be accepted. McBrayer is perfect as the simple Felix – the artists did a fantastic job of creating a character that bears a striking resemblance to the actor voicing him. I thought that Silverman was the real standout with Vanellope; though better known as a raunchy comedienne, Silverman’s performance fits in perfectly with this family friendly fare and gives the character that added spunk that makes Vanellope the real stand out character of the film, regardless of what the title of the movie is. I was less impressed with Lynch, who has been typecast with her Sue Sylvester role from Glee. Her character in Wreck-It Ralph is more of the same; her performance fits the character, but I do wish she would be allowed to do more in her roles than repeatedly playing the same one note.

Some other thoughts:

  • There is a delightful short that proceeds Wreck-It Ralph, where after a chance encounter with a woman at a subway stop, a man tries to find her again in the city. The short is done without dialogue and is beautifully drawn. I’m not sure how much it would appeal to children, however. The screening I went to was relatively empty and I couldn’t tell if the few kid in attendance were into it or not. But I really enjoyed it and wouldn’t be surprised if it is considered for Best Animated Short at the Oscars. It was very sweet.
  • While the comparison with Toy Story can mostly be drawn from both films giving life to inanimate objects from childhood, there is a scene where Ralph goes to a support group for villains that did conjure up memories of the Toy Story short Small Fry that preceded The Muppets:

I loved Small Fry for many reasons, but specifically for introduction of the character T-Bone, which happens to be my nickname (he makes his appearance around the 2 minute mark). If anyone at Pixar is reading this – PLEASE make a T-Bone action figure. It would have a place of honor on my desk!

  • While I’m sure Disney couldn’t get the licensing for many classic video game characters, there are a few familiar faces that do turn up throughout the movie.
  • Some of the minor characters’ voices may also ring a bell – Alan Tudyk (Firefly), Dennis Haysbert (24, All-State commericals, and my personal favorite, Major League), Adam Carolla and Mindy Kaling all have supporting roles.
  • I didn’t see Wreck-It Ralph in 3-D, so I can’t speak to the graphics. But even in 2-D it was amazing. Very colorful and dazzling. The animation also changes to match the inner world of each video game, giving them their own unique feel.
  • It’s been a while since I’ve used my Wii for anything other than streaming movies or working out, but after watching Wreck-It Ralph I was tempted to dust off my games and start playing again.
  • The saddest part of this movie is I wonder if kids today even know what an arcade is. Do they even exist anymore? I still dream of becoming rich enough that I can have a room full of classic arcade games.

I adored Wreck-It Ralph so much that I’ll pay it one of the highest compliments I can – I would pay to go see it again in the theater. I NEVER go to see films multiple times, so that is a testament to how much I loved it. I will absolutely buy this when it comes out on DVD and I’m not one that normally goes in for kid’s movies. The film does a wonderful job of mashing up nostalgia and newness, so I think it will appeal across generations. It’s funny, clever and sweet; it made for a very enjoyable movie going experience and I was honestly sad when the film was over. If you have kids or love video games, you should definitely check it out.

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