With the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk. Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston. Directed by Rich Moore. Rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence. 108 minutes.
The video arcade generation has its own “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” In WRECK-IT RALPH, we get a world where – after-hours – the characters from various games can interact and even visit each other’s games. The danger is going “Turbo,” where a character leaves one game for another leaving them both broken and, ultimately, unplugged. Mixing real game characters with ones created for the movie, this is a sheer delight.
Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in a game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. The characters in the game move just as they would in an ‘80s arcade game, which is only part of the attention to detail here. Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) goes to a support group for arcade villains, but when he’s shut out of a 30th anniversary party of his own game, he decides he has to do something. One night he sneaks out and visits a contemporary science fiction action game called Hero’s Duty to earn a medal. He then gets sidetracked into another game called Sugar Rush, where the bulk of the movie takes place. Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), who wants to race in Sugar Rush but is shunted aside as a “glitch.” Her avatar is defective and, according to King Candy (Alan Tudyk, channeling Ed Wynn), she cannot be allowed to race and win.
There are many cameos and winks to past video games like Pac-Man and Q*bert, and yet it’s not just for the arcade crowd. Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from the action game and Felix (Jack McBrayer) form a very odd couple indeed, especially when he comments on how much more defined she is as a recent video avatar. The notion that these game characters can interact with each other turns out to be as much fun as the cartoon characters in “Roger Rabbit” being able to ignore that they’re from different studios.
There’s much more to the plot, but you’ll have to discover it for yourself. What makes this work is not only the plentiful in-jokes for video game fans, but the rich characterization. This is a Disney cartoon where we can feel the influence of John Lasseter and Pixar, even though this isn’t a Pixar film. (Disney and Pixar are now under the same roof.)
The key to the film is the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope. Both are misfits who are outsiders in their own worlds and yet strive for something more. What they want is what we all want: acceptance. The story and characters resonate because, despite the fantastical surroundings, we can relate to them. Ralph is able to accept his role as a wrecker in the video game, but he wants the other characters to see him as playing an important and necessary role in that world, not simply as a “villain” who sleeps under a pile of bricks at the dump.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is one of those cartoons that works at a variety of levels, so that it really is something the whole family can enjoy. It gleefully acknowledges this when Vanellope does a childish riff on Ralph having gone to Hero’s Duty. After the umpteenth stupid toilet joke (which will have your six-year-old in stitches) Ralph wants her to stop and she says she has one more. It’s that joy in having one more silly thing to say that is the key to why “Wreck-It Ralph” is one of the most delightful animated films of the year.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.