30 years ago, patrons of Litwak’s Arcade were introduced to a 2-d video game called “Fix it Felix, Jr.” In the game, a big brute of a guy named Ralph lives in the forest, but his home is displaced by bulldozers. When a high-rise goes up where his home used to be, Ralph climbs to the top and uses his oversized fists to smash the property, earning his new name, Wreck-it Ralph. The residents call for help, and the game’s hero appears, the titular “Fix it Felix, Jr.”, with his golden hammer that repairs everything it touches.
Flash forward to present day, where Ralph is so bummed about being disliked and cast out, that he decides he wants a new direction. He attends a Bad-a-non meeting, with other video game villains like Bowser (Super Mario Bros), Zangief (Street Fighter 2), and Dr. Robotnik (Sonic the Hedgehog). The support group reminds him that bad guys will always be bad guys, and that’s just a way of life. They even recommend taking things “one game at a time.”
Ralph (Step Brothers’ John C. Reilly) decides to crash the party of his game’s inhabitants, with disastrous consequences. He knows he can be a good guy, and he’s out to prove it. Frustrated and tired of being ridiculed, Ralph goes to Game Central Station, and begins game hopping to earn a good guy medal, and prove he can change. His adventure takes him to a first-person alien apocalypse game called Hero’s Duty, where he finds the medal he’s looking for, and a whole bunch of things he’s not.
He soon crashes in another game, where candy race cars do laps through taffy and gumballs. Here, in “Sugar Rush”, he meets the adorable Vanellope von Schweetz, an outcast just like him. Vanellope (Sarah Silverman (School of Rock)) is a glitch, and she’s banned from the race track. All she wants to do is race, but the people of her game have cast her out. Ralph sympathizes, and pretty soon, the two are squeezed into a bizarre partnership in an effort to make both their dreams come true.
Ralph is followed by Felix (Jack McBrayer (30 Rock)) and Hero’s Duty leader, Calhoun (Jane Lynch (Glee)), and some very, very bad things. It isn’t long before the four heroes are relying on one another for their own survival, and that of their beloved video game homes.
At an hour and 48 minutes, Ralph is perfectly timed to tell its story. Each of the four lead characters is likeable in their own way, and writers Jennifer Lee, Phil Johnston and Reilly mix potty humor and back story to keep the pacing steady. There are predictable ups and downs, and some folks will see the twist (if you can call it that) coming, but all in all, it holds steady to the Disney standard.
Fans of video games will recognize some of the industry’s most notable mentions, like Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac Man, and digs at the Mario Bros. Longtime gamers will note less recognizable titles like Centipede, Paperboy, and Asteroids. Nostalgia isn’t required to enjoy Ralph. The film had plenty of belly laughs, physical comedy, and jokes for adults and kids alike.
The soundtrack is written like viewers have just stepped into 30 years of video games. Henry Jackman’s original music changes as often as the animation style. The J-pop title song of Sugar Rush is as sickeningly sweet as the game’s characters. Director Rich Moore intentionally told the animating crew to change things up between games and at Game Central Station, unlike the usual steady visuals of a traditional Disney flick. In Ralph’s case, it strengthens the film’s presentation. The way characters appear from 30 years ago contrasts heavily from the more recent games.
Reilly and Silverman make a very cute pair. McBrayer plays Felix as the ultimate, polite goody-two-shoes that one would expect from a handyman who only knows how to help other people. Lynch is, well, Lynch. She’s acidic and sarcastic, and the perfect flip side of the coin to Felix.
You don’t have to be a video game fan to like Wreck-it Ralph. If you like underdogs, long shots, and taking a chance on the Don Quixote impossible dream, you’ll like Ralph, Vanellope, and the whole flick.
Airing before the film is the Disney short, “Paper Man,” a black-and-white story of a chance encounter and the magic that can bring two people together. It’s a cute story told with minimal dialogue, and touches the romantic strings many viewers will enjoy. Let’s face it. Disney knows how to draw up a romance in under 10 minutes. You saw “Up”, didn’t you?