I don’t think it would be inappropriate if Wreck-It Ralph were subtitled: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Pixar!” The film wasn’t produced by computer animation fan favorite Pixar, but by Walt Disney Animation Studios, whose last release was was 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. Wreck-It Ralph stars the vocal talents of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch and 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer.
Ralph (Reilly) is the protagonist of the film but the antagonist of his game. He plays the role of the villain in an 8-bit arcade game called Fix-It Felix, Jr., where Ralph wrecks a penthouse building and the hero Fix-It Felix Jr. (McBrayer) undoes the damage and saves the residents. When the arcade closes, game characters are free to roam the power cords like train stations and visit other games. After hours Felix and the other characters of the game still see Ralph as the bad guy, partying in their penthouse while he sleeps outside in the dump. Ralph wants to prove that he can be a good guy, so he tries his luck in Hero’s Duty, a frightening first person shooter game. Eventually he finds himself in racing game called Sugar Rush, and meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), a misfit glitch character. All the while, Felix and Hero’s Duty warrior Sergeant Calhoun (Lynch) are trying to return Ralph to his game, which will be unplugged if it doesn’t have its villain for the hero to fight.
Wreck-It Ralph is a sharp film that certainly caters to the gamer audience, but can be appreciated by non-gamers in the same way that Toy Story can be appreciated by those of us who don’t play with toys anymore. (Why are you laughing? I read comic books, I don’t play with toys, come on!) Having some knowledge of video games does make the experience more enjoyable however. The careful attention to detail is what makes the film so much fun, with cameos from classic game characters and the familiar video game rhetoric and format. Wreck-It Ralph‘s slightly self-aware humor is in part due to director Rich Moore, who has plenty of animation experience with television shows like The Simpsons, Futurama and The Critic. The vocal ensemble is the usual gathering of “who’s who” in Hollywood, which by no means hurts the film. Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer are typecast as their regularly depicted characters, as is perpetual underdog John C. Reilly. I was impressed with Sarah Silverman however, she has a lively voice that lends itself well to the very sprightly Venellope. Wreck-It Ralph is so well-layered that it can be enjoyed at face value or dissected metaphorically by insane people like myself, with its themes of destiny and purpose. The one fault the film has is that it feels like there are so many video game landscapes left unexplored. There was such a great setup of this world behind the game that it was disappointing we didn’t get to see more scenes dedicated to it. (Also, do kids still go to arcades? Is that a thing?) Wreck-It Ralph takes a lot of joy in itself and its medium and is clearly the best animated film that Walt Disney Animation Studios has put out in some time.
Final Grade: ★★★★ 4/5