Unlike Donkey Kong, Wreck-It Ralph’s video game isn’t even named after him. All the glory goes to Fix-It Felix, Jr. (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer), “from the game Fix-It Felix, Jr.” and poor Ralph (John C. Reilly) is relegated to the trash heap. Even though he’s the game’s official villain, everyone knows Ralph’s not really “bad.” Smashing in windows is just his job. Still, he’s shunned in the after-hours social life of the game, partly because of his intimidating size and partly because of his tendency to wreck things by accident, even in his time off.
It’s exactly this “time off” that makes this film so much fun. Ralph’s world is part of an arcade where all the games are connected by Game Central Station, a sort of train station housed in a network of electrical cords and power strips, through which characters travel from game to game and socialize after their working day is over. In a bid to impress Felix and the others, Ralph embarks on a mission to Hero’s Duty, a first-person shooter game in which a tough sergeant, voiced by Jane Lynch, leads her army in a fight to the death against the monstrous Cy-Bugs.
“When did video games become so violent and scary?!?” Ralph wonders. Despite the fact that if you die outside your own game, you can’t be rebooted, Ralph is desperate to see if he can finally play the hero. Mayhem ensues, threatening not only Ralph but the entire arcade community.
Much of the film takes place in a Candy Land-inspired go-kart game called Sugar Rush, a gorgeous, finely-detailed Disney theme park ride waiting to happen.
Here, Ralph meets Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope, a wise-cracking Punky Brewster type who’s not allowed to race in the game because she’s a “glitch”. In Sugar Rush, Vanellope is taunted by the other characters (an assortment of adorable mean girls dressed like Strawberry Shortcake and friends), who fear that the glitch could cause their game to be shuttered. If the arcade owner puts the game out of order, all its characters will lose their jobs and end up on the streets panhandling like Q*bert.
Meanwhile, hot on Ralph’s trail through all his adventures is Fix-It Felix because, as he explains, “It’s my job to fix what Ralph wrecks.” McBrayer’s earnest Macon, Georgia drawl is the perfect compliment to Felix’s can-do attitude.
These animated worlds are imaginative and whimsical, and the film comes through especially vibrantly in 3D. It’s definitely a great film for kids, but even big kids who played video games in the ‘80s will recognize cameos by the likes of Pac-Man, Blinky, Q*bert, and Tapper.
Beyond the gaming references, there are brief momentary nods to Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Firefly, and even (if you still have Prometheuson the brain) Alien. The writing is funny and smart, and the ending offers a couple of nicely set-up twists. The film presents the feel-good message that heroism is not about winning tangible prizes but about helping outcasts in need and serving your community, even when your contribution goes unappreciated.
Final Verdict: With vivid animation, a lively storyline, and a top-notch cast, Wreck-It Ralph may be one of the year’s best animated features.