The Disney animated love letter to gamers has arrived! Wreck-It Ralph is finally in theaters and making a wrecking of its own at the box office with almost $50 million made over the weekend already. Those of us who grew up with video games were drawn to the many cameos and arcade-like scenery. Does the film stand up on its legs, however, when the nostalgia and glamorizing of our childhood is all said and done? Can viewers who may not know the likes of Bowser, Zangief, and Q*bert appreciate it all the same?
Enthusiastically, I can say that no matter if you’re a gamer young, old, or not at all, Wreck-It Ralph has the kind of humor that will tickle that funny bone and maybe even shed a few tears along the way.
I have to first get out of the way the obvious nods to gaming and arcade culture. The moment the film begins, we are treated to the gaming world of Fix-It Felix, Jr. which, in itself, is an homage to the original Donkey Kong. We are also treated to real life titles such as Street Fighter where title characters Ryu and Ken grab a drink together at a bar called Tapper’s, a reference to the 1983 classic. The hub for all arcade game characters is Game Central Station which showcases a plethora of cameos from Q*bert to Sonic the Hedgehog.
In an early scene, we are treated to a “bad guys conference” which anyone who has seen a trailer for the movie will recognize. Here we get familiar faces such as Bowser, Dr. Robotnik, M. Bison, and Zangief (not really a bad guy per se but has some great lines). Even Kano from Mortal Kombat has a “heart-rippingly” fun appearance. In a way, Wreck-It Ralph is like the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? of video games.
The film is smart enough not to rely on these great cameos to carry the plot. Rather, we are treated to them early on to win us over then get the story moving with our main character Ralph. He is tired of being the bad guy in his game mainly because of a lack of respect from his fellow characters in Fix-It Felix, Jr. Since the game’s hero Felix receives a medal at the end of every game, Ralph gets the idea that he needs one too in order to receive the same admiration. This leads him to hop into another game, otherwise known as “going turbo”, in order to achieve his goal.
Along the way, Ralph meets a small but “sass-mouthing” little girl named Vanellope von Schweetz in the Mario Kart-inspired game Sugar Rush. She gets bullied by the other racers and is kept out of participating in the game due to her being a “glitch”. Upon meeting Vanellope, the plot quickly turns from a quest for personal gain and acceptance to helping someone else achieve a similar goal.
It’s a simple enough story that anyone can relate to and get behind. There is no real antagonist to speak of until near the end. That actually ends up working in the movie’s favor since it sets up a nice little twist. Wreck-It Ralph presents a unique tale with likable characters who have as great chemistry as 3D animated characters can have. Pixar, eat your heart out!
Ralph and Vanellope are like the classic big brother and little sister. She is the annoyingly bubbly and energetic ball of fire while he just wants to be left alone and get what he wants. The banter between these characters is very well written and believable thanks in part also to the voice acting.
John C. Reilly brings a nice subtlety as Ralph. I remember being initially concerned learning that he was voicing the role due to his more famous “over-the-top” performances. Thankfully, he’s more subdued here and really brings a human quality to his character.
Sarah Silverman was another actor I had concerns over but the writing thankfully made the most out of her humorous portrayal as Vanellope. Although she is mainly seen as being rather bubbly and optimistic, those more somber moments really do stand out well which I will give Silverman props for conveying so effectively.
The other main characters, Felix and Calhoun, are also given a lot of personality and charm thanks to Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch respectively. Felix is your typical “goody two-shoes” type of hero with a hammer that can literally fix anything.
Calhoun is a tough-as-nails sergeant from the Call of Duty/Gears of War-inspired game Hero’s Duty. She is given a nice little back story which kicks off a hilariously unexpected relationship with Felix.
The two form an alliance that makes for an excellent clash of “old school meets new school” as well as plenty of jokes revolving around Felix’s hammer. The scene with them together in the “Nesquik-sand” really steals the show and had me falling out of my seat in laughter.
Speaking of jokes, there are plenty of them which revolves around gaming as expected. Surprisingly though, there are A LOT of candy puns *ahem* “sprinkled” throughout the middle of the film. These may be hit-or-miss for some people but I personally enjoyed them a lot. In one scene, there’s an amazing bit of wordplay involving Oreos which I personally appreciated that anyone who has seen The Wizard of Oz ought to enjoy also.
It’s worth noting the animation throughout Wreck-It Ralph. Yes, it looks gorgeous and all of the characters have great expressions. Even the cameo appearances are done faithfully. It’s the little touches that jumped out at me the most though. I’m speaking about the characters within the Fix-It Felix, Jr. game and the way they move in a “herky-jerky” 8-bit style. It just adds that extra bit of validity to a movie featuring retro video game characters.
I’ve joked about it before but in all seriousness, other animation studios have been on par lately with Pixar as shown from films like Rango and now Wreck-It Ralph. It avoids the *ahem* “Pitfall” of relying on its gimmicks and instead presents a really compelling story with characters we end up caring about. It is a film for children first and foremost with plenty of material and references that will hook in crowds of all ages.
If you didn’t grow up with classic video games, you might not get every single reference. Despite that, a majority of the gags work very well which doesn’t require you to be a gaming fan. I could say that having most of the film in the world of Sugar Rush is a negative if I didn’t enjoy my entire time there… but I did. Wreck-It Ralph, quite simply, is the kind of movie that will make your jaw hurt from smiling so much. It’s that enjoyable.
Gamers will eat up every joke thrown their way while non-gamers will still have a blast with everything else. The underlying message to be proud of who you are and where you’re from is executed well without being preachy. Even the neat twist at the end makes for a pretty epic conclusion with some simple but effective heart-warming lines. DO NOT miss out on Wreck-It Ralph. It’s the best video game movie ever and one of the best animated movies in recent memory.
Wreck-It Ralph receives 5 Death Rays out of 5.