Directed by: Rich Moore
Written by: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, & Jim Reardon (story), Phil Johnston & Jennifer Lee (screenplay)
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Joe Lo Truglio, Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Adam Carolla, Rachael Harris, Edie McClurg, Horatio Sanz, Stefanie Scott
It’s been years since someone has paid loving tribute to video games and their fans by crafting a creative and intelligent feature. TRON broke the initial ground in 1982 by showing us the world inside video games and pioneering computer animation. Soon after we had CLOAK AND DAGGER (which was basically an Atari ad) and THE WIZARD (which was basically a Nintendo ad). Plus there was an explosion of movies based on video games that carries on to this day, mostly with the RESIDENT EVIL franchise. But we haven’t seen video games used as the basis for an engaging story for a long time (TRON: LEGACY included). Now comes Disney’s animated feature WRECK-IT RALPH, filled with self-reflexive humor, genuine heart, and call-backs gamers (and candy lovers) of all ages will enjoy. Get ready to line up your quarters on this machine.
8-bit Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has spent thirty years in a workaday job as the nemesis in the video game “Fix-it Felix, Jr.,” and it’s taken a toll on his identity. He’s fed up with being the bad guy who lives on a stump in a dump while Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) and the Nicelanders live in a posh apartment complex and party. Ralph tries to join the party, but like a bull in a china shop, winds up making a mess out of things. When he’s challenged to win a medal to prove he’s a hero, Ralph strikes out on his own and jumps into other video game worlds. On his quest for hero-dom, he encounters the tough talkin’ Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) in the first person shooter game “Hero’s Duty,” and the saccharine sweet Vanellope Von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman) in the candy-colored cart-racing game “Sugar Rush.” Once Ralph leaves home, things turn bleak for Felix and the Nicelanders when they are threatened with permanent unplugging. Will they be able to snap Ralph out of his mid-life crisis and convince him to return?
Even though WRECK-IT RALPH is an animated film – which unfortunately still is viewed by some as “for kids only” – it’s a charming and relatable film for grown ups. There’s something sweet to be said for one man’s journey towards personal discovery – especially when voiced by Reilly, who’s made a career out of playing the schlubby-but-loveable guy. Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee’s screenplay (with story by Jim Reardon and director Rich Moore) layers in clever (mostly adult) gags along with tremendous amounts of heartwarming poignancy. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of slapstick humor for the kids.
Since WRECK-IT RALPH teaches viewers about the dichotomy of good and bad, there are a few maladies. The cy-bugs menace takes far too long to materialize after it’s planted in viewers’ brains, and in the meantime, Ralph faces a number of tangential obstacles: He needs something Vanellope stole from him; Vanellope needs a go-cart and is bullied by the other racers; King Candy (voiced by Alan Tudyk doing a mind-blowingly spot on Ed Wynn impression) wants him arrested and Vanellope disqualified from the race; etc., etc. While none of these speed bumps are terrible per se, it feels like we’re marking time until the real danger arrives, leading to a sugar crash in the land of “Sugar Rush.”
In addition to Reilly, the rest of the ensemble also do a terrific job. Lynch infuses her tough-as-nails character (who’s been programmed with “the most tragic backstory ever”) with her trademark brand of hilarious swagger. McBrayer is fun as always as the doofusy hero. Containing more than a dash of Punky Brewster-like sass, Silverman is pint-sized perky perfection. And since they were able to record together, a technique not often used in the animation world, you can feel the rapport between Reilly and Silverman.
All parties involved (including musical accompaniment by Skrillex and Japan’s AKB48) provide an immersive world filled with joy, laughter, and excitement. Just be prepared to want to play the game based on the movie and to eat all of the candy when you arrive back into the real world.