Fantastically wacky and super sweet, Wreck-It Ralph is the perfect blend of child-friendly animation and adult humour/nostalgia. Centring on a world populated by classic video game characters, Disney’s newest 3D feature exceeds expectations with its imaginative handling of a variety of places and personalities. Far better (in my humble opinion) than a few recent Pixar outings, this film is a guilty pleasure crammed full of candy-coated entertainment.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain of arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. Over the past 30 years Ralph has grown tired of waking up every day only to smash up the same hotel and repeat the same lines. He dreams of being the hero for once, and has his heart set on a medal of achievement that he believes will prove his worth to others. Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his band of pixelated admirers dismiss his desires as fantasy, and exclude him from their after-game celebrations. Feeling rejected and confused, Ralph goes “turbo”, a term used to describe a character that leaves their game with the intention of sneaking in to others. Travelling into first-person shooter Hero’s Duty, and then into kart-racing game Sugar Rush, Ralph encounters many individuals, including no-nonsense Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a sparky young girl who is in fact a “glitch”. Many threats rear their ugly heads, one in the form of a Cy-Bug from Hero’s Duty that Ralph inadvertently leads into Sugar Rush. But the main focus of the film is on the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope, as they slowly come to accept who they really are and form a sibling bond.
The film weaves in and out of vastly different landscapes without ever appearing disjointed or rushed. This is partly to do with the nature of arcade games themselves, which offer quick and stylised entertainment at the insertion of a coin. As old-school as they come, Ralph’s home game is a simple tower block made up of squares, where people move and walk at right angles. Hero’s Duty on the other hand, is an example of a newer breed of gaming, with better shading, curved lines and in high definition. And Sugar Rush, where most of the film takes place, is a streamlined and garishly coloured candy-land; swimming in pinks, its avatars are the epitome of a 21st Century Disney. These worlds are connected by a train-line that runs through wires and meets in a central station, where characters socialise or seek refuge after their games have been “unplugged”.
Witty and sharp dialogue is what saves this film from drowning in its own sugariness. It’s the insecurities and identity issues of well-known characters that provide most of the comedy, with the “Bad-Anon” group meetings being one of the highlights of the movie. A favourite scene of mine occurs just after a meeting finishes, where we realise that the characters have been assembling inside the central box of the Pac-Man maze, the starting point for the ghosts of the game, and Ralph takes the opportunity to steal a cherry from the world before leaving. It’s an attention to detail like this which means that Wreck-It Ralph will be rewarding on rewatches, as the viewer takes time to notice things that they might have missed the first time round. Each scene is deeply packed with cultural references, and the film’s careful treatment of what are essentially childhood memories for so many, is comparable to Toy Story’s intelligent imagining of lives for cuddly toys and action figures.
The film boasts brilliant voice acting. John C. Reilly gives Ralph a suitable amount of likeableness, and Jane Lynch wields her expected sarcastic tone for her role as the emotionally scarred Sergeant. She gets away with the oddest of lines, including “you wanna go peepee in your big-boy slacks, keep it to yourself” and “come on you pussy willows”. She and Felix make a fantastic pair, her dry and violent humour set against his innocent claims of “I can fix it!” Sarah Silverman is good, if a little irritating, with Vanellope squawking her lines at a high frequency that might annoy some viewers. All in all, though, Wreck-It Ralph succeeds in presenting interesting characters that demand your attention.
Having not been particularly impressed by any big-budget animation in recent years (with the exception of 2011’s Rango), I was hesitant going in to this film, but I am happy to say that I left the cinema relieved. Engaging throughout, I never found myself bored or distracted, which is impressive considering I was never actually a massive gamer as a child. Regardless of whether or not you acknowledge every single gaming allusion, or notice every guest appearance, you can still appreciate the great effort and love that went in to the creating of Wreck-It Ralph’s worlds.
FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★