Disney's Wreck-It Ralph: The DadCentric Review
I don't remember my age at the time, but I was young—third or fourth grade, and I could see the entire neighborhood reflected in the glare of the wood-framed television in front of me. I was sitting alone on a bed of orange shag carpet, and the gathered crowd cheered behind me as I did what they had come to see: I flipped Pac-Man, hitting a score so high that the game reset it to zero. For a brief moment I was a hero, and video games would never be the same.
The title character of Disney's latest animated feature Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) has spent decades longing for that feeling. He has played the same game, Fix-It Felix, countless times for countless days, and he has never known the accolades of his neighbors or appreciation for a job well done. He has performed his duties without fail, and it has brought him nothing but long trips down and endless holes of mud to land in.
Ralph is a character in the Fix-It Felix video game, and during arcade hours he does what he was programmed to do: wreck it. Unfortunately for Ralph, the game is not about the glories of wreckage well done, but rather Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his impressive ability to fix the path of destruction that has been created.
Players maneuver Felix to mend an apartment building immediately after Ralph shows up to vandalize it for no apparent reason, although the judgmental socialites that live inside seems like a good one.
Wreck-It Ralph is a bad guy, and he is tired of it.
Luckily, there are those that understand Ralph's pain, and it is through his attendance of a Bad Guys Anonymous meeting that we are first introduced to the connectivity of the video game world(s). They are united by an efficient transportation system running through a series of power cords that all meet in Grand Central Station, which is, of course, the power strip that they are all plugged into.
Ralph becomes determined to prove himself, and in the process he realizes that it isn't just the perception of others that needs to be adjusted, there is also a need for personal reflection and room to grow. It turns out that thirty years of self-pity has taken its toll: Wreck-It Ralph is wrecked.
It is on Ralph's journey that we enter two other video game worlds. The first is a modern warfare game that I would never let my children play called Hero's Duty, and that is where we are introduced to the most tragic backstory in all of the arcade. The story belongs to Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (Jane Lynch), and she wears it brilliantly on her sleeve.
Ralph then lands in another popular new game called Sugar Rush where sweet little characters live in a world of sugary goodness, racing cars made from crackers and candy, and shunning those that don't fit in. Sometimes candy is hard.
Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), the focus of said shunning, and an admitted glitch in the game's system. Through witty banter and tender moments the two outcasts realize that they share a similar fate and the means to help each other escape it.
Then chaos happens.
There is a bad guy manipulating the world of Sugar Rush, and in his desire to win it all he vows to keep Ralph and Vanellope from doing what they must. Ralph and Vanellope, together with Felix and Calhoun, battle the masses that gather against them, a virtual army of alien bugs, mean girls, and self-doubt; and in doing so they learn a little something about themselves along the way. It is there, just on the tip of that candy-coated learning curve, dipped in a borderline of fairly intense violence, and sprinkled with a soothing reassurance, that they are able to save the game, and with it, the day.
Throughout Wreck-It Ralph there are fun and clever nods toward the history of video games, including plenty of obscure references for gamers and obvious placements for the rest of us. The movie strikes a great balance between cuteness and action, which should translate nicely into related merchandise sales this holiday season. If Disney was trying to make a movie that was marketable to everyone then they have succeeded. Wreck-It Ralph has enough heart and humor to entertain all audiences, even those beyond the ironic pale of retro, and it should earn high scores from every player in the family.
Everybody loves a hero.