Director Rich Moore (“The Simpsons,” “Futurama”) made his theatrical debut this weekend, but did he succeed in making “Wreck-It Ralph” a knockout? Yes and no. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest feature film boasts its usual top notch visual effects, and Moore definitely hit the mark with fast-paced direction that bombards the audience with a roller coaster marriage of classic low-res and highly-detailed 3-D animation. Contrariwise, the movie also carries the brand of more recent Pixar and Disney features: sacrificing character development for plot, and sacrificing plot for aesthetic appeal. I must admit, however, that the story team definitely kept accessibility for children in mind when they pieced this little adventure together.
“My name’s Ralph, and I’m a bad guy,” the villain (John C. Reilly) of third-gen arcade favorite “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” narrates as his 8-bit image rampages through a two-dimensional Niceland. As windows shatter and tenants scatter, the town handyman Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) hops in to save the day with his magic hammer (that’s right, a magic hammer). Once peace is restored, the gleeful Nicelanders proceed to fête their hero, while Ralph is chucked off the roof and into a muddy puddle. Such is the life of a video game villain. Ralph’s friends at Bad-Anon (a support group for villains) have accepted their inherent coding with the motto: “One game at a time.” For Ralph, however, enough is enough…and being a bad guy just isn’t enough.
On the 30th anniversary of his game, Ralph decides to flee his junkyard and the interminable disdain of the Nicelanders in search of a shiny medal of his own. He sneaks his way into the new first-person shooter “Hero’s Duty,” and infiltrates the ranks of battle-hardened Sgt. Calhoun’s (Jane Lynch) platoon, fighting the Cy-Bugs—a species of viral insects that exist only to eat, destroy and spawn more Cy-Bugs—alongside the soldiers, until he seizes the opportunity break away from the pack and go after the coveted medal. Almost immediately after attaining said medal, Ralph is catapulted into “Sugar Rush,” a kart-racing game landscaped in sugary sweets and pastels. There he encounters snarky wild-child Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who happens to be a fellow outcast, a glitch who, according to the maniacal King Candy (Alan Tudyk), never should have appeared to begin with. Vanellope steals and uses Ralph’s medal to enter a daily race that, if won, would validate her existence as a character, and the two eventually strike up an unlikely alliance. Something to note (and up the stakes a bit) is that if a character dies in a game that isn’t their own, it’s game over. Permanently.
I couldn’t help but notice that Ralph bears a lot of similar qualities to Disney’s Quasimodo (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) and Pixar’s Sulley (“Monsters, Inc.”); he’s the lonely behemoth whose job is to terrorize others regardless of his own wishes. In fact, it’s the overbearing influence of previous Disney/Pixar films that make “Wreck-It Ralph” relatively predictable; it also relies heavily on the mountain of nostalgic video game reference. Ironically enough, the movie spends more time making references to familiar food icons (e.g. Coca Cola and Mentos, Oreos, Nesquik, etc.) rather than the vast selection of historically popular video games that take the frontline in the trailers. Nevertheless, you’ll be able to catch glimpses of old favorites, like “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Super Smash Bros.,” “Street Fighter” and “Pac-Man.”
To be frank, once you peel off the flashy effects and retro-gamer nostalgia, “Wreck-It Ralph” is a formulaic, re-hashed ghost of Disney and Pixar’s animated past. It is by no means groundbreaking, and it’s not a movie that you’ll want to sit through multiple times after it’s released on DVD. This movie does save itself simply by being likable, right down to the voice actor performances. Bottom line: it’ll be a fun, madcap trip to the theater for the kids, while managing to measure out minimal pain for chaperones.
Rating: 3 stars