Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Dir. Rich Moore
4.5 out of 5
It's easy and accurate to draw comparisons between Toy Story and the newest addition to the Disney animated canon, Wreck-It Ralph. That's not just because both are witty, detail-packed films revolving around the inner lives of supposedly inanimate objects, but also because they both use this premise to comment on the universal fear of obsolescence and the useful delusion of heroism. We meet Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the heavy of the Donkey Kong-inspired Fix-It Felix Jr., in a support group for video game villains (sample affirmation: "I'll never be good, and that's not bad"). He yearns to be the good guy so he can win a medal like his in-game adversary, Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer). One day, finally fed up with his one-dimensional role, Ralph abandons Fix-It Felix and goes "game-jumping" in search of a bauble that will grant him the love and respect he craves. It's a massive risk for his colleagues, however, as Fix-It Felix can't function without a villain. Unless Ralph returns to the game, the cabinet will be unplugged, thus stranding all its characters in arcade limbo with other sad, forgotten icons of its quarter-munching past.
Not unlike a classic arcade game, Wreck-It Ralph is addictive entertainment that contains a multitude of cleverly-conceived structural layers underneath a simplistic exterior. Ralph's journey through the arcade makes a great excuse for tons of in-jokes and cameos featuring characters recognizable to gamers of all generations. But director Rich Moore and his team aren't just content to pay homage to their favorite video games. The film takes its spot-the-reference appeal one step further with the games Ralph "jumps" into: the hyper-futuristic first-person shooter Hero's Duty and the cutesy, candy-coated kart racer Sugar Rush. These fully-realized worlds recall the classic Disney/Pixar tradition of looking at a familiar environment with a connoisseur's eye, imbuing it with obsessive detail, a playful sense of nostalgia, and gob-smackingly gorgeous visuals.
The goodie box approach to Ralph's setting also defines its lively plot, where new surprises and complications are constantly being revealed like the many layers of a nesting doll. Screenwriters Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee introduce many subtle twists throughout the script that continually heighten the stakes while saving time for funny side trips like the romance between Felix Jr. and Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the take-charge heroine of Hero's Duty who pursues Ralph across the arcade. Moore, a veteran of The Simpsons and Futurama, inspires a looseness in his cast that adds to the film's amiable, pals-playing-Xbox-in-the-basement vibe. In a highly unorthodox move for an animated film, Moore encourages improvisation, a gamble that pays off hilariously with some of the most offbeat dialogue and non-sequiturs ever uttered in a Disney film. Reilly, McBrayer, and Lynch are all established funny persons, but comedienne Sarah Silverman steals the movie as Vanellope von Schweetz, a "glitch" in Sugar Rush who cultivates a meaningful friendship with Ralph and whose murky status within her game is the key to a mystery that carries arcade-wide repercussions. Each character is a hero in his or her own way as Wreck-It Ralph gently makes its point about how staying true to one's self doesn't have to mean accepting the labels that others ascribe. A funny, fresh, and inventive movie that lovingly borrows its cues from retro video games and classic animated films, Wreck-It Ralph instantly becomes a classic in its own right.