I never liked video games or fell for the dubious allure of darkened arcades with their grubby joysticks and incessant backdrop of gaming techno-noise. Later, Pac-Man represented a welcome respite at restaurants from having to deal with the kids while waiting for the food to arrive. (Thank you, Justin’s.) Throughout the year, I’ve been captive audience to the previews for Wreck-It Ralph, which posits a “What would happen” fantasy: What if a video game’s eponymous bad guy decided that he’d had enough, and set out to become a hero? It seemed like a lot more noise and garish color, and I didn’t look forward to it. But here I was, another Friday night with just the youngest child, and so, off to movies we went to see Wreck-It Ralph.
I still don’t like video games, but I really loved Wreck-It Ralph.
Poor Ralph (John C. Reilly) is something like 8 feet tall, and weighs 600 pounds. Each time somebody plays the game, he has to destroy an apartment house, located appropriately in Niceville, while Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) feverishly attempts to repair the damage with his magic hammer. Inevitably, Ralph is thrown from the penthouse by the Niceville folk, who look like Weebles who don’t really wobble; after hours at the arcade, the characters rejoin to somebody’s apartment for drinks and toasts all around in honor of their hero . . . while Ralph takes refuge in the nearby dump. He longs to be inside with the others, to receive complimentary pies and slaps on the back, and so finally, he sets out to find acceptance.
“Game jumping,” the process by which a certain video game character sneaks into another game, is highly frowned upon, even dangerous, but Ralph finds thrills and achieves the grand prize awarded in the game Hero’s Duty. However, before he can return to Niceville, his medal is taken by munchkin Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who needs it to try to win the gumdrop drag race, which is the whole point of her game, Sugar Rush. If he wants to return to his game as a hero, Ralph has to help Vanellope (rhymes with Penelope) achieve triumph and acceptance in her own game—something made problematic by the fact of her “glitchiness,” meaning, her little avatar often goes on the blink.
It’s a familiar tale, of course, and we know how it will turn out. But that doesn’t detract from the movie’s dazzling visuals (the Sugar Rush setting alone would make a hard-core candy eater out of the most conscientious dental hygienist) and surprising heart. Even as it revels in the gizmos, bells and whistles of its video-gaming environs, the movie subtly conveys the sense of isolation that is an intrinsic aspect of the relationship between gamer and game, and, moreover, between the avatars and their ability to perform. There are also some neat surprises, such as the surprisingly steamy connection between pintsized Felix Jr. and Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a fearsome cross between Patton, Agent Ripley and Barbarella. Evidence of studio chief John Lasseter’s touch shows throughout, as the video-game characters, like their counterparts in the Toy Story franchise, display signs of deep inner lives belying the simple repetitiveness of their gaming roles. Overall, writers Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, along with a stellar voice cast (including Alan Tudyk as the Ozian King Candy), ably provide a story devoid of condescension, to either the characters or the audience. As King Candy tells Ralph, nicely played.