Wreck-It Ralph reminds me somewhat of the 2000 Pixar animated film Monsters, Inc. Both movies create worlds beyond what kids see with their own eyes. Whereas Monsters, Inc., takes you behind a child's closet door into a world populated by monsters, Wreck-It Ralph reveals that characters in arcade video games have lives inside those game consoles. By day, they play specific roles according to the script they're programmed with and the game player's actions with the controller, essentially putting on a show. By night, when the arcade closes, everyone relaxes, sometimes in each other's game worlds. The electrical outlets where the games are plugged in serve as a central train station for these game characters to visit each other.
But like some real-life people with jobs, Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) isn't satisfied with his. He is the villain of a 1980s game called Fix-It Felix Jr., in which he wrecks an apartment building while the heroic player-controlled title character (voiced by Jack McBrayer) repairs damaged sections with a magic hammer. When the player is successful in fixing the whole building, its tenants throw Ralph off the roof. The dissatisfaction doesn't just come from repeatedly falling off the building into a pool of mud on the ground. It also comes from being essentially ignored when the day is over. And when it's the 30th anniversary of the release of Fix-It Felix Jr., he is not invited to the anniversary party that Felix hosts in his penthouse. That really gets to him.
Ralph becomes desperate for the attention and glory that video game heroes get, to the point where he leaves his game and sneaks into another: an action-packed first-person shooter game called Hero's Duty. Unfortunately, he's pretty clumsy in his metal suit while his soldier comrades, led by the game's heroine Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), are shooting at the swarm of aliens surrounding them. But he's determined to retrieve a hero's medal from this game, just as Felix got so many back home. In doing so, however, he accidentally lets one alien creature loose. Ultimately, Ralph and that alien are flown in an out-of-control spaceship out of the game and crash land in another. They end up in Sugar Rush, a racing game set in a land chock-full of candy and other sugary sweets.
This is where we meet the fourth principal character of the movie: a little girl named Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman). She looks like a typical playful child at first, but her personal issue later becomes clear. Unlike the other characters in Sugar Rush, she is a glitch, someone who is imperfectly programmed and therefore forbidden to appear where the game player can see her. The fear is that her presence would ruin the game and cause the arcade manager to post an "Out of Order" sign on the game console, which is an inconvenience for game players but is a dreaded fate for the game characters, as they could become homeless and jobless when the game is shut down permanently. Still, Vanellope does not stop dreaming of participating in the race herself.
The movie Wreck-It Ralph is primarily a frendship story and secondarily an adventure story. Ralph, still driven by his own desire for glory, does what he can to help Vanellope enter the race. A touching friendship gradually forms between the two, especially as they're both rejects in their own game worlds. Meanwhile, there is an unlikely alliance between the short jolly Felix and the tall cold-hearted Calhoun. They enter the Sugar Rush world to find both Ralph and the alien. As Calhoun explains, that alien is a virus that can multiply and ultimately destroy all of the game worlds in the arcade, not just Sugar Rush.
As a film from Disney's in-house studio, its pacing is a bit fast. The focus obviously is on moving the story forward, so there isn't too much opportunity to develop the characters. And yet, I came to appreciate Ralph, Felix, Calhoun, and Vanellope. Of the four, I definitely admired Vanellope. She could easily have been an annoying character, but instead, her enthusiasm and innocence as a child make her quite a lovable character. I did like the other three main characters as well, though they didn't steal the show like Vanellope did.
I also remember thinking, while watching the movie, how Disney's renowned subsidiary animation studio Pixar might look like they were involved in making Wreck-It Ralph when, in fact, their brand doesn't appear on the movie's poster. Aside from the interesting characters, Wreck-It Ralph works because of the imagination that went into creating a world based on familiar video game elements. I already mentioned game glitches and what an out-of-order game is like for the game's characters, which are certainly clever. There are also references to concepts like hidden bonus levels, secret game codes, and enemy bosses, plus cameos (which are very brief) by characters from actual video games, including Q-Bert, a Pac-Man ghost, Sonic the Hedgehog, four characters from Street Fighter (Ryu, Ken, Zangief, and M. Bison), and even Kano from Mortal Kombat. You can tell that much thought went into this movie. This is especially true for the exciting climax where plenty of things from earlier in the film come together in interesting ways.
So how would I rate this movie on my 1-to-10 scale? Well, it's tricky. It certainly deserve 7 stars. But as the second half proceeded, I found the needle inching its way to 8 stars. In the end, I would say Wreck-It Ralph gets 7.5 stars. But since I only give whole stars, it has to be a 7 or 8. I think that, based on the cleverness of the plot and settings, the likable characters, and the visuals that are done well, I shall award Wreck-It Ralph with 8 stars out of 10. It may not put the movie at the top, but hey, that's still a pretty high score.
Anthony's Rating: 8/10
(Review originally published at http://www.anthonysfilmreview.com/Film/W/Wreck-It_Ralph.htm)