Wreck-It Ralph is a nice trip down memory lane. During a packed screening for the film I could hear whispers and gasps, and I saw audience members pointing to the screen in awe and excitement of seeing their favorite video game characters. They were swept up, maybe even more so than the children in the audience. That doesn’t mean it won’t win over kids, however, because the movie is more than an empty piece of nostalgia. Case in point: the big gamble that starts the film. The opening animated short, “The Paperman,” is a beautiful black-and-white silent love story. Right after it ends, the daunting question becomes, “How is Wreck-It Ralph going to top that?” Director Rich Moore (Futurama) instantly responds, giving the audience an equally charming experience.
Ralph (John C. Reilly) is your typical working stiff. For almost 30 years, he has served his sole purpose of smashing. Ralph is a wonderful video game villain, but his work has always been overshadowed by the game’s hero, Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer). With the arcade game’s 30th anniversary coming up, Ralph has hit an existential crisis. He is tired of playing the bad guy. After facing the rejection from the game’s anniversary party, Ralph sets out to become the hero. Since his own game won’t allow him to do that, he decides to jump to a different game.
Despite what some of the film’s marketing may have led us to believe, we don’t actually see Ralph go through all the classic games of history, as he is only really given a handful of games to roam through, particularly two: a modern day alien shooter and a racing game similar to Candy Land on steroids. It’s in this racing game, called Sugar Rush, that he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a glitch who our hero strikes a friendship with. Without going further into the plot details, Ralph ends up having to help Vanellope in order to become a hero.
Ralph and Vanellope’s sweet relationship does take time to warm up to, though. While we’d all expect (and would have loved) to see Ralph jump from all our favorite games, he mostly wanders through the world of Sugar Rush. After the quick disappointment of not seeing Ralph hang out with Sonic or other classic characters, Wreck-It Ralph earns back the magic of its first act, delivering on the comedic and dramatic purposes of the set up.
The moral of Wreck-It Ralph is simple and kind-hearted: just because people tell you can’t do something doesn’t mean you can’t. As cheesy as that logline is, though Moore’s assured direction, Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston‘s script, and the all-around playful voice work make the film more than the average animated fare with a sappy message. The movie goes for sentimentality, but there is a surprising amount of darkness here as well.
Surprisingly enough, in the third act of the film, a character appears who is utterly terrifying. From the design to its plans, it’s the type of villain which we’d see in a creepy ’80s kids movie. It’s with this move that the film proves that only does Wreck-It Ralph harken back to old school videogames, but also the type of kids films which weren’t scared to have a sense of danger. Even when the tone shifts in that regard, Rich Moore never forgets the level of fun the film started out with. Wreck-It Ralph is a thematically sad film about a guy who has spent 30 years of his programmed life being called a bad guy, but it’s rarely never an immense joy to watch.
The Upside: Has got a big heart; the movie is as fun as Rich Moore’s television work; isn’t afraid to go dark; the opening short film; the world-building.
The Downside: The second act takes time to adjust to.
On the Side: Fix-it Felix Jr. was initially considered as the film’s main character.