‘Wreck-It’ Has The Makings Of A Classic
Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
After a few years of PIXAR movies failing to live up to the studio’s lofty expectations, it comes as a welcome surprise to see someone else make an exceptional animated film. Wreck-It Ralph, created by Walt Disney Animation Studios, has all the ingredients to become a classic amongst moviegoers of all ages. Kids will love it for its gleeful dive into a world of video games populated by sweet, funny characters. The movie’s nostalgia for a fading era and its seemingly endless creativity will keep older audience members glued to the screen as well.
Wreck-It Ralph’s opening minutes may seem like Disney’s attempt at a Toy Story knockoff. After Litwak’s Arcade closes, all the video game characters live their own lives, hanging out in their games or heading to Game Central Station (via the arcade’s electric cords) to hang out with other characters. At that point, all the movie would need is Woody and Buzz to feel like a blatant rip-off of a classic.
The film, however, quickly sidesteps this comparison by focusing on its titular hero, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Riley), the “bad guy” in an older arcade game called Fix-it Felix, Jr. The good-natured Ralph is tired of playing the bad guy and being left out by the game’s hero, Felix (Jack McBrayer), and his friends. Wanting to win a medal to prove his worth, Ralph begins game-hopping throughout the arcade, causing unintentional havoc along the way. Once Ralph begins to hop between games, the film begins showing its ingenuity. Watching Ralph stumble through a first-person shooter, ruining the game for the little girl playing it, is a hilarious way to introduce audiences to the film’s dizzying pace and to another key character, the no-nonsense Sergeant Jean Calhoun (Jane Lynch). Her character’s tough persona is undercut with an inspired gag about her tragic backstory.
While the first game-hop establishes Wreck-It Ralph’s creativity, its second leap into a colorful children’s racing game, Sugar Rush, gives it a heart and a chance to become an all-time great Disney film. Ralph crashes into this candy world (rendered beautifully with computer animation) and loses his medal (taken from Calhoun’s game) to a little girl, Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by Sarah Silverman. Ralph learns that Vanellope is a glitch character in Sugar Rush, who is perpetually kept from racing by King Candy (Alan Tudyk). As two characters struggling for recognition in their games, Ralph and Vanellope agree to help each other to win the Sugar Rush race and to recover Ralph’s medal, which Vanellope used to enter the competition.
The pairing of Ralph and Vanellope elevates Wreck-It Ralph. Ralph and Vanellope are so unique and finely-drawn that their on-screen interactions are a constant delight. John C. Reilly’s soft voice humanizes the gigantic Ralph, and writers Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston excellently tell the little-told story of a “villain” who wants to be a hero.
The film’s standout performance, however, is Silverman as Vanellope. At first glance, Vanellope looks like Boo from Monsters, Inc. or Agnes in Despicable Me: a little girl expected to win audiences over with her cuteness. And while Vanellope is cute, she’s also witty, making fun of Ralph whenever she gets the chance. While Sergeant Calhoun is said to have been programmed with “the most tragic backstory,” Vanellope’s story is the saddest, as every character in her game wishes she didn’t exist. Taken altogether, Vanellope von Schweetz wins the audience over almost immediately.
While Vanellope and Ralph are Wreck It-Ralph’s sweet center, the film’s subplot is also strong. To save the arcade from the destruction that Ralph’s game-hopping could cause, the intimidating Sergeant Calhoun and the tame Felix pair up to find him in Sugar Rush, and their unlikely romantic chemistry works well with the budding father-daughter relationship of Ralph and Vanellope.
While the memorable characters and emotional truths of Wreck-It Ralph would make it a great movie on its own, the additions of the movie’s use of its video-game concept and its vibrant computer animation make it a worthy rival to previous PIXAR greats. A second review could be written solely on the film’s clever details, such as Ralph’s co-workers walking awkwardly like eight-bit video game characters or the deadly Nesquick sand in Sugar Rush.
Wreck-It Ralph may be a bad guy, but he’s still a winner—one of the biggest of 2012.