John C. Reilly as Wreck-It Ralph
Jack McBrayer as Fix-It Felix Sarah Silverman as
Vanellope von Schweetz
Jane Lynch as Sergeant Calhoun
Adam Carolla as Wynchel
Jamie Elman as Rancis Fluggerbutter
Rachael Harris as Deanna
Dennis Haysbert as General Hologram
Mindy Kaling as Taffyta Muttonfudge
Edie McClurg as Mary
Ed O’Neill as Mr. Litwak
Horatio Sanz as Duncan
Stefanie Scott as Moppet Girl
Alan Tudyk as King Candy
Directed by Rich Moore
In the name of full disclosure, it’s necessary to state that I’ve always had a soft spot for retro video games. As a child of the late ’70s/early ’80s I don’t think a day went by during summers off from school that I didn’t bike down to the neighborhood arcade a small room attached to the neighborhood liquor store and pump a fist full of quarters into “Frogger,” “Battlezone,” “Robotron” or “Star Castle.” I owned home systems like the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision (and still do!). The neighbor kid had an Intellivision and an Apple IIe. A wealth of 8-bit gaming choices was never far away.
Even as a lifelong video game fan, I went into Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” with fairly low expectations. What I had seen of the marketing campaign wasn’t overly thrilling. My first reaction when Disney released the 8-bit-styled poster featuring the title character was something along the lines of, “Get Rankin/Bass’ lawyers on the line. Disney just boosted the Heat Miser!
“Wreck-It Ralph” is a story about a bad guy who is fed up with being bad. Part of the “Fix-It Felix Jr.” video game–think “Donkey Kong” meets “Rampage”–Ralph’s job is to smash a building. Felix’s–and thus the player’s–job is to fix it. The game is won when Felix fixes Ralph’s damage all the way to the top of the building. Ralph is then swarmed by the building residents, the Nicelanders, picked up and unceremoniously tossed off the roof and into a bed of mud.
Disney creates an interesting world “behind the scenes” of all the video game action. See, in Wreck-It Ralph’s world, all game personas know one another. At the end of every night, after the arcade shuts down, the game denizens can retreat to a spot called “Game Central Station,” a play on the NYC landmark, but strictly for 1s and 0s. It’s behind the scenes, at a sort of bad guys support group, that we learn that Ralph is disillusioned with his bad guy status and the isolationism that comes with it. After hours, while the building tenants in his game are baking Felix pies and praising him, Ralph is resigned to sleeping against his tree stump under a pile of bricks. He is even left out of the game’s own 30th anniversary party.
Determined to prove he is hero-worthy, Ralph makes a rash decision and goes AWOL from Fix-It Felix Jr. This creates a very real problem for the Fix-It Felix Jr. crew. With no bad guy, the game is placed “Out of Order” by arcade owner Mr. Litwak. Stories start to surface that Ralph may have “Gone Turbo.” We soon learn that Turbo was the top driver in an old coin-op called Turbo Time. When a newer racing game showed up at the arcade, Turbo grew anxious and mad. Determined to reinvigorate his waning popularity, he left his game and appeared in the newer one. The end result? With neither game functioning properly, Litwak pulled the plug on both and they were rolled out of the arcade forever.
Fearing a similar fate, Fix-It Felix Jr., with the encouragement of the Nicelanders, decides to head off in search of Ralph to return the bad guy to his own game and thus avoid having its own plug pulled.
Ralph’s adventure ‘jumping games’ takes him through a modern first person shooter, “Hero’s Duty” a sort of “Halo” meets “Starship Troopers” mash-up, and the uber-sweet racer “Sugar Rush” a “Mario Kart”/”Candy Land” hybrid. He quickly learns two things modern video games are violent and all is not well in the arcade.
The voice casting in “Wreck-It Ralph” is spot on. John C Reilly gives the right amount of bad guy angst and loveable dope to the title character, while Jack McBrayer is pitch perfect as the squeaky clean hero of Fix-It Felix Jr. Sarah Silverman’s too cute, little girl voice is equal parts sweet and annoying as Sugar Rush’s resident ‘glitch’ Vanellope von Schweetz. Alan Tudyk and Jane Lynch are also solid as Sugar Rush boss King Candy and Hero’s Duty tough Sargeant Calhoun.
The story of “Wreck-It Ralph” goes beyond one character’s struggles with identity. Kudos to Disney for giving a seemingly straight-forward kids movie added layers of interest for all viewers. I don’t want to go into spoilers, but once you have explored the world of Litwak’s Arcade for a bit you will figure out that Ralph isn’t the only bad guy and that some other of those other baddies like their lot in life and will go to great lengths to protect it.
“Wreck-It Ralph” also is a cameo lover’s dream. The bad guys support group is full of popular baddies from games gone by. Headed by Clyde, the orange ghost from “Pac-Man,” the group also includes Zangief and M. Bison from “Street Fighter,” Bowser from “Super Mario” and Dr. Robitnik from “Sonic the Hedgehog,” among others.
I’m sure I missed a lot of older characters in the Game Central Station scenes, but it put a smile on my face to see that just as us real-worlders can sometimes turn to a bartender for advice, that the denizens of Litwak’s can belly up at Tapper’s and drown their sorrows in a heady root beer. And if you don’t get just a little misty over the current state of Q*bert and his crew, well you’re just not human!
There are some problems with “Wreck-It Ralph,’ but none of them are deal-breakers. One particular moment a problem facing Ralph towards the end of the movie seemed to have a pretty straight-forward solution, but the characters solved it in another, more elaborate, way. The 3D-ness of “Wreck-It Ralph” also seemed to be a waste. Under-utilized and not needed, it adds little to nothing to the overall aesthetic of the film.
All in all, “Wreck-It Ralph” is a winner for both Disney Animation Studios and the viewing public. It’s not “Wall-E” or “Up,” but it’s not trying to be. It’s nostalgia meets noir getting good from bad and bad from good, and best of all… it entertains.