For 30 years at Litwik's Arcade, the game Fix-It Felix, Jr. has been a mainstay, a popular game for countless fans. At night though when the arcade is closed, the games and their characters are left on their own, all of them allowed to travel from one game to another through the power cables. The villain in Fix-It, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), has had enough though, deciding 30 years is enough of being a villain while Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) is honored as a hero on a nightly basis. One night, Ralph leaves the game through the power lines, hoping to become a hero (and earn a medal in the process) so he can prove everyone wrong. Ralph doesn't know what he's getting into, traveling from first-person shooter games to kart-racing games, but the old stand-by, Fix-It Felix Jr., could be in trouble if Ralph doesn't return in time.
In the same way Toy Story appeals to me, so does this Disney animated film from director Rich Moore (who also lends his voice talent to a couple characters). While the execution is there from beginning to end in the 108-minute movie, above all else, it's the idea, the premise that works so well. The thought of beloved video game characters, of dastardly villains, having this separate life apart from their video game is a thing of brilliance. As we play their games, this is their job, their day-to-day, 9-to-5 gig. When the arcade is closed, that's closing time. The power lines and outlets serve as a video game subway, the good guys and bad guys traveling wherever they so choose at night. The visual appeal is there -- from the sugar-coated kart-racing game to the dark, apocalyptic first-person shooter -- but it is that brilliantly innovative story that is most effective.
I'll also say that this is a movie that has a genuine appreciation and love for its subject matter. Wreck-It Ralph is clearly patterned after the original Donkey Kong, an early 1980s platform game that's since morphed and transitioned countless times, Ralph molded like Donkey Kong. It's cool to see all the video games living in one world, from the old platform games to the shoot 'em up action games, the racing games to the new wave of dance platforms (the end credits are especially cool in that department, Ralph working his way across countless video game worlds). There's some great moments early, including Ralph showing up to a Villains Support Meeting, the whole group working to get through their years of getting beaten down as villains. Their best line? "Just because you're a bad guy doesn't mean you're a bad guy." We meet all sorts of iconic video game characters -- check them out HERE -- with some other nice little touches, from glitches to how characters move in almost robotic fashion as their characters would. Clearly fans of video games were behind this flick, and it doesn't hurt if you're a fan too.
One of my favorite comedic actors, John C. Reilly nails the part of Wreck-It Ralph. He's made a career out of smashing a high-rise building only to have McBrayer's Fix-It Felix swoop in and save the day, and he's had about enough. All he wants to do is save the day, be the good guy, be the hero. Reilly's voice translates well to the part, and the visual doesn't hurt, an immense physical stature with his red overalls, his wild hair, and his rather large wrecking hands. It's quite the character, a great lead. The best development for Ralph comes when he meets Vanellope von Schweetz, a young girl and racer in the kart-racing game Sugar Rush. Sarah Silverman lends her voice talents to Vanellope, putting her usually pretty harsh sense of humor on hold. Vanellope is an outcast in her game, a glitch who threatens to shut the game down if fans want nothing to do with her. The duo forms an unlikely friendship/partnership, Reilly and Silverman doing an excellent job.
I liked the rest of the cast, but there aren't a ton of recognizable voices here. McBrayer is excellent as Fix-It Felix Jr. -- a gentle takeoff on Mario I think -- who's naive and clueless but in a sweet way. At one point as he tries to help a situation, "Why can I only fix things?!?" Playing Calhoun, the hard-edged female squad commander in Heroes Duty (first person shooter vs. aliens), Jane Lynch does a good job as a hero with the darkest backstory ever. Alan Tudyk plays King Candy, the ruler of Sugar Rush. Also listen for Mindy Kaling, Dennis Haysbert, Joe Lo Truglio and Ed O'Neill as Mr. Litwak, the longtime owner of his expansive arcade.
A fun movie with a very cool premise. The message for the kids never gets to be too heavy or too obvious. I look forward to where Wreck-It Ralph might go in a sequel. Moore has said it might aim at online and console gaming but that's for later. For now, just enjoy the original!
Wreck-It Ralph (2012): ***/****