Review: Wreck-It Ralph

NOTE: Make sure you see this one in the theater. The animated short, Paperman, that plays before the film is MAGNIFICENT and may not be included on the initial DVD/Blu-Ray release. Totally worth the price of admission by itself. In 2006, when Disney bought Pixar and put John Lasseter in charge of its entire animation division, most of us expected great things. After 60-odd years of complete domination in the animated movie world, Disney had lost the magic, if you will, of Sleeping Beauty and The Lion King in the midst of a heap of mediocre features that just didn’t measure up to the legacy the studio had created for itself. With Lasseter on board, though, multiple generations of Disney fans who had grown up on the virtues of Robin Hood and the like hoped that the man who had redefined the genre with Pixar would return the studio to its previous glory. In essence, we were hoping for Wreck-It Ralph.

All Ralph (John C. Reilly) wants in life is to be appreciated. As the villain in an 80s arcade game known as “Fix it Felix Jr.”, Ralph’s job (which he does quite well) is to inflict damage upon the Niceland apartment building so that Felix (Jack McBrayer) can fix the damage. For thirty years, the end of each night, when the arcade the game resides in closes up shop, sees Felix returning to the thankful residents of Niceland while Ralph is relegated to the dump. Eager for a change, Ralph sets off into the various realms of the other games in the arcade in search of a Hero’s Medal which would, he believes, change his lot back home. But when he stumbled into the racing game “Sugar Rush”, he is waylaid by an obnoxious misfit known as The Glitch (Sarah Silverman), and when their paths become tied through a series of wild events, Ralph begrudgingly agrees to assist The Glitch, though he has no idea what he’s getting himself into.

I have seen Wreck-It Ralph described as, “Toy Story for video games” and I believe that statement rings absolutely true. In a year in which Pixar’s own feature (Brave) felt much more like a Disney movie than one that fit the standard Pixar model, it is fitting that the Disney film should have a decisive Pixarian feel to it. From the early moments, which include a gloriously scripted voiceover that would make Morgan Freeman jealous, Wreck-It Ralph establishes a link to the best of the Pixar universe and it never looks back. The concept itself is ingenious and deliciously outside the box, a truly original idea that opens up a thousand doorways through which to take the film. I imagine that, when advance notice of Wreck-It Ralph began circulating in Hollywood, many studio executives spent some time banging their respective heads against a wall or two, wondering why they didn’t think of this. And yet the core value at the film’s heart, the universal desire for acceptance, is incredibly simple and stands out as one of the reasons why the film excels. One of the keys to success in the Pixar universe is emotional relevance; they take common themes, struggles, and desires and illustrate them through lavish and meticulously crafted mediums, be they talking toys or a lonely robot. That quality courses through the veins of Wreck-It Ralph, creating a bond between the audience and a giant, buffoonish video game character, and making his journey seem all the more real in spite of the fact that it takes place within the code of an arcade game. 

The quality of Wreck-It Ralph, however, goes far beyond the original concept, something I was concerned about going in. It would have been easy for director Rich Moore and his creative team to focus too much on the overlying idea and forget to build the rest of the film up to the appropriate standard. Instead, it is clear that every detail of Wreck-It Ralph was given the proper attention. For one thing, it is a very intelligent film. Sure, you have the requisite “duty” jokes that will keep the kids (and possibly the adults sitting next to me who shall remain nameless) laughing but overall, many of the bits are geared toward an adult audience (though none of it crossed the line to become inappropriate for younger viewers, a quality I appreciated). There are also a ton of little details (you might even consider them Easter Eggs of a sort) that are geared specifically to the gaming population, all of which brought great approval from the audience. The voice work, too, is spectacular. Reilly is the perfect actor to bring Ralph to life and he brings a real sharpness to his role. In addition, Silverman, McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Alan Tudyk do an excellent job in their respective roles and all of them blend together with their characters. This is a quality I greatly appreciate as I feel that too many animated films utilize their voice actors only to create familiarity with the audience instead of having them actually act. As in, “Hey! That’s Adam Sandler talking! Now I like this movie!” I find this very distracting and annoying. Here, though, the actors lend both their voices and their talents to the cast and I think Wreck-It Ralph is much the better for this. I was especially impressed by Tudyk, whose voice was completely unrecognizable to me until the final credits rolled.

Perhaps the most impressive feat Wreck-It Ralph pulls off comes in the form of keeping its narrative integrity and momentum together despite undergoing a fairly significant scene shift. Ralph’s stay in “Sugar Rush” takes up a solid half (or more) of the film and that world is dramatically different from the film’s initial setup. I was a bit concerned that this would result in a drop-off in interest/quality but instead the film just keeps on rolling. Wreck-It Ralph is a wonderfully fun, smart film that should keep a wide-ranging audience happy and instantly takes up residence amongst my favorite Disney films of all-time. 

Wreck-It Ralph Director: Rich Moore Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Alan Tudyk Rated: PG (some mildly crude humor) Recommended For: All people who have souls