From a marketing standpoint, the trailers of Wreck-It-Ralph do their job in conveying the charm of
Now in theaters
Disney's latest animated film as well as informing viewers that yes, video game references abound. The actual film is slightly different. As much as I was surprised that Wreck-It-Ralph oozes in sugary charm, I was more surprised that the writers showed adept skill in not trying to shoehorn every game reference under the sun. In fact, one of the movie’s fictional game worlds that was cut was a game called Extreme Easy Living 2, a Grand Theft Auto/The Sims hybrid. Its deletion was wise, especially in the context of the game's real world arcade setting, which in itself is part of the connective tissue that helps make Wreck-It-Ralph a draw for adults as much as it is for kids.
Wreck-It-Ralph's story is one of defying roles and expectations. The title character plays the villain in a fictional classic arcade game called Fix-It-Felix. Think of Fix-It-Felix as Rampage but with a hero who can fix the damage to a building while a monster keeps destroying it. After 30 years of being that 'monster', Ralph is tired of the part to the point that he actually attends a support group to sort out his feelings and sense of self. After barging into the Fix-It-Felix 30th anniversary party uninvited (though he really should've been invited), he learns that getting a gold medal will gain him acceptance as one of the good guys, which he proceeds to pursue without a moment’s hesitation.
He finds the opportunity for a gold medal by joining the space marine ranks in a game called Hero's Duty, a sci-fi mix of Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty. His lack of proper field training makes him a liability to the platoon, but that doesn't stop him from getting his medal, even if it means unknowingly breaking some of the game's rules. Getting back to the Fix-It-Felix arcade cabinet doesn't go quite as planned, leading Ralph to make a detour to a game world that is pretty much the polar opposite of Hero's Duty, a fictional kart racing game called Sugar Rush.
The majority of the movie actually takes place in Sugar Rush. It has almost as many confectionary references as there are video game references in the entire film with some classic sweets and some surprising contemporary ones. It's here that he meets Vanellope von Schweetz an exiled kart race driver. How they work together and help each other in achieving their respective goals as the emotional part of the narrative that makes Wreck-It-Ralph one of the best CGI films in recent years.
While the first 15 minutes of the movie hits you with a steady stream of video game references, it would be unwise to expect the film to sustain that kind of output for rest of its 110 minute running time. Again, none of the industry nods feel forced, and to reveal any of them in this review would spoil the experience. If that weren't enough, the thoughtful casting of John C. Reilly as Ralph and Sarah Silverman as Vanellope is complemented by the guest appearance of video game voice actors who reprise their familiar game character roles.
By focusing on the universal themes of friendship, the search for identity, and being true to oneself, the video game setting and references are actually secondary to Wreck-It-Ralph's appeal. Still, it is a fun, nostalgia-laden ride that goes well into the credits, putting it in a tie with Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World as the best video game movie to date.