Disney’s latest animated offering actually began life in the 80’s, under the name of ‘High Score’. Production moved at a snails pace, and in the 90’s its name changed again to ‘Joe Jump’, but it wasn’t until the 2000’s that Disney decided to really push forward with its release. The years of development paid off, because Wreck It Ralph succeeds on almost every level.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) longs to be as beloved as his game’s perfect Good Guy, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). Problem is, nobody loves a Bad Guy. But they do love heroes… so when a modern, first-person shooter game arrives featuring tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), Ralph sees it as his ticket to heroism and happiness. He sneaks into the game with a simple plan — win a medal — but soon wrecks everything, and accidentally unleashes a deadly enemy that threatens every game in the arcade. Ralph’s only hope? Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a young troublemaking “glitch” from a candy-coated cart racing game who might just be the one to teach Ralph what it means to be a Good Guy. But will he realize he is good enough to become a hero before it’s “Game Over” for the entire arcade?
Right from the opening moments, it’s clear that Wreck It Ralph has been crafted by people with a passion for gaming; the Walt Disney logo is rendered in the old, 8 bit format which, if you’re familiar with retro games, instantly puts a smile on your face. There’s a comprehensive overview of his dilemma narrated by Ralph himself, which generates sympathy for his cause straight away. It’s a method that Disney perfected in Up, and whilst it’s not as effective here, it is sufficient. Whilst Ralph may look intimidating with his huge hands and hulking figure, he’s a genuine softie who just wants to be accepted for who he is. The casting choice of Reilly goes a long way in making the character a success, and Ralph (and everyone else in the film in fact) has physical similarities to the people who voice them. Sarah Silverman brings a welcome charm and immaturity to the young Vanellope, and McBrayer channels more than a little of his innocent 30 Rock persona Kenneth into Fix It Felix. Jane Lynch is perfect as no-nonsense Calhoun, and credit must also go to the slimy leader of the land of Sugar Rush, King Candy.
As narratives go, this isn’t one of Disney’s most original. The arc is a familiar one, and you’re more than likely to know the outcome. Nevertheless, the character development is typically brilliant, with each one having a rich personality and you’re given a reason to care about what happens to them – Calhoun’s programmed backstory is ‘the most tragic possible’ and is both hilarious and touching. It’s not just each individual character that matters though – the whole arcade seems like one big family, with familiar faces sharing a beer in Tapper’s Bar (a genuine game), and all connected by the fear of another (in this case, Ralph) “going Turbo”. The world inside the games is vibrant, colourful and, most importantly, alive. Visually, it’s similar to Monster’s Inc, with each character entering their game through a passageway located in a lobby. The three main areas we see are strikingly different to the other – Fix It Felix’s game is 8 bit, and the inhabitants move stiffly (except for Ralph, who has full movement), Sugar Rush is a sickly sweet candy land made from sweets and treats, whilst Hero’s Duty is a futuristic wasteland overrun by Cybugs and musically scored by dubstep artist Skrillex (who also makes an appearance at the 30th anniversary party). All of them are stunning to look at, regardless of how long we spend there.
Much like 2010’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Wreck It Ralph is littered with video game references; both easy noticeable and crazily obscure. But unlike Scott Pilgrim, they rarely come across as forced, or too nerdy that people who aren’t familiar with the references can’t enjoy the film. Ranging from classic games such as Qbert, Pac Man and the Street Fighter series to more recent releases like Metal Gear Solid and even a nod to World of Warcraft, you’re never too far from a link to the game world. Stay through the credits for a final, extremely geeky, easter egg.
Wreck It Ralph is as close to perfect as family movies come – it’s laugh out loud funny, has something for adults and in places beautifully heartwrenching. At its core, it’s a simple story of outcasts accepting who they are, but the journey they take to get to that conclusion is what sets Wreck It Ralph apart from the rest. Entertainment doesn’t come more 5 star than this.