Dozens of films have failed at bringing established video game properties to the movie screen, but for their latest piece of feature-length digital animation Disney has borrowed a page from fun flicks like Tron, The Last Starfighter, and Wargames. It may be difficult to translate an existing video game into film form, but based on those three ’80s classics and the new-fangled Wreck-It Ralph, it’s not that tough to make an entertaining movie about video games.
Described on various twitter accounts as “Tron meets Toy Story,” the endlessly colorful Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of a video game villain who yearns for a life outside of the cruel monotony of the video game cabinet. Ralph (voiced wonderfully by John C. Reilly) might be a bruising bully when his game, Fix-It Felix Jr., is on, but when the lights go out in the arcade, the poor schlub dreams of a destiny in which he isn’t typecast as a clumsy jerk who sleeps on a giant pile of bricks. After trying to be social and earning nothing but disdain from his co-workers in return, Ralph escapes from his video game and begins a quest to become a “good guy.”
And of course all PG-rated heck breaks loose.
Wreck-It Ralph is that rare animated feature that may appeal more to the parents than to the under-12-year-olds that follow them around all the time. The key to much of Wreck-It Ralph’s charm lies in simple and affectionate nostalgia — “hey, I remember that video game!” will pop into your head quite frequently — but a film cannot coast by on nostalgia alone, and Wreck-It Ralph also boasts high marks in the essential departments of warmth, character, adventure, novelty, and humor. Like the best Disney features, Wreck-It Ralph has a generous parcel of sweet and effective “life lessons” for the younger audience members, but (like the best Disney features) they don’t get in the way of the action, the wit, and the strangely adorable characters.
Reilly’s slightly exasperated but kind-hearted voice does wonders for the Ralph character, and the actor is flanked by some great co-stars. Jack McBrayer (as Felix), Sarah Silverman (as a ditzy little race car driver who befriends Ralph), and Jane Lynch (as an RPG game commando who somehow gets caught up in the lunacy) are simply great. It’s not just “gimmick casting” with well-known performers; each actor brings something fun or fresh to their character. And a special mention has to go to the always-affable Alan Tudyk, who is usually a likable presence in any film, but here gets to play a villain with an Ed Wynn voice, and the guy does a simply fantastic job of it.
Set to a wonderfully clever Henry Jackman score, boasting more “groan/giggle-worthy” puns than you’ll know what to do with, knee-deep in video game nostalgia but not slavishly beholden to the past, and effortlessly smooth, slick, and silly from beginning to end, Wreck-It Ralph is one of the best animated features of the year, and we’ve already had several darn good animated features this year. In addition to being 95 consecutive minutes of smart, family-friendly fun, Wreck-It Ralph stands as a welcome reminder that while most video game movies stink, movies about the world of video games can be a treat for kids of all ages, provided the filmmakers approach the material with experience, affection, and a strong sense of humor.
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