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Movie Review: Wreck it Ralph

By Bob Garver

For the past year or so, I’ve been fond of referring to bad kids’ movies as “junk food”. What I mean is that kids may enjoy watching the films but they won’t be enriched or inspired by them. Now along comes “Wreck-It Ralph”, an animated film that largely takes place in world of candy and treats. Wouldn’t you know it, it turns out that the film is anything but junk food.

 Disney has marketed the film by pushing the fact that it takes place inside the world of video games, which is true, though perhaps the film could have done a better job of explaining exactly how the characters respond to being controlled and affected by human players. Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the hideous villain of the game “Fix-It Felix Jr.” where he is routinely beaten and humiliated by do-gooder Felix (Jack McBrayer). The characters drop their personas once their arcade closes, and while Ralph isn’t exactly treated like a villain in his own game, he is treated like an outcast. He yearns to be the hero for once, or at least treated like one.

In this world, video game characters can travel to other games via power cords. An important early scene sees Ralph travel to “Pac-Man” for a meeting and then to a central hub crawling with all manner of familiar digital faces. To earn a reputation as a hero, Ralph sneaks over to “Hero’s Duty”, a violent shooting game where he narrowly evades the game’s mutant bugs and militant leader Calhoun (Jane Lynch) in order to steal a medal. He halfway succeeds, getting the medal but botching his escape when he crashes his commandeered spaceship in a racing game called “Sugar Rush”.

It seems like about two-thirds of the movie takes place in “Sugar Rush”, and I don’t know why it seems to be so poorly represented in the film’s advertising. It’s a delightful world where everyone and everything is made of candy. If I were playing the game, I wouldn’t even try to win the race, I’d just go slowly and take in the delicious scenery. It is here where Ralph hits a snag when his medal is stolen by the precocious Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a wannabe racer who immediately cashes in the medal for entry into a race to be an official character in the game. She isn’t normally allowed to be a part of the roster because a programming glitch occasionally causes her to blink out of focus. Ralph’s only chance of getting a medal now is to help Vanellope win so she can earn a medal to give to him. This arrangement doesn’t sit well with King Candy (Alan Tudyk), the egocentric ruler of the game with a hidden agenda.

The voice acting is terrific. This is the kind of movie where you feel like the actors were cast and then the characters were written because it’s impossible to picture anyone else playing these parts: Reilly as the loveable lug, Lynch as the hardened soldier, McBrayer as the picture of positivity (wait until he interacts with the Lynch character), and Silverman as the adorable mischief-maker with surprising emotional range. The unsung hero of the voice cast is Tudyk (as the villain, ironically), whose performance has a such a manic energy it sounds like he prepared by inhaling Pixie Stix for a month.

“Wreck-It Ralph” is cute, sweet, and all kinds of fun at once. Just try making it through without smiling and laughing. You’ll fail, but you’ll feel good failing. The few sad scenes hit the right notes too. It’s weird to hear an entire theater go “Awww” at once, but it’s nice to know you’re surrounded by so many compassionate people. The film is the opposite of junk food; it’s imaginative, touching, and above all, funny. With less than two months left to lose its lead, “Wreck-It Ralph” is currently my favorite film of 2012.

 Four Stars out of Five.

 “Wreck-It Ralph” is rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence. Its running time is 108 minutes.