‘Wreck-It Ralph’ brings 64-bit to stunning life
Owl City, a bastion of increasingly witty lyrics, released a new song in tandem with Disney’s newest creation, “Wreck-It Ralph,” a breathtaking blend of youth-intended 3-D animation with the best of video games. The song, a perfect amalgamation of pop and nostalgia, summarily asks the only question that comes to mind after watching “Wreck-It Ralph”: “When can I see you again?”
An artful blend of color and sound, with a sugar high’s worth of addictive fun, “Wreck-It Ralph” unleashes a love for heroes (and those who may surprise you), video games and redemption so enthusiastic, so downright thrilling, you may ask yourself what took Disney so long to think of this. (Considering it was Disney who first introduced us to the connectivity we could share with less-than-living objects in “Toy Story.”)
In this creation of both 64-bit animation of Pac-Man’s day and the slick CGI we expect when the newest “Halo” multiplayer map load, “Wreck-It Ralph,” directed by Rich Moore and from a screenplay by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, urges us to yet again connect with characters whose innate beings don’t necessarily mesh with ours. In a world predetermined by code so rigid it’s basically a crime to go against it, and doused with heavy doses of nostalgia — Hey Q*Bert! — to satisfy the Gen X arcade-goers who will bring their children to see it, we’re quickly introduced to Ralph.
A beast of a pixel with outlandishly giant hands, a hair-trigger temper and a penchant for destruction, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has been at his gig for 30 years now, the perennial “bad guy” in a game called Fix-It Felix Jr. At the behest of every gamer for the last three decades, Ralph gears up and thrashes an apartment building only for it to be repaired by the incessantly do-gooder Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer).
But before you’re bored by the throwback pixelation and repetition, we travel between the arcade’s video games through some clever mechanisms, allowing us to indulge in some hilarious cameos and references along with furthering the game-hopping plot. The shift between designs — between what a gamer would see and what 3-D animation would produce in the characters’ worlds — is well-done and quite clever.
The crux of the plot revolves around a Disney tradition: Ralph goes through what could only be called an identity crisis. Sick of being rejected time and again by colleagues in his game (who can blame him, he’s just doing his job), he decides he’s going to become a hero, a serious assault against his coding and what fellow characters describe as “going Turbo.” (The phrase makes sense later in the film.)
His first attempt lands him in a first-person shooter similar to “Dead Space.” a violet clash between gun-laden soldiers and some nasty insects, where he encounters a tough-as-nails commander, Calhoun (appropriately voiced by Jane Lynch), who later serves as a love interest for Felix and a surprising nod to the role of women in what’s otherwise a boys’ club. This then segues us into the world of Sugar Rush (think “Mario Kart” suffering from a sugar high), a car-racing game so unbelievably saccharin you may comatose. But please don’t until you’ve met the little hellion that is Vanellope von Schweetz (channeling the hilarious Sarah Silverman). A brat with a sharp tongue, Vanellope serves as Ralph’s obvious sidekick. The setback? She’s a “glitch”: as in a glitchy program. Her disability causes her to be ostracized by her fellow racers and the land’s king.
As per Disney standard, they embark on a quest not so much to be the best, but simply to be recognized for who they are. And, this being Disney, the chances of that happening should be obvious. But the journey is endearing on a truly surprising level, thanks in large part to the emotive connections the audience makes with both Ralph and Vanellope.
“Wreck-It Ralph,” for all its cookie-cutter-ness, makes it mark on the animation/video game blend with hero-like aim. Maybe Ralph remembered to use up up, down down, left right, left right, B, A.
Four wrecking stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.