Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) attends a "Bad-Anon" meeting in "Wreck-It Ralph"
It's not easy being 9 feet tall and 643 pounds. And that's not even the hardest part about being "Wreck-It Ralph," the leading character of Walt Disney Animation's 52nd feature.
The hardest part is being an arcade-game "bad guy," a professional wrecker tasked with endlessly destroying "Niceland" while heroic Fix-It Felix Jr. saves the day. After decades of knowing his role and dutifully playing it, Ralph (John C. Reilly) has begun to want more out of life, such as it is for an 8-bit video-game character. He attends a "Bad-Anon" meeting with the likes of Clyde the Ghost from "Pac-Man" and Bowser from "Super Mario Bros.," but no one tells him what he wants to hear: that he could be a hero, that he could dare to be liked.
And so Ralph goes off the reservation, doing the unthinkable by leaving his game. When this very model of a 1980s clumsy oaf gets wind of a hero-certifying gold medal in neighboring arcade game "Hero's Duty" (a modern first-person shooter), Ralph sets off on his own hero's journey. In his absence, Ralph threatens the world of "Fix-It Felix" with the undiscovered country from where no traveler returns: "Out of Order."
Circumstances eventually deposit Ralph into a third arcade game for the lion's share of the picture. This is "Sugar Rush," an anime-inflected candy-land kart-racing game, and it's home to the annoyingly adorable (or is that adorably annoying?) Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Branded a "glitch" in her game, Vanellope is on her own quest for validation and thus forms an uneasy alliance with Ralph to get her across the game's finish line and allow Ralph passage home.
The misfit odd couple -- he with ham hands and halitosis, she with her jumpiness and histrionic personality disorder -- are comedy gold, given the counterpoint of Reilly's gravelly warmth and Silverman's patented little-girl shtick, here skewing away from social satire and toward the literal.
The fantasy's grounding in real-world concerns (who hasn't felt jealous of others' success? Who hasn't asked, "Is this all there is?") speaks to all ages, and the story's creative path to self-actualization with its zeitgeisty anti-bullying theme and conclusion "There's no one I'd rather be than me" speak eloquently to kids.
Mostly, though, "Wreck-It Ralph" is built for fun, by director Rich Moore (a "Simpsons" veteran) and screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston (Reilly also gets a special story-contributor credit), in its dazzlingly elaborate production design and kinetic 3D action. "Wreck-It Ralph" offers perfect casting (including Jack McBrayer as Fix-It Felix, Jane Lynch as a well-armed warrior, and Alan Tudyk -- riffing on Ed Wynn -- as King Candy), "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"-esque video-game-character cameos, and a cramming of clever comic touches, like the arcade's "Game Central Station," housed within a surge protector (see "Monsters, Inc."'s "Scarefloor"). Save up your quarters, kids: it's worth it!
(Note: "Wreck-It Ralph" comes preceded by a charming, black-and-white animated short, "Paperman," that skillfully blends hand-drawn and CGI techniques to unfold a big-city romance.)
Rated PG for thematic elements and some perilous action. 1 hour, 53 minutes.
- Peter Canavese