Thursday, November 8, 2012


The muscular, joyous and rousing Wreck-It-Ralph feels like something that really came out of nowhere.  A 3-D animated feature that plays on the nostalgic whims of old school arcade games from the old school animation gurus at the Walt Disney Company reads almost like a bad joke or worse a plodding gimmick for further commercialism.  However, due to whatever circumstances, the film, directed by Rich Moore (a Simpsons vet during the prime of the series), is a purely satisfying piece of popcorn fun.  Melded with a heart and a visual scope that absolutely compliments the movies own lived-in universe, it's one of the first Disney animated achievements that comes even close to gold standard set by Pixar Animation Studios.  So much so, that the skill clearly involved in rarely even noticed-- despite some superbly animated sequences-- because the script is so well crafted, the sight gags so spot on and the emotional core (something itself a miracle for a project based on the hard-selling conceit of emotion-less video game characters) so succinct and wondrously crafted.  Wreck-It-Ralph is perhaps the smartest big-budgeted wannabe blockbuster to come out this year.  Not because it wears its heart on its sleeve, but because it does that while calibrating spectacular moments of whimsy, joy and heart with such a buoyancy and charm.  Taking on a formula established by Toy Story, the film has great fun playing with, subverting and employing great arcade characters and composites from the past and present, mixing it with a nimble and sweet story of adventures lived after the children have left.

Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is a old school arcade villain, one of destructive body mass and very large arms.  He's programmed to destroy things-- that's his job.  He goes to town wrecking the fine dwellings of his game's "Fix-It-Felix" Felix (voiced by Jack MacBrayer), while the miracle hero of the game repairs and vanquishes the giant destroyer, earning medals in the process and the praise of his game's citizens.  The game is celebrating it's 30th anniversary, and the fictional "Fix-It-Felix" (inspired by "Donkey Kong") is a lovely amalgamation of the old school video games of yore, what with the crude artwork and awkward body movements.  There's a nostalgic and nearly euphoric charge in the concoction of the characters right off the bat.  What happens however, as the tides of the time drift on, if the baddie Ralph decides he doesn't want to be so bad after all.  After hours, Ralph even goes to neighboring villains support group for console-- the nerds will love the sightings of villains of such games as "Pac Man," "Super Mario Bros." and "Sonic the Hedgehog."  Wreck-It-Ralph makes a wonderfully witty aside to therapeutic seeks for redemption for bad guys-- somewhere there must be read a great treatise to anti-heroics.

The plague of Ralph is the loneliness and isolation of villain-dom.  He sleeps on a pile of rocks, and isn't even invited to the 30th anniversary for "Fix-It-Felix."  He decides, while being egged on, that the road to redemption will come if he wins a medal of his own, becoming the hero he wants to be.  Wreck-It-Ralph works primarily as a classically staged underdog story, a seek for acceptance and need for a sense of belonging.  What differentiates the movie from the thousands of other tales, is not just its unique novelty, but its thoroughly winning sense of humor.  Even in sequences where Ralph is down in the dumps or choral strikes of violins could surely be goaded its audience to mistier eyes, there's a resilient and bright aura of fun instead.  As Ralph leaves his own game in search of a hero-dom, leaving "Fix-It-Felix" and it's fate in doubt, he ventures to the all too modern and scarily high definition realm of a "Hero's Duty," a first person shooter game, headed by a no-nonsense broad (voiced by Jane Lynch), than to the "Candyland"-inspired racing world of "Sugar Rush."  He manages to alter both their worlds.

It's in "Sugar Rush," where the self discovery begins as Ralph meets Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman), a hyper devil of a child who agrees to help, despite carrying a bonding secret of her own.  There's a wonderfully freeing delivery of the sparkly script by the key cast members.  Reilly, through some sort of happenstance, perhaps has never found a role better suited to his gifts of irony, matched with his unique brand of will full corniness and Silverman, here playing a sardonic youth matches him line by line, in a role that matches her childlike cadences but compliments her rougher edginess.  The way Wreck-It-Ralph so ably and succinctly captures the worlds of not just "Fix-It-Felix," "Hero's Duty," "Sugar Rush," but also the real world and real world for our arcade characters in nothing short of astonishing.  All is different, stylistically and thematically, but beautifully melds together and captures the very best and most inventive qualities of both video games and fine film making.

The heart is something that Wreck-It-Ralph couldn't manufacture, but its there in spades as the tender and at times joyously silly story combs back its cleverness and settles in on a purer emotion.  Like the rest of the film, it does so with a rollicking good-natured humor and great sense of play.  In essence, Wreck-It-Ralph plays like one of those games you might play for hours, putting quarter after quarter in.  It's a gas.  A-

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