The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses the latest Disney animated film: Wreck-It Ralph.
In the virtual world of video games, a disgruntled, brutish villain leaves his game seeking redemption and helps a “glitchy” little girl in another game.
It’s ironic that, in the world of hyper-realistic CGI animated films, the more three-dimensional the characters look, the flatter and less involving they actually are. Not so in Wreck-It Ralph, the sweetest and most emotional Disney Animation film since Lilo and Stitch a decade ago. Here Disney has shamelessly stolen the secret weapons that have made most of the Pixar films so memorable: rich characters and deeply involving story arcs. Though this might look like a silly, noisy, boy-targeted action fest, it’s a fascinating and even tear-inducing saga of a virtual plaything who’s tired of his predictable role. Think Toy Story set in the video-game world and you’ll get an idea of where this is going.
Our heart goes out to Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) right from the film’s opening. He’s the building-smashing, ham-fisted heavy in an 80s-style arcade game known as Fix-It Felix Jr. Every day, all day, Ralph wrecks an apartment building and Felix (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer) fixes it. As we move into the “real world” inside the game, we encounter Ralph’s isolation and disappointment at not being accepted by the apartment dwellers whose building he ruins. He wants to be a good guy, with a medal of heroism like the one Felix wins every single day.
So he escapes from his game via the power cable and winds up in a ridiculous new world called Sugar Rush—a kart-racing game for girls set in a magical candy kingdom. He encounters spunky Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a sassy little charmer who can’t get into the big kart race: her glitchy programming is deemed too dangerous for human players, lest the arcade console go out of order. Meanwhile, since his game doesn’t work without a villain, Felix searches for Ralph, enlisting the help of Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a tough female “sarge” from a first-person shooter. While these two try to thwart an attack on Sugar Rush from a horde of viral “cybugs,” Ralph helps Vanellope build her own racer—and uncover her own long-hidden destiny.
As in Toy Story, the film is rich with pop-culture nostalgia, featuring characters from classic games like Pac-Man, Q-Bert, Super Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog, and so on. But the film never loses sight of its main goal: to dramatize Ralph’s valiant quest towards self-understanding (and soon, Vanellope’s too). How can you possibly do the right thing when you’re programmed to do wrong, and are built with fists bigger than your head? In his Bad-Anon group, Ralph recites a Bad Guy’s pledge: “I am bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.” He repeats it at the end of the film as if really understanding it for the first time.
Wreck-it Ralph’s game-world concept is clever and well thought-out, the visuals are dazzling (the Sugar Rush world really does look good enough to eat), and Ralph and Vanellope’s “buddy” friendship is heartwarming. Even if you’re not into (or just plain over) animated films, this is one to make an exception for, with characters so three-dimensional you won’t need special glasses to enjoy them.
Wreck-It Ralph is rated PG and now playing in theaters nationwide.