After a stomping success in the States, this witty retro gaming homage is the first bow in the Disney Animation Studios’ arrow to be as ardent and artistically ballsy as the work from those neighboring Pixar bigwigs.
John C. Reilly heads a staggeringly good voice cast as the eponymous Ralph, an oafish behemoth who has spent the last thirty years as a bad guy in an old fashioned arcade video game. His daily routine sees him having to smash up an apartment building, only to find goody-goody superbuilder Fix-It Felix (voiced by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer) come whizzing in to repair the damage. An outcast amongst the rest of the game’s characters, Ralph sits in on existential Bad Guy group counselling classes. While he may have friends in fellow heels Dr. Robotnik and Bowser, Ralph wishes that he could give up on the villain’s life entirely and switch over to the light side. On a pursuit to prove his valor, he wanders across various gaming platforms on the hunt for a honorary golden medallion, which sees him taking orders from bossy Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) in a Halo style shoot-em-up; to meeting kindred spirit Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a lost little girl stuck inside a sickly sweet K-pop parody racing game called Sugar Rush.
If, like me, you spent many rainy day hours festering in front of a gaming console, you will simply adore this film. The first twenty minutes are brimming with nudging sight gags that pay homage to old greats like Space Invaders and Sonic. Directed and co-written by Rich Moore (The Simpsons, Futurama), Wreck-It Ralph successfully adopts the Toy Story model by being genuinely universal; entertaining both for the nostalgic Generation X adult audiences and their iPad wielding children. It’s artistically ambitious too, embracing the old fashioned, staccato movements of 8-bit arcade games in one scene, and then moving to contemporary, HD fluidity in the next. Equal parts traditional and transgressive, it means that the impressive 3-D rendering benefits the story, rather than impinges it.
Another huge achievement is in the pitch-perfect casting. Reilly is sublime as the downbeat hero at the heart of the film, perfectly complemented by Silverman’s shrill as precocious girl-racer Vanellope. Fans of the recently terminated NBC series 30 Rock will cherish hearing McBrayer going full-on Kenneth mode as the ebullient, Super Mario styled Felix, and Lynch, well, Lynch is always fantastic, isn’t she?
It won’t turn you into a blubbering mess like the regular gushing Pixar fare, and the story of heroism and friendship is hardly revolutionary, but Wreck-It Ralph is a defiant and highly entertaining passion project. Similarly to Sony’s fantastic Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Disney have created a CGI animation feature which will eventually become known as a retro cult-classic.
PS – Alongside watching the film, take a look at this wonderful long-read from The Verge on the life and death of the American Arcade.