I could tell Wreck-It Ralph would be a great deal of fun roughly thirty seconds after it began – and at that point, I was still watching the opening logos. There are two in total. The first is for Walt Disney Pictures, in which an aerial shot reveals Tinkerbell using her magic to form an arch over the trademark castle, all while the orchestra performs a triumphant rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” It looks and sounds exactly the same as it always does. The second is for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Normally, we would see flipbook pages forming the image of Mickey Mouse as he appeared in Steamboat Willie; in this case, we see a pixilated image made to resemble a screenshot from an eight-bit video game, and instead of Mickey whistling, we hear electronic beeps and boops.
In the same vein as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, this movie is a fun nostalgic journey that transported me back to my childhood summer days, a period when I still actively played video games. Better still, it’s a delightful fantasy adventure that tells an engaging story, is filled with funny and identifiable characters, and is a sumptuous visual feast. It seems we’re always being given something interesting to look at, and this is in spite of the picture-dimming process of 3D. On the one hand, I can see why it was applied to this film; the worlds that have been created are so impeccably rendered that audiences deserve to feel immersed in them. On the other hand, it occasionally contradicts the innate flatness of eight-bit games, which have by now achieved a shabby charm of their own.
Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is a hulking, barefoot brute and the designated villain of a thirty-year-old arcade game. Day after day, he’s required to destroy a brick apartment complex and then get beaten by the hero, Fix-It Felix, Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer), a handyman. Ralph is tired of being a bad guy, of having to sleep in a dump made of thousands of bricks and never being invited to parties in the apartment complex. Determined to win a medal, he leaves his game via a power cord, transfers to a central hub, and sneaks into a modern-day war game called Hero’s Duty, where futuristic soldiers shoot gigantic alien bugs. This is where he’s confronted by Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), a tough-talking space marine who was programmed with the most tragic backstory such a game allows for.
After collecting the game’s prize medal, Ralph escapes with the help of a space pod and crash-lands in the middle of a cart-racing video game called Sugar Rush, which is set in a confectionary wonderland of candy and cupcakes. One of the characters, a pint-sized girl with an attitude named Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), has been ostracized by the community for occasionally pixelating and has been nicknamed The Glitch. Although she and Ralph don’t get along at first, the two eventually realize they’re a lot alike and join ranks. Ralph takes it upon himself to prepare Vanellope for the big race, which she believes will win her back the respect she lost. Meanwhile, we meet the Candy King (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a cross between Willy Wonka and Ed Wynn’s version of the Mad Hatter, who has his own evil plot brewing.
Ralph’s disappearance hasn’t gone unnoticed by the characters in his game, nor by the kids who play it or the adults who run the arcade. The game is put out of order, which doesn’t bode well; the longer a game remains inoperative, the better the chances of it being permanently unplugged, which would leave dozens of characters homeless. Felix goes on a desperate search for Ralph. Along the way, he teams up with Calhoun – and immediately falls in love with her. They both discover that one of the alien insects from Hero’s Duty followed Ralph into Sugar Rush and has laid countless eggs in an underground cavern. This species, which has the ability to take on the physical characteristics of whatever it eats, will undoubtedly spell certain doom for the characters of Sugar Rush if someone doesn’t save the day.
I have no doubt that both audiences both young and old will get a kick out of Wreck-It Ralph. However, it will be for very different reasons. Children will enjoy the humor, the bright colors, and the wonderful characters, and they may even learn a thing or two about self acceptance and heroism. The adult response will be much more nostalgic, as the film is loaded with classic video game references. These would include cameo appearances by Sonic the Hedgehog, Q*bert, Zangief, M. Bison, Dr. Eggman, Bowser, Clyde, and Pac-Man, with a verbal nod to Mario. They’re also sure to appreciate the fact that all of the above-mentioned villains take part in bad guy group therapy, which regularly convenes in the rectangle at the center of the Pac-Man game screen.