Since Toy Story first blew the doors off way back in 1995, the rest of the world has been trying to catch up with the mad geniuses over at Disney/Pixar. Surprisingly, Disney’s own in house studio may be the closest competitor as far as the splendours animation and storytelling are concerned. With movies like Meet The Robinsons, Tangled, and now Wreck It Ralph, Disney has proven surprisingly capable at standing alone in Pixar’s domain. They’re not quite kings again yet, but with Pixar holding court, there’s no shame in second.
Wreck It Ralph stars John C Reilley as the titular hero/bad guy Ralph, the villain of a beloved, Donky Kong-esque Arcade Game called ‘Fix It Felix’. Ralph is a covetous fellow, jealous of the adulation constantly bestowed upon his friend/enemy Felix (an impeccably typecast Jack McBrayer). Ralph resolves to venture out into the complex worlds of other arcade games in order to gain the one item that would prove him a hero worthy of respect and admiration: a medal.
Like Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit before it, Wreck It Ralph pulls back the curtain on an expansive universe right beneath our noses. As children, we were all so certain our toys moved and lived freely when our backs were turned, so sure every cartoon was just a peek into a world just beyond us. When Wreck-It Ralph indulges in the petty minutiae and politics of the arcade, it offers a rich and fully realized reality that you wish was real. Of course classic video game characters like Bowser and Zangief would hang out. Who else out there could possibly share their pain? Sometimes, the greatest premises are the ones that seem so obvious and natural, yet have somehow gone unexplored.
Wreck-It Ralph gets so much right. Its worlds are beautiful and real, new yet instantly familiar. ‘Fix It Felix’ seems like a game that could have taken over the world 25 cents at a time. ‘Sugar Rush’, a cavity enducing sweets-themed Kart Racing game, looks like the new zenith of a genre that has seen infinite variations. Wreck-It Ralph swells with affection and nostalgia for the worlds it’s building, and gamers of all ages should recognize their favourite memories and experiences given new life.
The world and the craft can be magnificent, but it’s the people that give a story life. Where as McBrayer and Reilley play variations on their classic sweet naif and lovable oaf archetypes to much success, the rest of the cast get an opportunity to spread their wings a bit. Jane Lynch is perfect as a gruff, hardened female soldier from a futuristic first person shooter, and Alan Tudyck is delightfully deranged as the maniacal King Candy, ruler of ‘Sugar Rush’ and an inspired mixture halfway between Ed Wynn and Willy Wonka. Yet surprisingly, it’s Sarah Silverman who steals the show in the movie meant for children. She plays Vanellope, a glitchy young outcast of Sugar Rush desperate to overcome a perceived defect and get back into racing.
Silverman’s Vanellope and Reilley’s Ralph end up making the core of the movie, and with them Wreck It Ralph flashes some storytelling sophistication and daring seldom seen in family movies. The script does well to coax some extremely difficult paternal decisions out of Ralph, and the results are really quite moving. For all its magnificent colour and adventure, Wreck-It Ralph’s biggest strength ends up being its startling ability to offer up a genuinely devastating emotional gut punch, and then follow it up with the relief of a well earned catharsis. For all the flash and glitz, it’s the heart that lingers.
Wreck-It Ralph hits DVD and Blu-Ray March 5th.