Release date: November 2, 2012
Directed by: Rich Moore
Screenplay by: Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnson
Voice Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch
Rating: PG; Running Time: 93 minutes
Sugar Rush is one of the four locales inside the arcade world of Wreck-It Ralph. But after the younger audience views a few minutes of this cake ‘n’ cookie carbo creation, the happy sappy energy that surges through children, a sugar rush if you will, is likely to disappear faster than hunks of cotton candy melting in their undersized mouths. Seemingly targeted to 8-year-old girls who love My Little Pony, Disney princesses and all things pink, the movie may not be able to hold the attention of their 8-year-old male compatriots. While the boys will scream with laughter at the many scatological jokes in “Hero’s Duty” (repeatedly capitalizing on the wordplay of “doody”), that may be the sole appeal. As for the adult audience … other than those Peter Pans who wax nostalgic for the ’80s arcadia of Pac Man and Donkey Kong, it’s “Game Over.”
Similar to Donkey Kong, Wreck-It Ralph is an ’80s-era arcade game, replete with lego-like blocks of color moving in staccato rhythms on a grid. Consigned to the role of the antagonist within the game for 30 years, the plus-sized Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has had his fill of the whole “bad guy” vibe. As his name aptly describes, Wreck-It Ralph is doomed to tear things down while the game’s protagonist, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), rebuilds the destruction back in a jiffy. Alienated from the other denizens of the community of Niceland, Ralph is ostracized, consigned to sleep on a dump heap made of bricks. If only he could prove himself a hero, maybe things could change.
Armed with resolve, Ralph’s odyssey starts with his visit to the modern, first-shooter game of Hero’s Duty. It’s military sci-fi all the way, with virulent Cy-Bugs getting blasted by platoons of soldiers who, in turn, take their marching orders from the oh-so-strict and sexy Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch). Moving on to the all-game connecting terminal of Game Central Station (a wondrous reworking of New York’s Grand Central Station, with beautifully rendered shafts of light illuminating the whole), Ralph stumbles into the above-mentioned Sugar Rush. A visual treat to be sure, this ’90s anime-meets-Candyland cart-racing game is centered around a glitchy misfit named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). She explains that her pixelation glitch is out of her control, stating “I’ve got pix-lexia.” The two outcasts align, hoping to help each other achieve happier lives within their respective worlds.
Disney can dress it up, take it out to the arcade and plug it full of quarters … but at the end of the cord, Wreck-It Ralph is a simple I-gotta-be-me story, with a dull plot and fairly tepid characters. John C. Reilly gives Ralph some lunkhead charm, while Silverman – adopting a high-pitched whispery baby voice – gives the winsome young Vanellope an extra coating of cute. McBrayer’s chirpy Fix-It Felix, Jr. is a lucky little fellow who, having inherited his daddy’s magic hammer, appears as an upbeat, albeit self-entitled, prig. Which leaves Lynch’s tough-talking, supercharged hot mama Sergeant Calhoun: Sporting massive breast-plated breasts, a tiny waist and bed-tousled hair, the character looks like she got lost on her S&M way to the porn version of this film. (Think some XXX creation with a rude parodied title such as, um, Erect-It, Ralph.)
Embedded in this wan tale was a delightful idea of combining the elements of multiple games, styles and characters, turning the piece into one crazy quilt of arcadia. And it works in the two visits to the support group Bad-Anon, in which evil dudes from many sectors of the video world gather to discuss, grumble and intone their affirmation. “I’m bad … and that’s good.” Look for characters from such games as Q*Bert, Street Fighter, Altered Beast, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac Man. But given that the majority of the film is set in only two worlds — the blocky Wreck-It Ralph and the pep-topian Sugar Rush (with a quick side trip to Hero’s Duty) — the film, 3D or no, is surprisingly flat.
Prior to Wreck-It Ralph, the movie houses will screen a 7-minute Disney short entitled Paperman (directed by John Kars, written by Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer). With its delicate shades of black, white and grey, and its mix of CG and hand drawn animation, this exquisite chance encounter is set in mid-20th century NYC. A blend of humor, heart and whimsy, a young man defies the odds and tries to win the affection of a young woman he’s only met for an instant. The style is minimalist; the dialogue is non-existent. And yet, in these 7 minutes, we enjoy a perfect story.
For all its sound and noise and color, Wreck-It Ralph comes in a poor second.
Rating on a scale of 5 victims of Grand Theft Auto: 2