Wreck-It Ralph is a colourful and entertaining Disney project that starts strong but runs out of steam as it progresses. Directed by Rich Moore, the 2012 animated feature sort of feels like Toy Story for the video game set. It’s a mostly loving homage to arcade games and older video games, setting up a world that runs through the cords and video game system at Litwak’s Arcade.
This is the 52nd animated feature among the Walt Disney Animated Classics collection. It was actually in development since the 80s, then saw rebirth in the next decade only to be shelved again. There’s little doubting the fact that opening things up to the video game world makes good cinematic sense, as the possibilities are nearly endless. Somehow, however, Wreck-It Ralph still feels somewhat small.
The movie introduces us to the world of Litwak’s Arcade, where the video game characters roam free when the place closes at night. They are free to move to other games, visit friends and throw parties. They even go to the bar. We meet Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), he of the “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” video game. He is the bad guy; he ruins buildings and the game’s hero (Jack McBrayer) fixes them with a smile.
Ralph gets fed up with the unrewarding job of being a bad guy and runs away to join the first-person shooter game “Hero’s Duty.” The idea is to get a medal so that the folks in his own game will respect him. This leads to a series of events that somehow finds Ralph inside the racing game “Sugar Rush” and locked in a plot that involves a “glitch” (Sarah Silverman) who leads Ralph to discover that he can be a bad guy without being a bad guy.
On paper, a lot of Wreck-It Ralph is convoluted and opportunistic. There are plenty of product placements, including the Mentos-brand stalactites and Nesquik chocolate powder that doubles as quicksand. Don’t even get me started on the odd and unnecessary Subway spot. The video game cameos, featuring a funny Bowser from the “Mario Bros.” universe and Sonic the Hedgehog, are not nearly as intolerable and add a layer of “realism” to the flick.
It’s hard to argue that Wreck-It Ralph is all that original a tale or that it takes the coolest road to get to its unavoidable conclusion. For all the good it does in the first few sequences, which include a side-splitting support group scene with some video game heavies, it seems to unstitch bit by bit (pun intended) as it starts to spend more time in “Sugar Rush.”
Yes, there are some nice touches. Check out how Clyde (Kevin Deters) from “Pac-Man” moves at the support group meeting, for instance. There are also some nice details in “Fix-It Felix, Jr.,” a fun-looking game that seems a little like “Rampage,” and the characters in the universe. I may be in the minority, but I wouldn’t mind a whole film involving the Nicelanders and a couple root beers from “Tapper.”
As it is, Wreck-It Ralph is upbeat, lively, fast-paced, sometimes witty, and generally amusing. There’s some sort of plot about accepting your faults and being who you are, but it’s all pretty rudimentary stuff. The animation is decent, although it doesn’t push the bar at all, and the voice-acting is pretty ordinary.
Overall, that’s really all there is to say. With animated flicks like ParaNorman presenting glorious stop-motion in 3D and Brave delivering an emotionally mature tale, it’s hard to put Wreck-It Ralph on that level. Not everything has to be reflective, mind you, but it would be nice if the movie’s most lucid points weren’t so contaminated by mechanical action and product placements.