Before I talk about Wreck-It Ralph specifically, I’d like to take a moment to give the bigger picture about video game films. Perhaps the best video game film I ever saw was the mediocre Prince of Persia movie Disney made two years ago.
This is true despite the fact that there exists a Super Mario Brothers movie and a variety of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat movies. Two horror game films (Resident Evil and Silent Hill) were even released just this year.
It hasn’t been good. In fact, if you said the Bloodrayne movies were so terrible that you swore off movies forever after watching them, I would completely understand. I’d pretty much given up that a good movie about video games would ever be made. However, my sadness was totally wrecked by Ralph and his great movie.
Wreck-It Ralph takes a retro approach and goes back to the arcade roots of video games. Given the very not-at-all-Disney-friendly state of video games that currently exists, that is probably for the best. The eponymous Wreck-It Ralph (played by John C. Reilly) is actually the villain of a shameless Donkey Kong knockoff called “Fix-It Felix Jr.”
Ralph gets fed up with being treated terribly by the other characters of his game for doing what he exists to do, and abandons his game to try and be the hero of a different one. Unfortunately, a game cannot function without a villain, and so Fix-It Felix (played by Jack McBrayer) follows after Ralph to try and bring him back.
The story really gets going after Ralph accidentally stumbles into “Hero’s Duty,” a shooting game based off a mixture of Call of Duty and Starship Troopers, and then into “Sugar Rush,” a racing game that looks a lot like Mario Kart. The majority of the film takes place in “Sugar Rush” and it is in this game that Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz (played by Sarah Silverman).
Vanellope is a glitch character that dreams of one day being the star of the game. They don’t particularly care for each other at first, but pretty soon Ralph and Vanellope learn that only by helping each other can they both get what they want.
To begin with, Wreck-It Ralph correctly assumes that a good video game movie must not be about video games. For example, the movie pretty much only takes place in “Sugar Rush.” Ralph only ever goes to other games early in the film for important spoilery reasons I won’t discuss.
There are a lot of video game jokes and characters, but they involve popular things like Sonic the Hedgehog or Q-bert. The really obscure video game gags are usually in the background or mentioned quickly. There are actually more references to candy than video games. “Sugar Rush” is full of Oreos, Jawbreakers, Devil Dogs, Nesquick, Laffy Taffy, and a ton of other name brand sweets Disney wants kids to buy. You don’t have to know a lot about video games to enjoy Wreck-It Ralph.
The two main characters, Ralph and Vanellope, are meant to appeal to boys and girls, respectively. Ralph can’t avoid breaking things and is on the receiving end of the slapstick humor that young boys enjoy. Vanellope is the source of pretty much all of the surprisingly emotional moments, but is also sassy and determined.
The characters meant to appeal to the older crowd are Fix-It Felix, who is essentially Super Mario in mechanic form, and Sergeant Calhoun, the tough female soldier played by Jane Lynch. McBrayer’s loveably innocent Felix is my favorite character of the film, and Lynch’s Calhoun is a well-thought-out slam of poorly designed female video game characters.
I saw the film in the less expensive two dimensions, but I imagine the fancy three dimensional version is just as good to look at. Each game Ralph visits has its own design that is faithful to the actual games they are based on. Ralph and Felix are cartoon characters with exaggerated features, Calhoun is gritty and superhumanly fit, and Vanellope is an adorable Disney character.
It’s obvious that plenty of love and attention to details went into this, and the crew had respect for the video games whose characters either made cameos or were parodied in the film. The most surprising thing is how emotional this film gets at times. I won’t spoil it, but there are two specific parts in the film that really tug at the heart strings. I suppose it wouldn’t be a real Disney film without them.
I’m so glad that Wreck-It Ralph is a good movie. I would even call it a great one. Even if you don’t know your Pokemon from your Halo, this is money well spent at the theater. Best of all, the kids will love it, too. Not too many actual video games nowadays can honestly say that.