Release Date: 8th February 2013
Director: Rich Moore
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Jack McBrayer
Three months after it’s US theatrical release, Wreck-It Ralph has finally made its way to the shores of Old Blighty. Whilst Disney Animation Studio’s CGI features often fail to inspire the same feverish hype as an upcoming Pixar release, the studio has seen decent critical success since appointing John Lasseter as Chief Creative Officer back in 2006. This distinctively different tale directed by Rich Moore (The Simpsons, Futurama) is far removed from the usual fairytale affair, trading magic kingdoms for the insides of a dusty arcade, chock-full of classic video games from throughout the years.
At the centre of it all, there’s Ralph (Reilly): reluctant villain of the titular 8-bit platformer who yearns to break free after 30 years in the same job. Shunned by the remaining cast of characters in his game, Ralph seeks out to win a medal and earn the respect of the ‘good guys’ — if only to be treated a little better on his home turf. One medal and a series of unfortunate events later, he finds himself crash-landed in Sugar Rush; a Mario Kart knock-off set in a land of candy so egregiously colourful it would make Willy Wonka blush. Most of the narrative takes place in Sugar Rush, where we are introduced to Vanellope (Silverman): a misunderstood ‘glitch’ who’s as cute as a button, albeit with a voice that could cut through diamond. Both are outsiders, and bond as such, with Ralph slowly developing into a father figure, mentor — and importantly — the ‘good guy’ in her life. D’aww.
Wreck-It Ralph is lovingly rendered, with painful attention to detail paid to every frame of action. The characters animate in a way which maintains the original feel of their respective video games, without coming across as over-the-top or misplaced. Walls are littered with humorous graffiti bound to get a chuckle from the keen-eyed gamers amongst the audience, such as the simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking “Aerith Lives” spotted outside ‘Game Central Station’. Thankfully, these references manage to be consistently tasteful without pandering to the audience, something which would have been particularly easy to do given the breadth of franchises represented on screen: from Sonic to Mortal Kombat, Tapper to Super Mario, and beyond.
Reilly and Silverman’s energetic performances lead the way, backed by a solid supporting cast: Alan Tudyk channels Ed Wynn in bringing the shifty King Candy to life, Jane Lynch’s hard-ass act finds a home with Sgt. Calhoun, and a wholesome Jack McBrayer charms as Felix. There aren’t too many surprises lurking in the screenplay which for the most part plays it safe, although it is refreshing to see Disney stepping slightly out from its comfort zone to dabble in moments of intense action and a couple of emotive sequences — perhaps at the expense of freaking out the pre-school demographic. Although, to be fair, it’s still no Bambi.
Despite the endless narrative potential to be mined from such a simple, inventive premise (and yes, sequel talks are already in progress), Wreck-It Ralph’s biggest success is in knowing when to hone it in. Videogaming is celebrated throughout and those familiar with the material can enjoy an easter egg hunt of content which dresses up the relatable story about two misfits trying to find their place in the world. The unfamiliar need not be turned off, however, as the fuzzy script does not rely on a working knowledge of the Atari 2600 and beyond to appreciate: a refreshing, 21st-century spin on old-school Disney storytelling.