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The fine folks at Disney Animation are releasing a full-length computer animated cartoon that’s not from the gang at Emoryville, CA (that’s the Luxo lamps at Pixar!). This division has had a few modest hits (BOLT, MEET THE ROBINSONS), but nothing close to the box offices behemoths like UP and the TOY STORY trilogy. But that’s about to change with WRECK-IT RALPH, the new fantasy comedy that’s the feature directing debut of TV toon wiz (“The Simpsons’,”Futurama”) Rich Moore. The film makers have used state of the art tech to tell a familiar cinema story: the bad (or flawed) character that wants to change (think Jeff Bridges in CRAZY HEART). And strange as it may seem, the movie’s sweetly nostalgic! About video arcade games? Well, this year the landmark TRON is 30 years old! The studios have tried to turn these quarter gobblers into features with middling success (SUPER MARO BROTHERS, STREET FIGHTER), but take from a guy who’s given up bags of coins in order to stop a barrel-tossing simian (the title character’s main inspiration), you’ll be mighty entertained (and eager to play again) when this film fantasy ends (or “game over” is reached).

For the last three decades, the game “Fix-It Felix” has been a mainstay at old Mr. Litwak’s (Ed O’Neill) video arcade. On the screen a burly, re-headed hulk named “Wreck-It Ralph’ (John C Reilly) emerges from the junk yard and lumbers over to the nice apartment building to destroy the structure with his massive, pounding fists (after the word balloon stating “I’m gonna’ wreck it!!” appears above his noggin). But the renters need not fear! It’s “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” (Jack McBrayer) to the rescue with his magical repairing hammer. Soon the hero and the grateful residents toss Ralph off the roof and into a big mud puddle. As “game over” flashes in the sky, everyone rushes to reset before the next player drops in their coins. But when Litwak locks up for the night, everyone is free to travel to the power bar and mingle with the casts of other games. At a “bad guy” support group Ralph voices his discontent. The “Felix” crew doesn’t appreciate him. This is (literally) hammered home when Ralph sees them having a party without him. Ralph boasts that he can be a hero and vows to return with a gold medal proving it! He then sneaks into the first-person shooter game “Hero’s Duty” and grabs the gold medal from the final level. In leaving the game , Ralph accidentally brings one of the deadly insectoid villains (think of the bugs in STARSHIP TROOPERS) with him into the game “Sugar Rush”. There Ralph loses the medal and befriends a tough little outcast ( she’s a flickering “glitch”!) named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). In order to get the medal back, Ralph’s got to help the smart-mouthed little tyke win the big go-kart race! Meanwhile Felix joins up with the beautiful, tough “Sgt. Calhoun” (Jane Lynch) to find and destroy that bug and return Ralph! If this were a real arcade game, we’d still have 2 or 3 levels to go!

Moore has some wonderful comedic actors voicing these terrific video denizens. Reilly brings his loveable lug sweetness to the title role. Ralph’s a tad fearsome when he raises those beefy fists, but he’s really an oversize misunderstood kid. Speaking of sweetness Silverman is equal parts sugar and sass as the mischievous moppet racer. After BRAVE, it’s great to see another really strong young girl on screen (I have a feeling she could spin-off to her own film or TV series). Speaking of strong (although older) females, Lynch is outstanding as the hard as nails (but still kinda’ hot) Calhoun. Kind of like Ripley or Sarah Conner, but really, really funny. And funny’s the word for McBrayer’s Felix, especially when he’s smitten with the sexy Sarge! There’s great vocal support from O’Neill, Mindy Kaling, and SERENITY’s Alan Tudyk as the sneaky “King Candy”. The film’s been compared to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? with the cameos from arcade icons (look, there’s Sonic the Hedgehog…and Pac-Man!!) and with a look at their lives out of the gameplay (like how everybody hangs out in ROGER’s Toontown). But I think it may owe more than a bit to TOY STORY with everyone coming to life once the humans leave and the arcade’s closed down. The design work is exquisite ( those candy colors really pop!) and the character design is expressive and simple. The film’s presented in 3D, but I think the images would be just as impressive in regular two dimensions. And there’s a delightful short, PAPERMAN, included with RALPH. It’s a sweet little  (mostly) black and white urban love story set in the late 40’s or so, that combines classic hand drawn animation with CGI effects. It’s a delight! But then, so is the main feature. Kudos to Moore and all involved for a witty, action-packed fun popcorn flick that’s truly for all ages! “Play Again?” If the same team wants to return with another tale of Ralph, Vanellope, and this colorful crew, then I’ll gladly hit the dollar changers! Game on!

4.5 Out of 5


Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

1 Comment

  1. Gwen

    November 2, 2012 at 9:14 pm


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