Considering the constantly evolving and increasingly realistic graphics of today’s video games, retro arcade games perhaps don’t seem like the most natural material for a children’s movie. But Disney’s new animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph, clearly isn’t aiming its Pacman and Frogger references at the elementary school demographic.
Director Rich Moore and the rest of the creative team behind the movie seem to have a great affection for the arcade games of the ’80s and ’90s, and they put a lot of effort into capturing the spirit of those fondly remembered games. This attention to detail is just one of the reasons why Wreck-It Ralph will likely appeal to a broader audience than the typical children’s animated film does.
The film is set in the world of a fictional video game called Fix-It Felix Jr., in which our protagonist, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), has only one job: to destroy as many things as possible—which the game’s hero, Felix (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer), then has to fix. However, when Ralph grows tired of being seen as the “bad guy” by the other characters of the game, he decides to leave the game and find a way to repair his own reputation. Wreck-It Ralph follows his journey through several other video game worlds in the hope of becoming a hero.
Moore is a first-time film director, but he’s worked on episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama, and his experience with that brand of humour translates well to the feature-length format. While general enough to appeal to children, a good portion of Wreck-It Ralph’s humour comes from visual gags and references, and the film’s subtle sarcasm sometimes calls to mind Moore’s previous work.
Reilly has proven his knack for comedy with films like Step Brothers, and his lovably gruff demeanour suits the oafish Ralph perfectly. McBrayer, with his bubbly enthusiasm, is also a great choice for the ceaselessly cheerful Felix, while Jane Lynch (Glee) brings her trademark snark to her role as the butt-kicking female lead of a modern first-person shooter video game that Ralph visits.
But even though Wreck-It Ralph has a top-notch comedic cast (which also includes Sarah Silverman and Mindy Kaling) and fantastic visuals, the film pales in comparison to other recent animated films. Other animated flicks like Wall-E and How to Train Your Dragon offered a surprising emotional maturity and pulled on the heartstrings of viewers of all ages. Wreck-It Ralph offers a nice message about being true to yourself and accepting others, but it’s a more standard kids’ film, and it hits its emotional notes with much less subtlety and depth. The second half of the film is also more plot-driven and conventional than the first half, culminating in a somewhat limp climax.
Wreck-It Ralph is at its best when it’s unabashed by its videogame references, and when it focusses on the comedic interplay between characters. And even though it’s probably not going to go down as one of the classic Disney animated films, it has a rag-tag charm and enthusiasm that makes it difficult not to enjoy. MMM