You have to appreciate the kind of world that “Wreck It Ralph” creates, paying homage to the vintage video games of the gamer culture, and building on that to introduce some very entertaining characters, with some complex issues about self worth, and what defines them. Though very derivative, “Wreck It Ralph” is a fun movie, especially for an ex-gamer like myself, and the director and writers really keep their target audience in view, while also giving some nods to the folks that grew up with the classics, offering endless Easter Eggs that help flesh out this rather unique tale of a bad guy seeking to show that he’s much more than a destructive force.
John C. Reilly is great as title character Wreck It Ralph, a villain in the popular arcade game “Fix It Felix Jr.” As a character programmed to perpetually battle Felix, he feels under appreciated and misunderstood, especially now that the game is thirty years old and Felix is garnering all the credit. Seeking his own day in the sun, Ralph ventures out in to other games, swearing to claim his own gold medal. While jumping through various worlds, he claims a medal from the first person shooter “Hero’s Duty,” and accidentally crashes in to the world of “Sugar Rush,” a kart racing game. There, he comes across another misunderstood reject, the glitch prone character Vanellope (the hilarious Sarah Silverman), a clever and mischievous young girl who steals Ralph’s medal to compete in the racing game for a trophy and her own form of respect. While there, the aliens from “Hero’s Duty” begin infesting the world, and Ralph figures out how to help Vanellope win the race, and get his medal back.
Meanwhile heroine of “Hero’s Duty” Calhoun is on the hunt for Ralph, along with Fix It Felix Jr., anxiously trying to get Ralph back before their game is unplugged forever. “Wreck It Ralph” is a fun movie, but often tends to lose its focus and meanders, which prevents it from rising above the level of merely a good film. Once Ralph enters “Sugar Rush,” his journey is completely pushed in to the background in favor of Vanellope’s world and her own dilemma about racing, building her own car, and trying to find out why King Candy is trying to keep her from obtaining her goals. A lot of the energy carries over in to Vanellope’s own obstacles, giving the movie the sense that the movie really belongs to Vanellope, while Ralph’s own story was tacked on to appeal more to young boys. For a better portion of the movie, Ralph is merely a supporting character, while Vanellope really claims the film for herself as the heroine and the true protagonist seeking self-worth.
And, while the film itself strives to deliver something of merit to the video gamers of the world that grew up with Dig Dug and QBert, “Wreck It Ralph” is really nothing I haven’t seen before. It’s very much derivative of “Toy Story,” and wears that on its sleeve. I’d consider Rich Moore’s film something of an unofficial iteration and spin off of “Toy Story,” where the more modern youth’s favorite toys were video games, as opposed to space man figures, and dinosaurs. “Wreck It Ralph” even garners the same kind of narrative about self aware entities kept alive in their own meta-world, a misunderstood individual in that world, and a journey that reveals a pair of mismatched characters to bond and transform in to unlikely heroes. As flawed and derivative it may be, “Wreck It Ralph” is still a very fine animated fantasy with a keen sense of creativity and wit that hooks audiences in with engrossing characters, and near endless cameos from video game characters.