“Wreck-It Ralph” has the most likable main character in any video-game movie ever.
Hollywood has never had much luck at adapting video games for the big screen. Games like “Super Mario Bros.” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” are fun and engaging to play, but when turned into live-action movies they're flat and uninteresting. Movies that are set in the gaming world but aren't necessarily based on a video-game source have fared much better. I'm particularly nostalgic for '80s movies about gamers like “The Wizard” and “Cloak & Dagger”.
Disney's “Wreck-It Ralph” offers the best of both worlds. It isn't based on any single game, so it's free to create its own video-game characters and settings, while also including cameo appearances by licensed characters that gamers will get a big kick out of. Using computer animation, the filmmakers have cleverly recreated the visuals of each gaming system, including Nintendo's old-school 8-bit system as well as the high-definition look of today's games.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that “Wreck-It Ralph” has the most likable main character in any video-game movie ever. Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is a good, big-hearted guy who's been miscast as the bad guy in an arcade game called “Fix-It Felix”. After a long day's work of trying to wreck an apartment building with his fists, Ralph spends his nights alone sleeping on a pile of rocks. One night, he crashes a party thrown by the other characters in his game. He fails to ingratiate himself with the others, who say he would have to win a gold medal like Felix to be welcomed.
Ralph travels to other video games in search of a medal. I wasn't sure how this would make sense when I saw the trailer, but director Rich Moore and his screenwriters have come up with an ingenious idea. The movie takes place entirely within Litwak's Arcade, and the characters are free to move around after the arcade shuts down for the night. As in “Toy Story”, all kinds of adventures can happen when humans aren't looking.
While the set-up is solid, the movie is densely plotted, introducing perhaps a few too many obstacles for Ralph on his journey. (It feels a tad overlong at an hour and 48 minutes.) What makes it appealing are the characters. Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) is a hilarious do-gooder, while Jane Lynch kicks major butt as the heroine of a first-person shooter called “Hero's Duty”, which appears to take place on a foreign planet overrun by giant bugs, like “Starship Troopers”.
The best scenes are between Ralph and Venelope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a pint-sized race-car driver in a candy-colored game called “Sugar Rush”. Silverman's comic persona – adorable girl with a juvenile sense of humor – has been preserved for the movie, and she and Reilly have great chemistry. They get the film's funniest lines. Venelope: “Why are your hands so freakishly big?” Ralph: “I don't know. Why are you so freakishly annoying?”
As someone who spent countless hours as a kid playing Nintendo and blowing dust out of game cartridges till I was blue in the face, I enjoyed spotting the many references to other games in “Wreck-It Ralph”. A scene where Ralph goes to a support group for villains is especially amusing, featuring cameos by Bowser from “Super Mario Bros.” and Doctor Eggman from “Sonic the Hedgehog”. Even if you're not old enough to spot the references, “Wreck-It Ralph” is fun for all ages – though, I should note, it has the scariest climax in a Disney movie since Ursula grew into a giant monster at the end of “The Little Mermaid”. Despite a few story hiccups, the movie has real heart. It easily earns a gold medal.
“Wreck-It Ralph” will be playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Showtime is 7:30pm on Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. Tickets are $6.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. The arcade game he remembers most fondly is “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. He lives in Wichita.