Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Wreck-It Ralph”

“Wreck-It Ralph” is Disney’s newest computer animated movie, spawned out of Walt Disney Animation studios, as opposed to Pixar. Yes, I believe Disney owns Pixar, but there is a difference. Pixar makes Toy Story, and Disney’s last CG movie was, I believe, “Tangled,” which was actually really good. And “Wreck-It Ralph” is certainly no exception to the trend. You can view the trailer here.

The movie takes on a now seemingly archaic concept: Arcade games. In an almost “Tron”-style plot, the main question behind the film’s premise is: What happens to the video game characters when the lights go out at the arcade?

The main character of the film is the titular character, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), the villain of the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. It’s the 30th anniversary of the game, and while Felix (Jack McBrayer) and the residents of the condominium Ralph wrecks during the game are celebrating, Ralph is left at his home, a giant pile of bricks and a tree stump, on the outside looking in. After 30 years of being treated as evil or lesser, being shunned by the other people in his game, Ralph has grown tired of being the bad guy. He wants to be treated like a hero and win a medal, just like Felix.

To do so, Ralph jumps from his game to “Hero’s Duty,” one of the $2, big screen, high-definition first person shooter arcades. Stealing the military suit off of a drunk fellow arcade game character, he sneaks into the game and retrieves a medal. Unfortunately, due to a couple of literal missteps, he ends up careening away through Game Central Station in a rocket, accompanied by a villainous bug from “Hero’s Duty,” finally landing in the childish racing game “Sugar Rush.” There, he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a cute, haphazard and childish character from the game who steals his medal to use as a gold coin and enter the race King Candy (Alan Tudyk) has banned her from entering.

While Ralph is on this adventure, one of the arcade patrons notices the lack of Ralph in the game, and the arcade owner marks it as out of order. Felix, in order to save his game from being unplugged and forcing the residents of the game into homelessness, goes to search for Ralph. He and “Hero’s Duty” commander Calhoun (Jane Lynch) join forces to find Ralph and prevent the bug that escaped from “Hero’s Duty” from breeding and destroying every game in the arcade.

The movie doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table from the point of view of storytelling. It follows the rather typical pattern of good and bad, failure and redemption, the ups and downs of most stories that have been around since the dawn of time. It does, however, carry a far greater emotional punch than I was ever expecting, creating characters that you can really grow to love and care about in a brief amount of time without even noticing you’ve done so.

The film also has a lot of goodies for classic video game fans and classic movie fans. There are a couple of references to classic films, like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars,” but the video game references abound. Somehow, Disney got permission to use many classic characters, like Sonic the Hedgehog, Zangief and M. Bison from “Street Fighter,” Pac-Man and Bowser, all throughout the movie. Even Q*bert and the Pong paddles make appearances. Fortunately, their use of those classic characters never takes away or distracts from the new characters, who should be the focus of the film.

The animation is great, showing a distinct difference between characters from older, 8-bit games and the more fluid motion games. They skip the consistency of the jerky movements for Ralph and Felix, as that would have just been hugely distracting, but it’s some fun flavor added in. For arcade junkies like me, the movie was filled with nostalgia that will likely be lost on most young people today. Arcades have been going out of style as the home entertainment video game consoles have become more and more popular and wide-spread over the years. Still, the movie conveys the feeling of being in an arcade well, whether you’ve been in one or not, and crafts some really entertaining video game worlds in its original video games, especially in “Sugar Rush.”

The movie also starts with an original animated short, like Pixar movies do, though this one is done with hand-drawn animation. It’s called “Paperman,” as I recall, is mostly in black and white and has no speaking during the short. It’s a very sweet little feature, and you should be sure to get to the theater early enough to watch it.

The movie is sweet, uplifting, funny, charming and maybe more emotionally powerful than you’d expect. This has been a rather good year for movies from what I’ve seen, and I really think you should watch this one as soon as you can. I watched mine in 2-D, so I can’t comment on the quality of the 3-D version… But after you see it, maybe go find an arcade that’s still open and play a game. For old time’s sake.

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