Film Review | Wreck-It Ralph

It may not be Up or Toy Story 3, but Dreamworks’s video game-inspired 3D cartoon is a high-energy adventure that’ll go down a treat with nostalgic arcade-gamers.

Hands on: John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman voice the leads in Wreck-It Ralph: an animated romp marinated in video game lore.
Hands on: John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman voice the leads in Wreck-It Ralph: an animated romp marinated in video game lore.

While talk of the Oscar winners is bound to dominate any discussion of late, there should always be space in anyone's film schedule for a light-hearted animated romp with a cross-generational appeal of the likes of Dreamworks's long-awaited (in Europe, anyway) Wreck-It Ralph.

Between stories of old people dying (Amour), austere history lessons (Lincoln) and mental illness dramedies (Silver Linings Playbook), I think we all deserve a colourful jolt of fun to carry us through the final days of winter... and this video-game-inspired shaggy dog story does exactly that.

The titular protagonist to Rich Moore's debut 3D animation feature (the director is a Simpsons veteran) is the 'baddie' in a decidedly retro arcade video game - think of the original Donkey Kong, those of you who can remember.

Ralph's task (he is voiced by John C. Reilly) is to routinely wreck an apartment block while his antagonist, the good guy Fix it Felix (Jack McBrayer) - operated by players in the 'real world' - cleans up his mess.

At the end of every game, Ralph is dumped from the apartment block roof by its angry residents, returning to the dump he calls a home to fall asleep and resume his thankless job the next day (it's literally a dump: he uses a pile of bricks and rubble as a blanket).

Depressed about his station in life - he visits a super-villain support group populated by some very familiar faces from video game lore - Ralph decides to make the bold move to 'game jump' (read: 'illegally' emigrate from his game to another).

Expecting this to be his ticket to freedom, Ralph however ends up in the high-octane world of Hero's Duty; a first-person shooter manned by the butch military lieutenant Calhoun (Glee's Jane Lynch) whose mission is to keep an infestation of viral alien monsters at bay. Barely managing to emerge from his first foray into bug-hunting alive, Ralph steals a medal from the 'boss level' of Hero's Duty, to show off to his fellow game characters back home.

Things, however, don't run as smoothly as Ralph had hoped, and instead of simply returning home Ralph ends up in 'Sugar Rush' - a confectionery-themed go-karting game where the saccharine but nefarious King Candy (Alan Tudyk) holds sway. There he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and after a fumbling altercation on candy-branches, the two become fast friends.

Because as it turns out, both Ralph and Van are outsiders. Though she wants to participate in the Sugar Rush go-karting competition, the eccentric Van is not just quirky by nature: she is 'glitchy' - meaning that she's a defective video game character who can't be trusted not to toggle in and out of the game in uncontrollable fits.

Concocting a plan to get in on King Candy's great race, the two team up, each for their own reasons... but an alien bug Ralph inadvertently brought over from Hero's Duty threatens to turn things upside down - though the havoc wreaked by this beast will be nothing when compared to the secret machinations of King Candy.

As tends to be the case with animation from the Dreamworks stable - as opposed to their more placid Pixar counterparts - the going is chaotic, and it doesn't let up. It's a good job then, that Wreck-It Ralph doesn't feel lazily slapdash or just thrown together. The cast has a lot to do with this. Reilly - who also helped put together the story - transports his trademark defeated characters into animated mode and it really works (at its best it's akin to the shrewd downbeat domestic comedy of Fantastic Mr Fox); and risqué comedienne Sarah Silverman imbues Van with a jumpy quirkiness that could have been grating but is instead endearing.

But the real pull of 'Ralph' is, of course, the fact that it's deeply marinated in the 80s/90s videogame milieu which is instantly recognisable to my generation in particular. The fear is, of course, that the rich array of references distracts from the story... and this is partly the case. For all its dizzying colour and boundless energy, 'Ralph' feels like it's being formed just as we're watching it - as if the next scene is 'loading' while the current one is underway. And whereas we tend to rely on 3D animated features to deliver hard-to-fault themes of underdogs quashing their demons and coming up tops, there is something deeply muddled about the double-resolution to Ralph and Van's journey.

Okay, so it's not Up or Toy Story 3. But for all its contrived dazzle and indulgent winks to video game properties, there's a beating heart at the centre of Moore's film: and it's as warm and fuzzy as its protagonist is, on the inside.

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