Going in to Wreck it Ralph, I was expecting it to be nothing but Toy Story, but with video games. I would have been perfectly satisfied with that; Toy Story is great and even a crude facsimile would likely be worth watching. For the first fifteen or so minutes, my supposition seemed like it was correct. On top of a healthy dose of video game allusions, it set up a world for arcade games that was not unlike Toy Story’s world of for toys. After that, though, Wreck it Ralph surprised me by being its own thing and by being pretty darn excellent to boot.
First, the loads of video game references made it easy for this movie to endear itself to me. I love video games, especially old video games. By filling it with imagery from those games it drew me in. The Donkey Kong like Fix it Felix Jr looks like a really fun arcade game. The jerky, simple animation of the characters from that game was really neat. I just loved the setting of the film. However, had they been just empty video game references, I would probably not have enjoyed it as much. Fortunately, the references serve the story instead of the story serving as a vehicle for the references. That is why most of them went away after the first few minutes. The movie needed to set up the world in the arcade, and the best way to do that was with recognizable characters. It is a short hand to help viewers identify with Ralph and Felix. Ralph is like Bowser, Zangief and the Ghosts in that he is a villain, but that is the role he plays, not who he is. After we have been eased into the world of Wreck it Ralph, the familiar characters are no longer needed, so they go away. They are used just enough to make old arcade lovers happy and to set up the story, but then disappear instead of overstaying their welcome.
While the story of Wreck it Ralph is a pretty standard hero’s journey, the characters are great. Ralph and Felix are a great Mario Donkey Kong stand in pair, with believable lives and problems. Calhoun’s overwrought similes are a riot, and she is suitably out of place in all the places that aren’t her game. King Candy is (spoilers) one of the best Disney villains in a long time, both hilarious and menacing. And Vanellope is perfectly grating. She is annoying, but just the amount she is supposed to be. She annoys Ralph, and the audience so they can feel Ralph’s annoyance, but usually characters like that go overboard into unlikable little goblins. Vanellope, though, is sympathetic even before the bullying scene. The movie really soars on how strong a character Ralph is. His goal is simple but nearly universal, especially with youngsters. He wants to belong. He wants to be invited to the party, to be recognized for his talents. He isn’t really a gentle giant, because he is prone to outbursts of anger and Hulk-like smashing, but he tries to be better. Unfortunately, he is Wreck it Ralph, he wrecks things.
Wreck it Ralph is one of the best animated movies I’ve seen in years. Easily the best one since Toy Story 3. I didn’t even go into how great the candy jokes from Sugar Rush were. This movie hits like the great Pixar movies, in that it is fun for both kids and adults. It doesn’t talk down to kids or over their heads, but it still retains plenty for older viewers to enjoy. I hoped it would be good, but I didn’t really expect it to be great. Wreck it Ralph was great.