People watch movies, indulge in television and play video games to be transported to another world for a brief period of time. Video games, in particular, seem to come more alive due to the fact that they allow you to live in that world and control the characters in it. While movies and television are a passive viewing experience, video games are active and give the illusion that what you’re doing matters, that your actions have a ripple effect on the digital world you’ve been placed in. But what if that wasn’t an illusion? What if, when the games were shut off and the players were elsewhere, the characters lived their own lives and experiences? That’s the premise of Wreck-It Ralph and it’s great, the first movie since Toy Story to truly tap into the imagination of what it’s like to be a kid, when everything you wanted to be real was if you believed it hard enough. Wreck-It Ralph strips away the cynicism of adulthood and it’s an utter delight, especially if you’re a gamer.
Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the “bad guy” of his arcade game, Fix-It Felix, Jr. His job is to destroy the building onscreen and prevent the hero, Fix-It Felix himself (Jack McBrayer), from fixing it and earning a medal. His code dictates his in-game actions and he is forced to be the bad guy, so he’s an outcast and sleeps at a nearby dump at night while the rest of the game characters live together in their cozy apartments. He’s tired of being the bad guy, though, and decides he wants to earn a medal himself, so he travels outside of his game to the central hub (the surge protector where all the arcade machine power cords meet). Once there, he stumbles his way into a couple other games, including “Sugar Rush,” a cute racing game that takes place in a world made of sweets. There he meets a glitch in the game named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who isn’t allowed to race in the game because if the gamers see her glitch, they may notify the arcade owner who will decide the game is broken and unplug it, putting all the inhabitants of the game homeless, except for Vanellope who, because glitches can’t leave their game, will die with it.
Though vibrant, colorful and targeted at kids, Wreck-It Ralph is just as accessible to the older crowds; more specifically, seasoned gamers. If you’re a child of the 80’s and grew up with Nintendo, you’ll adore the little touches that the filmmakers, who are all clearly avid gamers, threw in. Jumps are followed by a Super Mario-esque sound effect, 8-bit worlds are populated by trees that are little more than square blocks and the characters, at least the minor ones, are jaggedly animated due to their 8-bit limitations. These touches are brilliant and really bring these video game worlds to life.
Expectedly, video game references, both subtle and obvious, are thrown in the film for gamers to spot. An early scene where all the bad guys have gathered together to discuss their evilness is ripe with them. The group includes Bowser from the Super Mario series, Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman as I suppose he is now called) from the Sonic series, Zangief from Street Fighter, a Pac-Man ghost and even a character who looks suspiciously like Kano from Mortal Kombat, who proceeds to perform a Fatality onscreen and rip a nearby zombie's heart out. When this meeting is over and they head back out to the central hub after navigating their way out of the Pac-Man game—the meeting took place in the center rectangle where the ghosts originate from—they find the long forgotten Q*bert sitting outside begging for help with a sign that says "Game unplugged." Even Sonic's there doing his usual do-gooder shtick, performing what can only be described as a PSA for the rest of the video game characters, informing them that if they die outside their game, they die for good.
Eventually, Ralph makes his way to the bar to drown his sorrows. The bar, of course, is the classic arcade game Tapper and you get to watch as the bartender runs up and down sliding beverages to his quickly approaching patrons. On top of all this, you'll see references to Mario Kart, Metal Gear Solid and even the famous Konami code, which is guaranteed to impress the gamers in the audience. These references disappointingly dissipate as the film goes on, though it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The story is imaginative and warm and the characters are lovable thanks to some top notch voice acting from the game cast, particularly Silverman who once again proves how spot on her comedic timing is.
This is a good thing because it gives those who aren't gaming savvy something to latch onto. Not once will a viewer feel like they're being neglected or left in the dark because of their lack of gaming knowledge. Even with all the clever nods to some of gaming's most iconic franchises, the central story is the heart and soul of the movie and you'll be surprised by how invested you've become by the end. Whether you've played zero video games or thousands, Wreck-It Ralph is worth your time.
Wreck-It Ralph receives 4/5