***A few mild spoilers***
TOY STORY is perhaps the finest example of this swell premise, that, when the lights go out and the humans turn away, inanimate objects achieve a life of their own. And this is why puppets have always scared the crap out of me. WRECK-IT RALPH posits that when Litwak's Arcade shuts down for the day, then it's time for the characters that populate the various video games to let their hair down and mingle at Game Central Station, a communal site linked by interconnected power cables and nexus to all the video games in Litwak's.
"Hey, you moved my stump. I'm gonna wreck it." That's motivation and intent from our main man, Wreck-It Ralph, the villain of an old school game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. Ralph is a big, ungainly guy with massive hands and feet, ideal for demolition. He stands at 9 feet tall and weighs over 600 pounds. If you put a quarter in the slot, he'll wreck the crap out of the Niceland apartment building, except that then the handyman, Fix-It Felix, Jr., repairs everything with a mere touch of his magic hammer.
Sometimes it's rough being the bad guy. When the work day's done, Ralph is still vilified while Felix is feted. While Felix is invited to parties at the Niceland penthouse, Ralph sleeps and sulks in the town's garbage dump. He attends a weekly support group for video game villains and confesses that, after 30 years on the job, he's tired of playing the bad guy, of being unappreciated. And if you've seen the trailer, then you've already grinned at the unsettled reaction from Clyde, the orange Pac-Man ghost. Determined to be a hero, Ralph sneaks into the recently plugged-in, first person shooter game, Hero's Duty. He's heard that Hero's Duty grants a gold medal to the winner. He believes that a medal will shake up the status quo back in Niceland. But things don't go as planned. Ralph isn't prepared for the grit and violence in Hero's Duty. Plus, it's hard to be the hero when all you know is to wreck things. Two other things he didn't think thru. If a character dies outside of the confines of his own game, he won't regenerate. Also, Ralph's absence is noted by the arcade owner who promptly puts the Fix-It Felix game out of order. This spells doom for the residents of Niceland. It's how folks like Q*bert became homeless.
Omigosh, Root Beer Tapper!! WRECK-IT RALPH is the 52nd Disney animated feature film, and this one resurrects your sense of nostalgia, especially if you were a kid of the '80s who spent his or her weeknights and -ends at the local video arcade. A huge chunk of the fun is from trying to catch all the visual references and the gaming injokes. (The sequence with the therapy circle alone is worth the price of admission.) But the film would've gotten tiresome if that's all it was. Thankfully, John C. Reilly, with his likable big lug screen persona, lends a really sympathetic voice as Wreck-It Ralph. The film's emotional core hinges on the unexpected friendship he forms with a misfit child named Vanellope von Schweetz. In the realm of the Sugar Rush kart-racing game, Vanellope is shunned because she's a glitch, an accidental programming. Nevertheless, she yearns to be a racer. She thinks she'll be a good one. She doesn't know how to drive. And now here's Wreck-It Ralph crashlanding into Sugar Rush in an escape pod.
Sarah Silverman, confounding my worst expectations, is endearing (and very sardonic) as Vanellope. Maybe it helped that she and John C. Reilly were now and then allowed to improv their dialogue. If you end up with a lump in your throat and maybe misting up, well, I was close to that. And two other noteworthy voice actors: Jane Lynch as the tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun who tracks a possible threat to Sugar Rush and who also drops some of the film's most colorful quotes and Jack McBrayer who is hilarious as the determinedly goody-two-shoes Fix-It Felix. And for the trivia-heads, that's Ed Wynn whom Alan Tudyk is channeling as King Candy. Good casting.
So, yeah, I'm pretty biased. This film dives straight into my wheelhouse, and I see no flaws. The animation is a seamless blending of the CG slickness found in the contemporary first person shooter game (like "Hero's Duty") and the more rudimentary rendered, pixel-obvious "classic" '80s game (like "Fix-It Felix, Jr."). The humor amuses on two fronts. Kids will laugh at the gags. Grown-ups will also laugh, but for grown-up reasons. WRECK-IT RALPH is highly recommended for those who relish vivid adventure stories that don't stinge on heart or nostalgia. I think I saw Dig Dug, as well.
Lastly, I loved the exquisitely animated lead-in short "Paperman." It tells the story of an office drone who tries to catch the attention of a girl by sailing paper airplanes across the imposing gulf of a busy street in New York from his office highrise to hers.