Wreck-It Ralph
Not Just a Bad Guy

Wreck-It Ralph’s title character is the villain of an 8-bit arcade game that has just turned thirty years old.  Maybe that is why the people who are most looking forward to this animated movie are not kids, but people in their thirties who grew up playing games like Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros.  This movie promised to be for video game characters what Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was for cartoon characters.  Sadly, the movie fails to deliver on that promise.

The movie first introduces us to Ralph by giving his brief backstory, explaining how he became the guy with the freakishly big hands who spends his days smashing the windows of an apartment complex, only to have the game’s hero, Fix-It Felix, come repair everything with his magic hammer.  That’s how life has been every day for the past thirty years and Ralph is tired of it.  One day, decides that he doesn’t want to be the bad guy anymore and starts searching for a way that he can become the hero.  This means leaving his own game and invading others through the central hub (i.e. the surge protector) into which all the arcade systems are connected.

John C. Reilly voices Wreck-it RalphThis leads Ralph to a game called Sugar Rush, which is like a cross between Candyland and Super Mario Kart.  There he meets Vanellope von Schweetz, a character who was not quite finished and is treated like an outcast by the rest of the game’s characters, who see her as nothing but a glitch.  She recruits a reluctant Ralph to help her get into the big race that determines the next day’s available racers for the kids in the arcade to choose.  This doesn’t sit well with King Candy, the game’s overlord who thinks that if Vanellope becomes a playable racer, the kids in the arcade will see her glitch and think the game is broken, ultimately leading to the unplugging of their system and the end of their world.  Meanwhile, Ralph’s own game may get unplugged soon if he doesn’t return to it.

Wreck-It Ralph starts off great.  The classic game references start immediately with the Disney Animation Studios logo even presented in 8-bit style.  Following a meeting with popular video game villains—including Bowser and one of the ghosts from Pac-Man—Ralph visits the central game hub which is a scene that would be worth revisiting at home where you can pause and peruse the screen for characters from dozens of classic video games, like the frog from Frogger or the paperboy from Paperboy.  It’s also clever how the characters from Ralph’s game can only move in that staccato, 8-bit fashion, even when they are full-fledged computer-animated characters.

These references are great, but it seems like the filmmakers did not go nearly as far with it as they could have.  Most of the characters we see are minor ones.  For instance, although we see Bowser, the Mario brothers never make an appearance; instead they are only mentioned in a reference that doesn’t even make sense.  Whether it was due to rights issues or other reasons, it just seems like the movie left a lot of fun nostalgia opportunities on the table.

The movie soon forgets about attempting any classic game references and after a brief stint in a shooting game called Hero’s Duty, the movie settles into Sugar Rush, where it spends most of its time. Being stuck in Sugar Rush for most of the running time just drags down the movie that promised a game-jumping Ralph.   In fact, so much time is spent in this candy world that you start to wonder if Wreck-It Ralph is really the movie version of Candyland in disguise.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first board game adaptation we’ve seen this year.

There was some good humor mixed throughout and the lesson it preaches is a good one, but Wreck-It Ralph fails to do anything to separate it from the dozens of other animated movies that are out there.  It seems that its biggest problem is that it aimed for the wrong target audience.  Wreck-It Ralph is definitely aimed towards kids, but probably could have been more successful had it realized its true potential and aimed for the thirty-somethings.

Wreck-It Ralph is rated PG for “some rude humor and mild action/violence.”  There were a few moments of rude humor, but it still surprised me to find this movie rated something other than G.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Wreck-It Ralph.