Over its lifetime, Walt Disney Studios has done amazing things with an enormous range of movie premises. From “Mulan” to “Hercules,” to “Bolt” and “Treasure Planet,” Disney films have spanned the gamut and made the studio famous for being able to make children’s movies from almost anything.
With Disney’s latest animated feature, “Wreck-It Ralph,” the studio crafts an excellent film — this time going off the rise of video games. “Wreck-It Ralph” is set in a world similar to “Toy Story” where game characters in an arcade move about on their own when gamers are gone for the day. Characters can travel between games through the power strip they are all plugged into, which acts as a kind of train terminal.
Ralph (John C. Reilly, “The Dictator”) is unhappy with his predestined role of wrecking everything in his game, “Fix-it Felix Jr.” Meanwhile, the game’s main character, Felix (Jack McBrayer, TV’s “30 Rock”), is beloved by all.
Ralph becomes sick of his bad image, and after being challenged to prove himself as a hero by winning a medal, he starts jumping games in search of positive recognition. On his quest for a medal, Ralph enters the game “Hero’s Duty,” a gritty alien shooting game. From there, Ralph accidentally jettisons himself into a game on the opposite end of the spectrum: “Sugar Rush,” a candy-themed racing game.
In “Sugar Rush,” Ralph meets smart aleck wannabe racer Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, TV’s “Bob’s Burgers”) who tricks Ralph into helping her fulfill her dream of high-speed victories. But “Hero’s Duty” character Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch, TV’s “Glee”) knows there’s more amuck than just Ralph goofing off in “Sugar Rush,” so she teams up with Felix to clean up the mess Ralph has made.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is pure Disney magic; everything from its incredible production values to its thorough and detailed plot makes the film shine. Creating the world of “Wreck-It Ralph” obviously took an incredible amount of thought and effort, using the medium of video games in film as it has never been used before. This includes Disney’s 2010 flick “Tron: Legacy.”
Rules for living as a video game character were created for “Wreck-It Ralph,” giving the film logic and clarity. Everyday life is explained in straightforward but subtle ways that keep the audience connected to the story. Nothing was spared in making sure “Wreck-It Ralph” lives up to Disney’s historically high standards.
The film’s main problem lies in its scattered message. Unlike many Disney movies with clear-cut endings where the princess gets married or the curse is lifted, “Wreck-It Ralph” has a deeper, self-serving message for Ralph and his pals.
Forgetting its rather intense focus on community, self-fulfillment and acceptance, “Wreck-It Ralph” is easy to sum up as just another fluffy, visually entertaining movie for the kids. The older audience will find it easier to pick up on the film’s full meanings, making it a film truly for all ages.
“Wreck-It Ralph” also has not forgotten to appeal to hard-core gamers. Easter eggs full of references to the gaming industry keep fans on their toes looking for added details. Disney uses characters from classic game titles, such as “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Pac-Man,” on top of creating its own cleverly designed retro and new arcade titles. Homage to videogames in a kids movie can only mean one thing: Everyone that grew up with videogames is now old.
The soundtrack boasts a huge range of music. From a re-worded “Shut-up and Drive” originally by Rihanna to Skrillex making a cameo to DJ his own song, a pop music atmosphere carries the film through a lot of its goofier moments. For climatic scenes, Henry Jackman composed a robust score that embodies his experience with film. Although the foreign language end-theme by Japanese super-idol group AKB48 may throw off some younger viewers, “Wreck-It Ralph” succeeds by keeping music in mind during every scene.
Disney’s comeback from the abysmal mid-2000s, including a speed bump with this year’s “John Carter,” is showing signs of sticking around with “Wreck-It Ralph.” With a stellar cast of talented voices and visual effects etched into its heart, the film’s flaws are easily overlooked when there is so much done right on display.
4.5 out of 5 stars