Imagine if a certain nameless studio combined the premise of 1995’s Toy Story with themes from 1989’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, slap on a video game veneer, and Wreck-It Ralph would be the end result. Remember when video arcades used to be a common sight in shopping centers or as standalone establishments? As a child of the late eighties and early nineties, I remember when there used to be an arcade at my local shopping mall and even the neighborhood Seven-Eleven had an arcade cabinet near the back, so Wreck-It Ralph is a fond trip down memory lane for me. The set-up is simple: characters from arcade classics like Q*Bert, Street Fighter II, and even Dance Dance Revolution come to life when the lights go off to have a drink and Tappers (you might need to wikipedia that one.) For “bad guys” like the titular character, it is not a charmed life because everyone hates and shuns you what is simply a regular nine-to-five job for them.
Wreck-It Ralph is a dyed-in-the-wool Disney animated feature, which a blessing and a curse. Without spoiling many plot details, it amounts to: hero feels something is missing in his life and goes on quest to find it, hero is diverted from his quest and meets foil (often love interest), hero and foil become close friends, villain engineers misunderstanding that reverses the hero’s, and so forth. If you know your Disney films, you are not going to find anything particularly original here so Wreck-It Ralph relies largely on video game references for humor or to stoke nostalgia for hawk-eyed viewers. Personally, I love Sonic the Hedgehog’s voice cameo as public service announcement. YouTube junkies and old-school Sonic fans would recognize it as a tribute to the “Sonic Sez” segments from the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog animated series of the nineties. The production team even managed to sneak some sound effects one might find familiar; the weapon charging sound from Mega Man X was used for Calhoun’s weapon almost makes up for the snub the Blue Bomber got when they removed Dr. Wily from the final cut, almost. Believe me, a seasoned gamer will have no problem finding the Easter eggs in this film.
Oddly enough, I did not mind Wreck-It Ralph being a completely CGI film in a market that is saturated with CGI film that all look similar to each other. Even the humans in most Pixar films look like the animators rendered them with the same art style. Wreck-It Ralph avoids this shortcoming through the variety art styles used. Ralph and his antagonist, Fix-It Felix Jr., possess this cartoon-like look complete with exaggerated anatomy and features could have easily been a Nintendo game back in 1985. The denizens of “Sugar Rush” all have this deformed anime look, which should not be to surprising since an actual J-Pop band composed and played the theme to this “game”. Calhoun, who hails from a first-person shooter in the vein of Halo, has the most realistic anatomy of the cast. The variety of different styles as well as the art styles borrowed from Sega, Capcom, and the 8-bit pixilated aesthetic the animators slavishly emulated provides a contrast I find lacking in other CGI films. Believe me, you will want to stay through the credits if you want the film to give you a real nostalgia trip.
As for the voice acting, I would say Jane Lynch was the main stand out to me. Her husky voice gave Calhoun’s lines added weight, especially in the middle of a bug war when she’s screaming metaphors at the player. Imagine you shoved Sue Sylvester into a disk drive and spliced her with a dash of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman for good measure. I also give major props to Alan Tudyk for his rendition of A-class jerk, King Candy. If you vaguely remember the voice but cannot remember where from, it is an imitation of the late Ed Wynn, who voiced the Mad Hatter in Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland. It was a fitting tribute to the Walt-era films.
So what is my final verdict on Wreck-It Ralph? It will not get any awards for its largely formulaic plot but its charm comes from its characters, humor, and nostalgia factor. Generation Xers and Millennials owe to themselves to see this film if they want to see an interesting take on a childhood staple. It was definitely work the thirteen bucks I paid, plus the five-dollar frozen yougurt.