Wreck-It Ralph: Another bad guy turns good, with gamer jokes

November 21, 2012

from Indy Week

Wreck-It Ralph, the title character in Disney’s agreeably goofy new 3-D animated film, is a 1980s-style arcade game bad guy in the tradition of Donkey Kong. He’s a blue-collar sort of fellow, clocking in each day to suffer ignoble defeat at the hands of the game’s goody-goody hero, Fix-It Felix.

In the notional universe of Wreck-It Ralph, video game characters have their own lives outside the workaday demands of their profession. When the lights go out at the arcade, the characters travel via power cord to Game Central Station, where there’s a definite social pecking order. Old-timers like Q*bert, for instance, are reduced to begging for change.

Ralph, voiced with great comic instincts by John C. Reilly, is tired of being the bad guy all the time. So he sets out to win the love and affection of the pixelated people by earning a medal in the violent first-person shoot-em-up Hero’s Duty (think Halo, Gears of War, etc.). Plans go awry, and to save the day Ralph must team with a hard-case female space marine (Jane Lynch), an anime kart-racing pixie (Sarah Silverman) and his old nemesis Fix-It Felix (the very funny Jack McBrayer, of TV’s 30 Rock).

As family entertainment, Wreck-It Ralph is an entirely professional production. Everyone delivers the goods, from the writers to the animators to the voiceover performers. The jokes are solid, the 3-D technology is artfully deployed, and the actors locate the humor and heart in their characters. Veteran stand-up comic Silverman is especially nimble as our feisty heroine. As with her stage act, she has fun spiking her cutie-pie persona with mischief and sharp edges.

Gamers will enjoy the wink-nudge references to arcade gaming’s 1980s heyday, while the kids will recognize more recent signifiers. Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph is final evidence, if we still need it, that gamer culture is now entirely mainstream and multi-generational.

I liked how the movie plays fair within the existential rules of its own premise. Characters regenerate within their own games, for instance, but can die inside another. But the underlying story of Wreck-It Ralph is getting awfully familiar: the bad guy who turns good. We’ve been riffing on this one for a while—Megamind, Despicable Me, all the way back to Shrek and beyond. Come on, Li’l Hollywood, let’s get some new stories in the mix. Do it for the kids.

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