Arcade or Atari 2600?
(2012) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Ed O’Neill, Mindy Kaling, Adam Corolla, Horatio Sanz, Dennis Haysbert, Edie McClurg, Joe LoTruglio, Roger Craig Smith. Directed by Rich Moore
Modern kids may not get the allure of the arcade in the same way their parents do. Who among us, children of the 80s, don’t remember eagerly headed to the arcade, quarters in pocket, to try out the latest and greatest from Namco, Konami, Nintendo and Atari? And await eagerly as those great arcade games to arrive on our videogame consoles like the Intellivision and the Atari.
One of those classic games (not really but for the sake of the film) was Fix-It Felix, Jr. In the game Wreck-It Ralph (Reilly), a gorilla-like brute with ginormous arms and hands wrecks the Niceland apartment building, causing damage galore mainly because they built it on the site of his beloved tree stump where he lives (like all 80s arcade games, don’t worry so much about the plot and just go with it). The damage would be repaired by Fix-It Felix (McBrayer) and his handy dandy magic hammer. The citizens of Niceland would aid Felix by baking him pies and giving him other power-ups. When the building was completely repaired, the citizens would give Felix a shiny medal and hurl Ralph from the roof into a mud pit below.
Thus it has been for 30 years and frankly, Ralph’s getting a little tired of it. You see, when the arcade closes, in Toy Story fashion the characters of the game have a life of their own, meeting and mingling in a Game Central Station (arrived at through their power cords) and hanging out at the Tapper Lounge for a brew (of root beer – for those who remember that classic game). Ralph himself attends a 12-step program for videogame baddies who have encounter session meetings where they affirm that just because they’re bad guys in their games doesn’t make them bad people – they’re just fulfilling a necessary role but Ralph isn’t hearing any of this.
And you can hardly blame him. He is regarded with a bit of fear and a lot of being looked down upon. He is not invited to the 30th anniversary party, with the 8-bit residents of Niceland fearing that he’ll just wreck the party. He doesn’t live with the rest of his fellow game characters in Niceland – he lives alone in the dump, a massive pile of bricks. He hates his life and just wants people to like him. He wants to be a hero.
He gets the notion that if he wins a medal he can live in the Niceland penthouse. While at Tapper’s drowning his sorrows in root beer he gets wind of a medal that’s available for those who beat the hot new game Hero’s Duty. There, a bunch of space marines commanded by the crusty Sgt. Calhoun (Lynch) take on a swarm of space bugs. Knowing that if he’s killed outside his game that he can’t be regenerated, Ralph is a bit wary with the bugs being kind of scary in a robo-bug kind of way. Still, so great is his need that he ascends the tower himself and grabs a medal. This leads to a premature evacuation which lands him with a hatchling robo-bug in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game.
There he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), a somewhat annoying wannabe racer who has some messed-up code. She’s a glitch, whose body de-rezzes at inopportune moments. She and Ralph are more alike than un-alike; she dreams of acceptance as a full racer. Like Ralph, she needs that medal and winds up using it to get entered in a race that determines whose avatar gets to be used in the arcade the next day. This is presided over by King Kandy (Tudyk), the occasionally benevolent ruler of Sugar Rush.
But there is trouble in paradise and King Kandy for some mysterious reason seems hell-bent on keeping Vanellope from racing. Felix and Calhoun have come over to Sugar Rush to search for Ralph and the bug, respectively – and a little bit of hanky panky maybe. And that robo-bug that made it over to Sugar Rush has been busy and things are going to get a whole lot of ugly a whole lot of quickly.
Moore whose background is in TV animation (directing episodes of “The Simpsons” as well as “Futurama”) gives this a plausible look. While there are elements that are awfully Toy Story-ish it’s so nifty seeing these characters interact you wonder why it took this long to get it to happen (and I’m sure it had something to acquiring rights and paying fees). That aspect is pretty delightful, particularly to those of us who were active gamers back in the day. However, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword – most kids, to whom this is mainly being marketed, won’t have a clue about some of the more obscure games although their dad may get a manly tear or two in the corner of their eye when some of the characters make an appearance.
One interesting aspect is the role women – and young girls – play in the movie. Although gaming seems to be a more male territory for the most part, women have become more and more involved with it in recent years. Here, the primary gamer in the arcade is shown to be a young girl, and of course two of the main characters, Calhoun and Vanellope, are from the more modern games – Felix and Ralph being from the 30-year-old game.
Reilly hasn’t done a lot of animated features (this is only his second, after 9) but this seems a good role or him (Ralph even resembles him a bit facially). Reilly seems to excel in socially awkward characters with a heart of gold, and that description fits Ralph to a T. He’s awkward all right; his size and temperament make him a bit clumsy, but he means well.
Silverman’s Vanellope was in a large part inspired by her own autobiography and so she’s a natural to take on the somewhat rebellious and also socially awkward Vanellope. Like Ralph, she wants very much to fit in but as time goes by, like Ralph, she discovers that fitting in isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. As with most kid’s animated features these days, the message is that being yourself is more important than fitting in which I suppose is as a good message to preach as any.
I liked Tudyk’s channeling of Ed Wynne and Paul Winchell for his King Kandy character and I was impressed by Lynch’s tough-as-nails Calhoun. McBrayer’s character isn’t too far off from the one he plays on “30 Rock” albeit with a little more focus.
This is a world of bright colors and kinetic motion so even the really wee members of your family will be fascinated by it. While the appearances of certain 80s-era mainstays might go right over the heads of the target audience, their parents will be lost in a nostalgic glow from the retro opening credits to the VERY retro closing credits. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Also to be noted is the short “Paperman” that precedes the movie. It’s very touching and very Disney and has a good shot at getting an Animated Short Oscar nod.
REASONS TO GO: Fun trip down memory lane. A must-see for videogame junkies.
REASONS TO STAY: Too much time spent in Sugar Rush game (due to Vanellope’s glitch nature)
FAMILY VALUES: The violence here is no more than you’d find in a classic arcade game and there’s a bit of rude humor as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The game “Fix-It Felix Jr.” was inspired by Donkey Kong.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100. The reviews are actually pretty good.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tron
CLASSIC VIDEO GAME LOVERS: Video game characters show up from a wide variety of classic games both arcade and console, including Q-Bert, Burger Time, Tapper, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man and Street Fighter.
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Never Let Me Go