Don’t trust the trailer. Or the poster. Wreck-It Ralph looks like a wrecking ball of a movie, fun for bang-crash kids but without the wit of Disney’s best. But hold on to your hammers. Actually, it’s a whimsical, laugh-out-loud, visually inventive and unusually characterful film. In short, a big hit.
Ralph is the bad guy in a video game, wrecking a building-block so that the pint-sized hero - Fix-it Felix – can magically put it together again. But when the game’s done, Ralph sleeps on a scrap-heap of bricks while everyone else parties. Desperate to chuck his bad guy image, Ralph sneaks in to another game – Hero’s Duty – and promptly causes mayhem amid the GI alien-butt-kickers who live there. Only when he stumbles into the icky world of Sugar Rush and meets the equally outcast Vanellope von Schweetz, does Ralph find his purpose. But with bugs in the system and time running out, soon the plug will be pulled. Game over?
First up there’s no need to find arcade games fun. Disney’s fluent visuals tell you all you need to know. And though you’ll enjoy the riffs if you know your Pacman from your Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s the colours and characters that count. Ralph (John C Reilly; Step Brothers, Vampire’s Assistant) is a dour-voiced giant who wants to win a medal. Vanellope (Sarah Silverman; SNL, The Simpsons) is a glitch, shunned by the game’s other players, but chock-full of cheeky bravado, and desperate to win Sugar Rush’s infamous candy-car race.
Their rapport’s at the heart of the adventure, a little and large duo that take on King Candy’s not-so-sweet world. And what a world it is, with shape-shifting bugs threatening to crash it and untrustworthy denizens willing to see Vanellope erased for good. Like an updated Wizard of Oz for the video generation, it’s a movie where breakneck action and swooping visuals blend seamlessly, and refreshingly, with heartfelt quandaries. Unusually, it reaches out to boyish boys and girly girls and everyone inbetween.
Wreck-It Ralph wrings every visual trick from the arcade set-up. Each game is wired into an adapter – Game Central Station - where characters come and go down the lines. Reminiscent of Monsters Inc. - with its between-the-worlds stopover point - it’s a neat device. And game companies get to give comedy cameos to their own products. So too do Coca Cola and Mento sweets, combining to volcanic effect in a riot of 3D.
Spectacular car chases, freefalls into gloopy chocolate, vertiginous bug-and-splat shoot-em-ups, the visuals are fast and fluid. But Wreck-It Ralph scores max points for creating characters of wit, courage and capability. It makes the comedy funnier and the action mean more than just a riot of pixels.
Director Rich Moore decides to show not tell, so Disney’s capacity for schmaltz is ditched in favour of laser-light moments of visual piquancy. The part-improvised script is unexpectedly funny and affecting. Unsurprisingly Wreck-It is twinned with a pre-film short - Paperman – a silent comedy about a hapless commuter’s attempt to attract a girl’s attention by throwing paper planes. A bit more grown-up than the main movie would suggest. But they share the same heartfelt code. A sugar rush, no. But Wreck-It Ralph’s definitely a game worth playing.