Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.
The new animated movie ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is further proof that Pixar and Disney Animation are essentially the same entity, since ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ was released under the Disney Animation banner, but is, in most ways, a Pixar movie. Many Pixar films examine the secret lives of animals or everyday objects, and in ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ we get a wonderfully clever and detailed behind-the-scenes look at what video game characters are like once the arcade closes for the night. And, like virtually all non-‘Cars’ Pixar films, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ has lessons for kids that are refreshingly challenging and more meaningful than what you find in more standard kids-movie fare.
The main character in ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is, of course Wreck-It Ralph, a bad guy with enormous hands voiced by John C. Reilly. Ralph is the villain in a classic 8-bit Donkey Kong-esque video game named Fix-It Felix Jr. But after thirty years of being ostracized and feared by the characters in his and other games, Ralph wants to be a good guy, have friends, and win the type of gold medal only good guys get.
In the world of ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, game characters are able to move between games through power cords that intersect at Game Central Station. In search of a medal, Ralph ends up in a candy-themed racing game called Sugar Rush where he meets Vanellope Von Schweetz, a misfit driver voiced by Sarah Silverman who’s been excluded from the game’s races and labeled a glitch due to some buggy code that sometimes makes her pixelate and twitch. To get his medal, Ralph needs to help Vanellope win her race. At the same time, the hero of Ralph’s game, Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer), must find Ralph and bring him back to his own game with the help of a tough space commando named Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) from a 3D Halo and Call of Duty-style first person shooter.
There’s really a lot to love about ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, especially if you like video games, and with an over 30-year history of games and characters, with their own unique worlds, looks, physics, and rules, there’s endless potential for future sequels and storylines. Fans of older games (like myself) will enjoy seeing classic characters like Q-Bert, Tapper, and Pac-Man, while younger gamers will recognize more recent characters like those from Street Fighter and Sonic the Hedgehog. ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is also very funny, especially the voice work done by Lynch and Silverman, and the worlds the characters visit are beautiful and detailed with rules and a logic that totally make sense.
But as with most Pixar films, it’s the story and the lessons for kids that makes ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ stand out. First, with growing numbers of kids being diagnosed with conditions like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia, the grief Vanellope receives from her fellow mean-girl racers for her glitch, which she describes as “pixlexia”, is a great, decidedly modern call for kids not to shun or mock kids with medical conditions.
This feeds into the film’s more complicated and meaningful message about identity. While many kids movies tell kids that they can be anything they want, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’’s message is that you should be comfortable with who you are, and that others need to learn to accept and respect you and not judge you by the role you play in society. Yes, Ralph is the bad guy in his game, but he’s a nice person, and his game can’t function without him. ‘Wreck-It Ralph’’s message is decidedly trickier than saying you can be anything, but it’s no less true.
But aside from all that, I can’t figure out why people aren’t talking more about ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, which is tons of fun and a great start for what could be an enduring franchise that reaches fans of multiple generations. While ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ spends a lot of time in the world of Sugar Rush, which provides lots of good gags about candy, I left the movie wanting more — more of Game Central Station, more characters, and more trips into other games. As we know, you always want to leave the audience wanting more, and with Disney taking its cues from Pixar, I hope some great sequels to ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ are on the way.
‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is rated PG and is in theaters now.