There’s a good reason why there haven’t been any decent movies based on video games and that is because without the element of control there’s not much story-telling meat to even the most thematically complex video games.
I mean “Angry Birds” is a ton of fun, but nobody wants to sit through 20 minutes exploring what exactly it is that makes those birds so darn angry.
At first glance, you might think the new Disney animated feature “Wreck-It Ralph” to be yet another failed cyber-venture, but this thoroughly likable movie doesn’t try to replicate a video game, it instead muses on the complex inner lives of the digital characters living inside video games.
Like a high-fructose corn syrup version of “Waiting for Godot” these characters spend their lives in the arcade, dutifully following their programming over and over again without question, to the daily delight of overstimulated 12-year-olds.
Nearly every game has an antagonist that must be overcome, but these guys aren’t really bad, they’re just programmed that way.
Our hero is one such “bad guy.” Ralph (admirably voiced by John C. Reilly) is an oversized brute who leaps into action and angrily begins pounding a digital apartment building every time a quarter is dropped into the slot.
The hero of his game, Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), arrives with his magic hammer and if the player can repair all of Ralph’s damage in time, the residents of the apartment building throw Ralph off of the roof and award Felix with a medal.
Ralph grows tired of being the bad guy, especially when compounded with the cold shoulder he gets from the other characters in his game when the arcade lights go down.
Determined to prove his worth, Ralph leaves his game and bounces through several other games looking for a place to become a hero.
Along the way, he crosses the paths of other video game characters like Calhoun (Jane Lynch, a space marine from an intense first-person shooter and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a little girl who resides in the cutesy, candy-themed racing game “Sugar Rush.”
What Ralph doesn’t realize is there is no game without a bad guy and by leaving his game he has put everyone in “Fix-It Felix Jr.” in jeopardy of having their plug pulled. So Felix sets out to bring Ralph home before the arcade owner puts them all out on the curb.
Ralph and Vannelope’s relationship forms the heart of the film because both are outsiders. Vannelope possesses a glitch that leads to her being shunned by her fellow frosty-haired racers.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is a ton of fun for those who wiled away many adolescent hours in the local arcade. There are a boatload of cameos by video game favorites, the best of which are Q*Bert as a panhandler left homeless when his game got tossed and Pac-Man ghost Clyde (Kevin Deters), who leads a bad-guy support group.
The film gets a lot of credit for being clever and original while sticking to tried-and-true family movie themes like believing in yourself and accepting everyone’s differences.
What might be the most interesting thing about “Wreck-It Ralph” is that it marks a turning point for Disney Animation Studios. It is the best movie from the past decade that didn’t involve princesses or Pooh.
From the outside looking in, it seems that by looking to produce quality original movies the hope is to make Disney Animation a complementary player to its blue-ribbon big brother Pixar.
By making perhaps the best video-game-related movie (a low bar to be sure) with “Wreck-It Ralph,” I would say they are off to a good start.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence.