If you're going to rip off an animated movie, make it Toy Story.
That's the path plowed by Wreck-it Ralph, an animated Disney comedy that
answers the question kids ponder: What do video game characters do when
the arcade is closed?
They only ask that question, though, after wondering "What's a video
arcade?" and "Why would people keep popping quarters in a machine when
they can just download games for a buck on their iPhones?
The best answer parents can give to those inquiries from their adorable
offspring is "Shut up. Just watch. Stop ruining the movie for me."
This is definitely one of those movies that parents like me are
frighteningly overeager to drag their kids to, rather than the other way
around. That's because of the trailer, which gives away the movie's
best scene: Disgruntled villain Wreck-it Ralph (voiced by John C.
Reilly) seeking comfort in a gaming bad guy support group that includes
Bowser, Dr. Robotnik a pair of Street Fighter guys and a generic zombie.
As soon as I saw that trailer either me or my 5-year-old jumped up and
down with glee, declaring it to be the best movie ever based on that
scene alone. I'll leave it to you to guess which of us it was.
While watching the full movie — which unfortunately does not consist
entirely of support group meetings — dampened my enthusiasm a bit, it
still gave me to grab the arm of 5-year-old Luke or my 3-yaar-old, Emma
and inappropriately shout "Oh my gosh did you just see that!!" Prompting them to shush me.
Director Rich Moore, a veteran of animated TV (The Simpsons, The Critic,
Futurama), crams his first feature film with enough gaming references
to make you toss up your hands like a dead 8-bit Mario in Super Mario
Bros. What the movie lacks in cohesive story it makes up in appreciation
for a youth well wasted pouring lunch money into thirsty coin slots.
Strip away the gaming references — and the movie does just that in its
feet-dragging middle act — and it's debatable as to whether Wreck-it
Ralph is still a good movie. The film sputters when it focuses on the
mechanics of its silly plot, involving Ralph's efforts to retrieve a
hard-fought medal from sprightly kart racing character Vanellope (Sarah
Silverman), who is determined to show up her condescending competitors
by winning the big race at the end of the movie. Ralph was a made-up guy
from a made-up game, except for the fact that there is a real Wreck-it
Ralph game now, which in turn is based on this movie, so he's
actually... Sorry, my brain just melted.
Also along for the ride are Ralph's archrival Fix-It Felix (Jack
McBreyer), modern shooter Rambo-woman Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch), and
about ten thousand real and made-up game characters voiced by the likes
of Mindy Kaeling, Ed O'Neill, Adam Carolla, Dennis Haysbert and Horatio
Sanz. There are parallel stories of redemption, yadda yadda, and one
emotional moment that managed to make Luke start to cry, but otherwise
this is a copy of the Toy Story plot that left the pathos untouched.
Like most any game, Wreck-it Ralph is most fun when it's messing around
without a particular goal. Like when Ralph heads over to the Tapper
machine to drown his sorrows in what's described as "root beer" but what
we all have known for 29 years is just beer. Or when he's chatting up
gibberish-speaking Q*bert. Or, yeppers, that support group scene.
Wreck-it Ralph himself may be a brute known for breaking stuff, but I'm
happy to report his film did not break my games-loving heart.
Starring the voices of John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch. Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston. Directed by Rich Moore. Rated PG. 108 minutes.
My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.