The days of popping quarters into games down at the local arcade may be all but done, but Disney brings them back to life in Wreck-It Ralph. Harking back to the slapstick Mouse House films like Chicken Little and Home on the Range, it’s heavy on cuteness and fun but light on emotional depth. If Disney movies like Tangled and The Princess and the Frog are fresh-baked chocolate ganache cupcakes, think of Wreck-It Ralph as a rainbow-colored animal cracker.
Directed by first-timer Rich Moore (The Simpsons, Futurama), it dives head-first into the retro world of 8-bit, Atari-era video games. Of course, this may leave many of the younger (target) crowd wondering what on Earth those silly-looking graphics are all about, but the parents in the audience will have plenty to chuckle about.
The story opens with Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) addressing his fellow video game bad guys at a support group meeting. For the past thirty years he’s been the villain in a Donkey Kong-like game called Fix-It Felix, but he’s tired living his glum existence in the Toy Story-ish world of gaming, where the characters come to life whenever the arcade closes for the night.
He learns that all it takes is winning a medal to become a loved member of society, so, going against all the established rules of Game Central Station, he decides to hop platforms and go for it. And after a brief stint in the world of Hero’s Duty, he finds himself in the Mario Kart-esque Sugar Rush, a confectionery-themed game that makes Candy Land look downright bland.
Along the way we also get sub-plots about a Turbo racer, Cy-Bugs, and bullying, along with a video game glitch, a Mad-Hatter named King Candy, and the unlikeliest of all budding romances. Plus, more and more characters seem to be lurking around every corner, including Felix himself (Jack McBrayer), a little girl named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and a tough-as-nails soldier named Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch).
The farther Wreck-It Ralph goes, the more needlessly convoluted it gets; the script by first-timer Jennifer Lee and Cedar Rapids scribe Phil Johnston has more layers than a seven-layer bar and more ingredients than a Whatchamacallit, but it’s not as appealing as either. Of course none of that will matter to the under-10 crowd (though some may be a little spooked by the climactic final fight. Parents should get those “Everything will be okay, sweetie”s ready).
The rest of it is a goofy, light-as-nougat trip down Memory Lane for adults. Wreck-It Ralph may lack the emotional resonance of Toy Story 3 or the epic feel of Brave, but for kids it’s as sweet as a sugar rush.