‘Wreck-It Ralph’ nice for kids; secretly for grown-ups
Updated: November 2, 2012 7:30AM
It’s not unusual to find animated family films that are likely to keep parents somewhat entertained along with children, but it’s extremely rare to find one that touches the right bases for kids, yet seems to have been secretly made for adults.
That’s the situation in “Wreck-It Ralph,” a PG-rated Disney film that commits to its wholesome messages about friendship, loyalty and not judging books by their covers, yet does so with some surprisingly grown-up attitudes and concerns — delivered in surprisingly hip, intelligent and emotionally resonant fashion. Perhaps it’s not so surprising, though, when you consider that this clever, fast-paced and occasionally very funny film was directed by Rich Moore (a two-time Emmy winner for “The Simpsons” and “Futurama”), co-written by Phil Johnston (who won an Independent Spirit screenwriting award for his 2011 comedy “Cedar Rapids”) and performed by John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer in unusual ensemble sessions that encouraged improvisation.
Essentially, “Wreck-It” is the story of overgrown and under-appreciated Ralph (Reilly), the big bad guy in a vintage video game called “Fix-It Felix.” It’s not much of a game, really. The quick-tempered ogre Ralph runs around smashing things at the Niceland Apartments, with Felix (McBrayer), a slightly smug little guy with a big smile and a magic hammer, follows him around repairing the damage. At the end, Ralph typically gets tossed off of the roof into a mud pit below, while Felix racks up another gold medal.
The game has been going on that way for 30 years and Ralph is getting tired of it. Things are even worse when the video-game arcade closes for the night and the inhabitants of the game carry on with their off-duty routine, which includes treating Ralph like a social embarrassment. Everyone else has a room in the Niceland (Felix lives in the penthouse), but Ralph, basically a big sweet lug, lives lonely and depressed in the town dump. Something snaps, however, on the game’s 30th anniversary, when the Nicelanders throw a party and don’t invite him. Ralph declares that he could be a medal-winning hero too, and sets out to prove it by exploring other games in the arcade.
Thus, Ralph’s hero’s journey begins. First in a combat game called “Hero’s Duty,” where he joins a squad of troopers blasting away at gigantic evil Cy-bugs and runs afoul of the bodacious yet highly belligerent Sgt. Calhoun (Lynch). After a mishap sends him rocketing out of “Hero’s Duty” with a deadly Cy-bug stowaway on board, he enters a candy-themed, neon-colored little girl’s racing game called “Sugar Rush.”
There, Ralph becomes involved with an obnoxious little wannabe racer-girl named Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), who has been banned from the track because of her glitchy programming — and reluctantly helps her attempt to prove herself in the race. An affectionate relationship gradually develops between Ralph and Vanellope (after all, they’re both social outcasts), though there seems little hope for a happy ending as the rapidly multiplying, virus-like Cy-bugs prepare to destroy “Sugar Rush” and every other game in the arcade. Unless Ralph and Sgt. Calhoun and Felix can somehow save the day.
There are no real surprises, plot-wise, since “Wreck-It” is basically a story about underdogs developing self-respect and earning long-overdue appreciation, but there are quite a few edgy, inventive and offbeat comic moments along the way. The richest and strangest have to do with the passionate (and occasionally violent) romance that develops between Calhoun and Felix, but there are plenty of other unexpectedly funny elements including a 12-step meeting for unappreciated bad guys, the intensely tragic back-story of Sgt. Calhoun and the ongoing, beyond-sassy/child-abuse-inviting banter of Vanellope, whose first words to Ralph are “Are you a hobo?”
Come to think of it, considering the risk that she might come across as a role model, it might be a good idea for parents to leave the kids at home and check this one out for themselves.