Much like its title character, Wreck-It Ralph is a bit of a mess, but a quite lovable one all the same. Walt Disney Animation Studios' 52nd feature-length film falls short of being a classic like so many of its predecessors, but not being Aladdin or The Lion King doesn't mean it's not a worthy little jaunt with a few terrific moments.
This film dredges the suddenly fading world of arcade games for its inspiration, plucking its hero, Wreck-It Ralph, from a by now semi-obscure video game called Fix-It Felix Jr. In this world, Ralph (John C. Reilly) has been smashing Felix's (Jack McBrayer) apartment building for 30 years, only to have the insufferably bubbly Felix fix the damage he's created with his magic hammer and reap all the benefits that come with being the video game's hero -- namely medals and the adoration of the Nicelanders who reside in Felix's high-rise.
Living atop a heap of the bricks he has smashed over the years, Ralph leads an isolated existence. He is tired of being a villain every day and is ready to do something else, as he reveals in a Bad-Anon meeting (like Alcoholics Anonymous, but for video game villains) during the film's opening scene. So that's just what he does; in Ralph's arcade, characters can jump from game to game via Game Central Station (think a mass transit hub, but with pixelated characters and you've got the general idea). The only risk in so doing is that if you die in a game that isn't your own, you don't get regenerated. (This is a slightly convoluted premise, if you ask me, but it's not as convoluted as it sounds.) That's a risk the alienated Ralph is willing to take, so in to first-person shooter Hero's Duty he goes, where he manages to get a hold of -- not win, it should be clear -- the medal he thinks will bring him the acceptance of Felix and the Nicelanders back home.
He also manages to unleash the dangerous Cy-Bugs in a third game, Sugar Rush, after he accidentally tumbles out of Hero's Duty and in to the Mario-Kart-meets-Candyland racing game. Once in Sugar Rush, Ralph is tasked with both helping to save the game from the threat of the Cy-Bugs and with helping a fellow outcast, "glitch" Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), find her rightful place in her video game world.
It's a heartwarming if familiar tale about learning to love yourself for who you are, and -- if you're old enough to remember Pac-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog and Streetfighter -- a fun little jog down memory lane. Given my enormous soft spot for much of the voice talent, especially Reilly, and a tremendously original concept, I can't say I wasn't a little bit disappointed, but I had quite high expectations to begin with. The plot, I thought, was a little clumsy at times. If I felt that way, I can only imagine that the target demographic -- eight-year-olds -- might have had similar trouble with the story at certain points. There also wasn't a moment of genuine wondrous surprise, for me at least; call it the curse of Pixar Studios if you must, but I, perhaps unfairly, have come to expect it out of high-concept family films now.
It's worth noting that I felt almost exactly the same way about Pixar's latest, Brave. As I contended in my review of that film, not being a classic doesn't mean it's not worth your time. The same applies to Wreck-It Ralph.