For a kids’ movie, Wreck-It Ralph tackles some pretty heavy issues. There are the usual storylines of an outcast just trying to fit in (whom we’re basically programmed to love), a hero’s journey to defeat evil and the quest to do what’s right at whatever cost. All pretty conventional, but mixed in are somewhat surprising (though still sugarcoated–literally) matters.
One of the many strengths of this movie is that subplot after subplot heighten the drama. I won’t go into detail, on the chance that you’ll be accompanying small children and will need some suspense to offset the sugar crash. But I will say that discrimination against those with disabilities, martyrdom and how we treat the homeless tugged some heartstrings a bit harder than expected, even for a Disney film. That’s what gives Wreck-It Ralph the depth needed to sustain audiences who no longer suck their thumbs.
One cool surprise I can reveal is that all the action takes place inside a video game. Ralph’s job in the game consists of climbing up buildings and pounding the crap out of them until all the windows break and bricks shower the sidewalk in the arcade game, Fix-It Felix Jr. The kid in the arcade plays as Felix, repairing the damage, and is celebrated by all who live in Niceland. When Ralph’s defeated, he gets thrown off the roof into a puddle of mud. “It’s hard to love your job when no one else seems to like you for doing it,” Ralph laments to his after-hours support group, Bad Anon (filled with antagonists from Street Fighter, Pac-Man and the Mario franchise). Yes, it’s that meta. The message is, too: Although Ralph is technically the bad guy, that doesn’t make him a bad guy. In fact, after crashing his game’s 30th anniversary party, and accidentally wrecking it, Ralph sets out to prove to the titular Felix and residents of Niceland that he can be a hero, too.
The storyline is not as simple as Ralph’s search for a medal. He also fights off evil Cy-Bugs and teaches Vanellope von Schweetz how to race in her game Sugar Rush, despite the fact that she steals from him, doesn’t own a kart and isn’t even allowed to race. And though all the plot twists keep the film exciting, the most entertaining aspects for this reviewer were the inside jokes for gamers.
When the arcade closes at night, characters are allowed to go to other games through Game Central Station, which appears to be a power strip that each game is hooked up to. Traveling through the station (and its popular hangout Tapper’s) are everyone from Q*bert to Frogger, plus modern-day characters from games like realistic first-person shooters. The characters from 8-bit games keep their movements jerky instead of fluid, a detail that italicizes the antiquated world in which Ralph lives. King Candy from Sugar Rush uses the Konami code, a cheat that can be applied in more than 100 games, to hack into his game’s data. Even non-game characters, such as Beard Papa (the cream puff maven) and Skrillex (not even a character, but a real-life DJ) and his signature haircut show up: Milk Duds of humor for the pop-culture savvy.
Disney just doesn’t make bad films. While Wreck-It Ralph may not be the next Lion King, it’s an enjoyable family movie with a lot of heart, beautiful animation, plenty of bittersweet moments and such a fun and creative premise that an entire arcade universe may have just been invented for future films to hop into. Good luck trying to top this one.