While Pixar gets all the attention at Disney, Disney’s own animation division has done some really nice stuff in the CGI field. There’s “Tangled,” of course, and the under-rated “Bolt,” for instance.
Most recently, we had “Wreck-It Ralph,” a fun ode to video games filled with gaming Easter eggs, humor, color and, most important in a Disney film, heart.
John C. Reilly is the voice of Ralph, a villain in a “Donkey Kong”-style game who wants to be more. He attends Bad-Anon meetings, where he learns that being a bad guy doesn’t make him a bad … guy. But the other characters shun him, and he wants to be a hero so he’ll fit in better.
So he escapes his game one night (“Wreck-It Ralph” is one game at a neighborhood arcade — remember those?) and winds up in the first-person shooter “Hero’s Duty.” Things don’t go terribly well, and he then finds himself in “Sugar Rush,” a scarily sweet kart-racing game.
There he meets Penelope (Sarah Silverman, in a voice performance not nearly as annoying as the commercials would have you believe), and he gets caught up in her desire to become an important character in her game and not just a glitch. It turns out she’s a lot more important than anyone would think.
“Wreck-It Ralph” may not have the final poignancy of a Pixar film, but it has the fun locked down. The backgrounds blew me away, and the character animation is a hoot as each game’s characters have distinct styles and ways of moving. The world’s are wonderfully inventive, and you’ll appreciate the work that went into them even more after watching the “Bit by Bit” featurette. (Who knew the architecture of “Sugar Rush” was inspired by Spain’s Gaudi?)
Character is most important, though, and Ralph makes a great hero, especially for a villain. Every impulse is relatable. Penelope is classically scrappy.
The other main characters, Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (Jane Lynch), add extra layers to a strong ensemble. And Alan Tudyk is unrecognizable as the voice of “Sugar Rush’s” King Candy.
Best of all, my favorite game character, Q*bert, has an important role, though he’s fallen on hard times.
Speaking of older game characters, they’re all over the place. From “Pac Man” to “Street Fighter” to “Sonic the Hedgehog,” you’ll see lots of familiar faces (many of them voiced by original game voice actors). The Blu-ray has the nifty Disney Intermission function, which activates when you hit pause. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” had a few songs, but “Ralph” has several segments revealing many of the film’s Easter eggs, hosted by professional nerd Chris Hardwick. Even the graffiti references various games of the past and present.
Nostalgia carries a lot of “Wreck-It Ralph,” but it’s a good movie on its own. Put down the controller and give it a look.