John C. Reilly is the perfectly-cast voice of the title character, the villain in an old-school video game who’s tired of being a “bad guy.” He never gets any approbation and has to live in a (literal) dump, while top-billed hero Fix-It Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) wins all the praise. So Ralph does the unthinkable and breaks out of his arcade console, invading other game environments where he can prove himself a hero.
I’m not a gamer, but Moore and his team have managed to create a movie that works on several levels (no pun intended) so that kids, grownups, and video-game fanatics can all appreciate it. Wreck-It Ralph is brimming with gags and visually inventive ideas, as when Ralph (who lives in an aging, 8-bit universe) encounters slicker, better-animated characters from newer games. In fact, the first half of the film is a constant delight as clever, funny ideas are presented, one after another. It’s the second half where the storytelling becomes muddled.
I never bought into the relationship on which the movie hinges, between a weary Wreck-It Ralph and the obnoxiously “cute” game-girl Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman). Throw in a last-minute story thread involving the King Candy (Alan Tudyk, doing a hilarious impression of Ed Wynn) and you’ve got even more clutter as the film reaches its climax.
Wreck-It Ralph is a perfect example of a film that might have scored a bull’s-eye as a short subject but feels lumpy as a feature, as it tries to touch all the bases—including a heart-tugging storyline that is the touchstone of most Disney films. There’s much to enjoy and admire, but I never felt that swell of emotion that the Disney team tries to impart.
On the other hand Paperman, the six-and-a-half minute short subject that precedes the feature, is perfection itself, an amusing and ingenious love story told entirely in pantomime and styled in black & white (with just a touch of color). Here is a completely contemporary short that shows what talented people can do with one good idea. Kudos to director John Kahrs and his colleagues.