“Wreck-It Ralph”, the new animated feature from Disney, delivers exactly what you expect, nothing more. That isn’t to say it’s bad. In a vacuum this is a fun enough movie, the visuals are good (though the 3D feels unnecessary most of the time), and there are all the heartwarming moments you would expect from a family cartoon. The chief problem is that, at every single juncture, the film is predictable, and never shows anything beyond the most obvious levels. If you have kids they’ll likely fall in love with “Wreck-It Ralph”, and while parents have sat through much, much worse to appease their tots, “Wreck-It Ralph” is middle of the road at best.
The set up of “Wreck-It Ralph” is the only part of the film that is inventive and fresh, and is the most favorable element of the whole movie. After closing for the night, the arcade truly comes to life. Characters from the games intermingle, and there’s an entire underground social scene. Watching the various characters, some real, some fictional, interact is a blast. There are nods to games like “Q-Bert”, “Pac-Man”, and the one that really seals the deal, “Tapper”. Key entries from every major gaming epoch are also present and accounted for. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t build on this potential, and is content to glide along, telling a bland story that you’ve heard a thousand times.
Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the bad guy in a Donkey Kong-style videogame. For 30 years he’s been at it, doing his job to the best of his abilities, and what has it got him? Nothing. He lives in the local dump by himself, and doesn’t even get invited to the anniversary party for his game, “Fix-It Felix Jr.” His villain support group provides no real support, and, determined to prove himself, Ralph sets off on a journey that could lead to his game, and home, being unplugged once and for all. Along the way he meets strange new people, experiences fancy new games, and learns some important lessons of life, friendship, and, most importantly, himself.
You know two-minutes into “Wreck-It Ralph” exactly how the film is going to end. While it may be a kid’s movie, and you don’t expect it to buck every convention in the book, the set up is so cool that when the story does nothing, it feels squandered. This could have been a film that is remembered and celebrated for years to come, instead of being something that you enjoy well enough, then immediately sweep out of your mind. In fact so much time is spent trying establish the setting, and playing around in the cute, 8-bit worlds, that by the time you get to the main emotional component of the film, you’re attention has wandered off.
When Ralph encounters Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a glitch character in a sugarcoated racing game, the themes of friendship, love, and being yourself no matter what the costs finally pop for real. This is when the movie starts in earnest, but it takes too long to get there. By this point you’re halfway through the movie, and what remains is shortchanged and rushed. What emotion it does conjure, is glossed over too quickly to have any real impact.
“Wreck-It Ralph” momentarily tries to say something about the present state of videogames, but a single outburst of, “when did videogames become so violent and scary?” just doesn’t do it. This is Disney, so you know all of the names in the cast. Jack McBrayer is solid in his usual bumpkin way, as the clueless Fix-It Felix, but the rest are uninteresting. Jane Lynch does exactly what she does on “Glee”, she yells a lot and insults everyone. Alan Tudyk is okay as King Candy, but he is a toothless villain. For a second you think they’re going to do something interesting with him, perhaps make him not as much of a villain, as a ruler forced to make tough choices instead of a typical antagonist. That doesn’t last long either.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with “Wreck-It Ralph”, it’s fine, it’s fun, and if you have kids, they’re going to love it. Simply put, however, there just isn’t anything to set it apart from any other animated movie. At a writing level, the script is just lifeless. All the imagination and originality went into the world, with none left over for the characters or story.
Maybe I’m just a curmudgeonly old asshole. Trashing a movie this well meaning certainly makes me feels like I’m warming up to inform a roomful of children that Santa Claus isn’t real. Perhaps movies like “ParaNorman”, which illustrates just how unique, fun, and relevant a kid’s movie can be, spoiled movies like “Wreck-It Ralph” for me.