For those of us who spent good portions of our youth feeding quarters into arcade games, “Wreck-It Ralph 3D” is a sweet return to long-lost friends, like Q*bert and Pac-Man. And, of course, it’s our introduction to a supposed game from the same time period, “Fix-It Felix, Jr”, the home for the eponymous good-guy foil for the movie’s namesake. As the story goes (illustrated in a song run over the end credits), Ralph (John C. Reilly – “Talladega Nights” and “Boogie Nights”) was living well enough on his own until his land was taken by eminent domain and had a high-rise apartment building put on it. As his revenge on the interlopers, he takes took his huge hands and starts bashing in windows, all the while spouting his tag line: “I’M GONNA WRECK IT!” Enter Fix-It Felix (played by Jack Brayer, well-known for his work on “30 Rock”), who uses his magical fixing hammer to reset everything back to normal. As Felix undoes all of the wrecking wrought by Ralph, he climbs the high-rise and is presented with a medal by the apartment building’s residents, the Nicelanders.
Once the arcade closes for the night, you see an arcade version of what happens to the toys in “Toy Story” when no one is around: they play, they eat, they hang out with each other, and they even travel between each other’s games via a conduit system known as “Game Central Station” – a vast transfer point embedded within the power plugs and power strips that feed electricity to the machines. As “Fix-It Felix” reaches its 30th anniversary, Ralph finds himself in a support group for bad guys, trying to understand why he doesn’t ever get to be presented with a medal, why he’s never the hero. His fellow baddies assure him that this is never meant to be – that he should accept being the bad guy – and they try to make him take it “One Game At A Time”. When Ralph returns to his game, he finds the denizens of the apartment building lighting it up (literally), celebrating the game’s anniversary with dancing, fireworks, and even a cake…but not with him. Since he considers himself an integral part of the game’s success, he tries to insinuate himself into the party. But, in the end, it all falls apart on him – leaving him frustrated and vowing to return with his own shiny medal to rival the ones won by Felix at the end of every successful game.
As he broods in the “Tapper” barkeep game, Ralph comes across a soldier from a first-person shooter game fighting “cy-bugs”, evil, fast-breeding bugs that destroy or eat everything in their path. He learns that the soldier’s game, “Hero’s Duty”, ends with the surviving soldier getting a medal, and he immediately sets off to join the unit. At this point, Ralph meets up with Sergeant Calhoun (voiced wonderfully by the incredible Jane Lynch – “Glee” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, among others). She tries to lead him into battle but he manages to make his way through on his own, eventually reaching his coveted medal and then immediately making a complete mess of everything. Ralph ends up in an escape capsule with a cy-bug and mistakenly trespasses on yet another game: the deceptively sweet, candy coated go-kart game, “Sugar Rush”. His game-jumping creates a problem in “Fix-It Felix, Jr.”, since the villain isn’t there to create any wreckage for the hero to fix, and the game is labeled “Out of Order” – a literal sign that it will be turned off and put on the scrap heap without Ralph’s return. A distraught Felix decides he needs to go in search of Ralph to set things right and bring him home.
It’s at this point that Ralph makes the acquaintance of Vanellope von Schweetz, a pint-sized antagonist played to bratty perfection by Sarah Silverman (“The Sarah Silverman Show” and “Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic”). Vanellope gets her hands on Ralph’s medal and uses it as her entry fee to the road race to determine the nine top avatars that will be offered in the next day’s go-kart races. As Ralph soon discovers, Vanellope is as much of an outcast as he is, and he agrees to help her in her quest to compete in the race. Unfortunately for Vanellope and Ralph, it seems as though all of the other citizens of “Sugar Rush” are out to stop them, especially King Candy – a Mad Hatter-looking figure voiced by the wonderful Alan Tudyk (“Firefly”, “A.I” and – for those, like me, who saw him on Broadway – “Spamalot”).
Meanwhile, Sergeant Calhoun and Fix-It Felix, Jr. have teamed up, Felix aiming to find Ralph and bring him back before his disappearance spells the end for the game, and Sergeant Calhoun hoping to destroy the cy-bug that hitched a ride in Ralph’s escape pod. As she describes it, the cy-bug will eventually take over and completely obliterate all the games, and Calhoun is the last line of defense. The latter third of the movie is action on top of action – Vanellope and Ralph clashing and colliding with King Candy and his loyal subjects across the sugary landscape while Calhoun and Felix work feverishly to chase down the deadly cy-bug that threatens the survival of all of the games.
While many gamer jokes are hidden within the earlier scenes, it’s the time spent in the land of “Sugar Rush” where all the candy jokes come into play, some of which are incredibly silly (yet wholly amusing) puns. As you would expect, there are a number of cameos from real-world video game characters, like Clyde from Pac-Man and Sonic from Sonic the Hedgehog. Q*bert probably has the best (and largest) cameo of the bunch. This is a cute, sweet film that uses the gamer (and candy) in-jokes as seasoning, rather than as the main meal. “Wreck-It Ralph 3D” is, at its core, a movie about what it means to be a hero.
It’s worth sticking around through the credits (more gamer jokes), including a small scene at the very end of the credits. The 3D in this movie is fairly well done, although I found that I had trouble with fuzziness at times. I’m not sure how much of that was the placement of the glasses with respect to my eyes, but some shots just seemed crisper than others. It is worth noting, however, that the animators clearly took great pains to make certain levels of graphics or certain movements by characters matched the quality and style of their time. The characters in “Sugar Rush” are much more like what you’d expect to see today – slick movements and glossy graphics, while the choppy movements of the “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” characters is clearly fitting for a 30-year-old game.
“Wreck-It Ralph 3D” is a clever film, answering a question I don’t know that we could have imagined without “Toy Story”, and it’s really very nicely executed by the team at Disney. (Pixar had a hand to play, as well, as John Lasseter executive produced.) Some of the early time spent in “Sugar Rush” is a bit lengthy, and I wonder if the 3D was really necessary for many of the shots, but overall I think it was a really cute and often amusing film.
Also worth noting: “Wreck-It Ralph 3D” is preceded by the 3D version of “Paperman”, which I saw earlier this year just prior to a special screening of “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”. “Paperman” was just as sweet and wonderful in 3D, although I don’t even think it needed to be presented in 3D. It didn’t gain a ton other than a slight amount of visual depth by pulling the characters forward and making the backgrounds more clearly backgrounds. The heart and soul of the story is still the same, and I still think it’s Oscar-level material.
Lastly, while there were plenty of kids in the audience at the screening I attended, “Wreck-It Ralph” does have a couple of scenes that some small children may find scary, particularly the ones with the cy-bugs and the final showdown at the end of the film. Kids unfamiliar with shooter games may also find the gunplay overwhelming for the handful of scenes where guns are used.
3 out of 4 stars
“Wreck-It Ralph 3D” opens nationwide on November 2, 2012. This movie is rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) for some rude humor and several scenes of action/violence.