Disney seems to be making a comeback in recent years and has founds its stride in humor and sentiment once again in “Wreck-It Ralph.” The animated video-game feature recaptures everything that makes a classic children’s film, and is the studio’s best work since “The Lion King” in 1994.
“Wreck-It Ralph” takes place in the unseen world of arcade games, where the characters come alive and interact with one another in a “Toy Story”-esque fashion. The story fallows Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Riley), who is an 8-bit villain in the classic game “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” but wishes he could be the hero for once.
The movie manages to capture the essence of eras throughout video games, with “Fix-It Felix Jr.” looking strikingly similar to the original “Donkey Kong” arcade game, which was also the debut game for Mario, who was then called Jumpman. As Ralph makes his way through Game Central Station to other games plugged into the arcade’s circuit breaker, audiences find themselves in the “Halo” styled “Hero’s Duty,” as well as the “Mario Kart” inspired “Sugar Rush” carting game.
The pun-fest kicks off when Ralph, who is tired of living in the Niceland dump feels mistreated by the tiny people who inhabit his games town, gets tired of being mistreated. When he realizes he isn’t invited to his own game’s 30th anniversary party, Ralph bets the Nicelanders of “Fix-It Felix Jr.” that he can win a medal as a good-guy.
Ralph goes against the teachings of his villain support group and makes his way into “Hero’s Duty” to earn himself a soldier’s medal. When things go wrong in the futuristic battle, Ralph is launches himself and an alien specimen known as a Cy-bug into the kitschy kids’ game “Sugar Rush,” with Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (Jane Lynch) of “Hero’s Duty” after him.
Ralph assumes the Cy-bug is dead and seems to have a clear exit with his loosely earned medal, but is thwarted again by Vanellope von Schweetz, (Sarah Silverman) a glitch in the “Sugar Rush” game who uses the medal to enter the carting race. Ralph begrudgingly helps the 9-year-old glitch in exchange for her winner’s medal and the two go about the typical unlikely friendship sequence that is standard in this kind of film.
Even though you know that Ralph and Vanellope are going to wind up the best of friends, Disney works there magic by making their encounters comedic and heart-warming in just the right doses. The odd couple fits well together, with Ralph wanting to gain acceptance by winning a medal, and Vanellope wanting to win a race so she can become a real part of her game, and both of them being shunned by the characters they envy.
Even the immense amount of puns is played well, with characters like King Candy (Alan Tudyk), the ruler of “Sugar Rush” almost never finishing a without using wordplay; getting the biggest laughs of the entire film. The puns fit into the world of “Sugar Rush” so things like Felix and Tamora falling into Nesquiksand will be appreciated by gamers for their appropriate context.
Video game enthusiasts will also be treated to references and cameos from other video games, like appearances by Bowser from “Super Mario Bros.,” Sonic the Hedgehog, Doctor Eggman and Tails “Sonic the Hedgehog,” Q*bert, Coily, Slick, and Ugg from “Q*Bert,” Chun-Li, Cammy and Blanka from “Street Fighter,” Neff from “Altered Beast,” Paperboy from “Paperboy,” Knight and Ostrich from “Joust,” Frogger from “Frogger,” Dig Dug, a Pooka and a Fygar from “Dig Dug,” Pac-Man, Blinky, Pinky, and Inky from “Pac-Man,” Paddle 1 and Paddle 2 from “Pong,” Peter Pepper from “BurgerTime” and The Qix from “Qix.”
Even audiences that may feel “too old” for a video game movie can appreciate the classic storytelling of an unlikely friendship, overcoming adversity and, finding happiness in the things you do. “Wreck-It Ralph” encompasses all of those things, and it packages them with hilarious jokes that are appropriate for everyone and the right amount esoteric nerd humor.