Have you ever felt like no one appreciates you? Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in, or that you don’t have a place in the world? Try this one: are you tired of being repeatedly thrown off a roof by an angry mob while your opponent always gets a medal? Ralph is. For the last 30 years, Ralph has been destroying an apartment building as the villain of Fix-It Felix, Jr., a videogame in an arcade. Every morning he gets up from the pile of rubble in which he sleeps, climbs to the top of the building and destroys it, hurling wreckage down at Felix, who repairs the building. The inhabitants of the building cheer Felix on, baking him pies, and when Felix finally gets to the top the people throw Ralph off the building into the mud. He’s done this over and over again, every day for 30 years.
On the night of his game’s 30th anniversary, Ralph decides to attend Bad-Anon, a support group for villains, for the first time. There he confesses how bad it feels to be a bad guy, and how he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore. He gets some advice from the other villains (zombie, Bowser, Dr. Eggman, Clyde from Pac-Man and a scene-stealing Zangief from Street Fighter) and they say the Bad-Anon pledge, “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.” Ralph doesn’t really believe that, though, and when he comes back to his game to find the apartment throwing a party for their anniversary without inviting him, he decides it’s time for him to be a hero.
He sets off for Hero’s Duty, dressing up like a solider in the hopes of winning a medal, but he’s not cut out to be a solider, and ends up getting a medal simply by climbing a building, breaking in and stealing one. He escapes and lands in a candy-themed racing game, Sugar Rush, where he encounters a programming glitch named Vanellope von Schweetz who just wants to race with the others. Hijinks ensue, bonds are formed, and a threat to the entire arcade appears. It’s up to a lifetime villain and a programming mistake to save the day.
Wreck-It Ralph is an endlessly creative romp through 80’s arcade nostalgia and videogame fandom. It’s also a movie for everyone who’s ever felt out of place, in a dead-end job, unappreciated, or for all of us who’ve ever been told there’s something wrong with us. It’s a movie about accepting who you are, and not letting other people dictate how you feel about yourself. John C. Reilly gives Ralph a world-weary feel to his voice, like a man in his 30s with no direction. He’s bitter and angry, and he struggles with trying to find a balance between his place in the world and the hopes and dreams he’s told are impossible. Vanellope, on the other hand, as voiced by Sarah Silverman, is a ball of energy who refuses to accept the place she’s been granted. She knows that she’d be the best racer ever if only she were given a chance. But beneath her enthusiasm, the insults she constantly hears about being a glitch are starting to get her down.
It’s a perfect paring of characters and performers, and their relationship is both sweet and sarcastic. The supporting cast is fantastic as well, both the authentic video game characters and the creations for the movie. (Wreck-It Ralph is the Who Framed Roger Rabbit of videogame movies.) Jane Lynch is hilarious as the leader of the soldiers in Hero’s Duty, and Jack McBrayer makes Felix into a convincing, all-around good guy who has never looked at things from any perspective other than his own. The movie is funny and heartwarming, but also gets intense and dark at times. The two main characters are dealing with surprisingly real emotional issues, and Ralph can really act like a bad guy at times.
Wreck-It Ralph never gets too dark, however. A lot of the humor comes in the way that these drastically different videogame worlds clash. All of the cabinets in the arcade are plugged into a surge protector/power strip and after the arcade closes down for the night, the characters congregate there, or visit other games. Bad-Anon meets in the middle of Pac-Man, since Clyde the ghost is the host of the meeting, and Ralph goes for drinks in Tapper (a real bartender game from 1983). Ralph, the star of a 30 year old, 8-bit game, is shocked at the level of realism and violence in Hero’s Duty. Sonic the Hedgehog makes public safety announcements at game central station, while poor Q*bert and his companions beg for food, homeless and stranded after their game was unplugged.
The inclusion of real world videogame characters makes all the difference in Wreck-It Ralph, lending the movie a sense of authenticity that would have been lacking without it. The filmmakers have created a wide variety of worlds for these games to inhabit, and each feels both unique and appropriate to the genre. The actors recorded most of their lines together in the studio (an increasing trend in animated movies, much to my delight) and it shows in the way the characters play off each other. The real draw of Wreck-It Ralph, however, is the way it plays against type. Most movies give us the story of a hero trying to find his place in the world, whereas here we’re given the story of a villain and a glitch who know their place but refuse to believe that’s all there is. That’s the sort of story I’ll take any day.
*Note: My only complaint about Wreck-It Ralph is that it doesn’t include the song “Some Nights” by fun., which was used in the trailer and perfectly matches the tone of the film.