Starring: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman
Rated: PG for some rude humor, mild action and violence
Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Bottom line: Loved it, plain and simple
“Wreck-It Ralph” demolished my defenses. I went into this movie with the same mixture of skepticism and hope with which I approach everything I review, but by the end I was pummeled into happy submission. I became a fan, just sitting there loving a movie.
This doesn’t happen very often.
But Disney Animation Studio’s first CGI feature since “Tangled” (2010) combines huge heart, hilarious dialogue and video game culture into perhaps the best animated movie of the year — and undoubtedly one of the year’s most purely entertaining movies.
The titular character Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the bad guy in a fictional game called Fix-It Felix Jr., which borrows from real games Rampage and Donkey Kong. The character Felix (Jack McBrayer) is a squeaky-clean, gee-whiz hero reminiscent of the beloved Mario.
Ralph’s job is to wreck an apartment building. Game players control Felix and must fix all of Ralph’s destruction, scaling the floors of the building just as Mario has to climb horizontal levels.
Within the game’s world, these avatars are full-fledged characters who are merely doing the jobs for which they were programmed.
Most characters accept their roles, but after 30 years of being flung off of a building each time a player completes a level and living alone atop a massive pile of bricks, Ralph doesn’t want to be a bad guy any more.
So in a desperate attempt to earn acceptance from the other game characters, he does the unthinkable and begins “jumping games.”
Ralph enters a first-person shooter game called Hero’s Duty, in which players must kill hundreds of horrific, hoarding alien insects to reach the top of a tower and earn a medal.
In a hilarious yet poignant moment, Ralph looks directly into the first-person camera and screams in terror, “When did games become so violent?”
Ralph is soon catapulted out of Hero’s Duty and into a game called Sugar Rush, which looks like Candyland but is a go-kart racing game similar to Mario Kart.
There, Ralph meets an adorable, pugnacious outcast named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Ralph and Vanellope seem like total opposites at first (beginning with Ralph’s enormous stature compared to tiny Vanellope), and they instantly fight and become enemies for a short time.
Before long, though, they discover they’re a perfect odd couple.
The scenes that show Ralph and Vanellope bonding are about the time when the movie takes a firm grasp on your heart, and it never lets go, as we watch Ralph and Vanellope strive for that most crucial of human needs: friendship.
Despite being wrapped in a modern, video game package, the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope follows the classic formula of pairing a hard-edged, outcast man with an adorable kid. That device is at least as old as Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” (1921), and it still works.
The voice casting is perfect across the board.
Reilly, as he showed in “Magnolia,” “Chicago” and elsewhere, plays the most lovable of losers. Silverman is generally a controversial figure, but here her voice takes on an ideal mixture of sweetness and sarcasm. McBrayer also nails Felix’s naivety and earnestness.
If anyone steals the show, though, it is Jane Lynch as the tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun, who guides players through Hero’s Duty, spewing a constant barrage of R. Lee Ermey-style motivators. (“Fear is a four-letter word, ladies! You want to go pee pee in your big-boy slacks, keep it to yourself!”)
“Wreck-It Ralph” is not only a great movie, but it also feels like a pivotal moment for Disney.
There is a moment during the ending when a character makes a choice I have never seen a Disney character make, and it has significant implications for the entire Disney brand. Time will tell whether this is a turning point for the studio or merely a blip in their history.
What isn’t in doubt, is that “Wreck-It Ralph” is a must-see family movie.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.