(Rich Moore, 2012)
If you have children and watch a lot of the many animated films produced by Hollywood these days, then the emotional arc they invariably follow can become wearyingly repetitive. That stock formula wherein a character learns a valuable lesson about what really matters to them while being led astray by their own basest desires or a dangerously attractive bad influence: that seems central to every kids film I see. And I see just about all of them, these days.
Still, some can deliver that formula beautifully, and some cannot. That depends on a number of different factors; the storytelling is crucial, the strength of the characters, the wit, the tightness of the plotting. Well, Wreck-It Ralph is excellent in just about all of those categories.
Set in the world of a 1980s arcade game, the film centres upon Ralph, the bad guy in a game called "Fix-It Felix Jr", a Donkey Kong rip-off. After the arcade closes each night, the video game characters live on inside the dormant machines, and it is the richly imagined world of their lives which is perhaps the film's strongest single element. Ralph, fed up with 30 years of being shunned inside his own game, decides to head off in search of some heroism. His quest leads him through violent Space Marine Sci-fi First Person shooter "Heroes Duty" and then "Sugar Rush" a candy land-set Kart Racer game, where he meets Vanellope, a "glitch" and fellow outsider. Meanwhile, Fix-It Felix, the hero from Ralph's game, is desperately searching for him so that he can return and stop the game from being declared out of order, and the Commander of the Space Marines is also in Sugar Rush, hunting an escaped Cy-Bug which Ralph unwittingly took with him.
Thats quite a lot of plot to cram into under two hours, and it means that Moore's movie zips along like one of the video games it depicts, stuffing in countless sight-gags and references to games for the adults without ever stinting on the slapstick and toilet humour for the kids. The multi-socket adaptor powering all the consoles is here revealed to house a Game Central Station, where "homeless" Q-Bert avatars beg for change and off-duty combatants from Street Fighter go to drink. There are cameos from characters from Mario, Pac Man, Frogger and many more in these scenes, and the way flashbacks are rendered in different resolutions, and some characters flicker like older game pixels are the sorts of details that give Wreck-It Ralph a feeling of a richly textured, deeply imagined world most reminiscent of the one seen in the Toy Story films.
All of that - and the sensitive, nicely judged voice work from John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman - helps immeasurably when it comes to selling that familiar emotional arc in the somewhat overstuffed, hyper-frenetic last reel.
Feeling much more like a Pixar production than any Disney film in recent memory, Wreck-It Ralph is a an immensely entertaining family film with layers and laughs in equal measure.