It's hard to see how Disney can miss with the animated “Wreck-It Ralph,” whether you pay extra for the 3-D or not.
Set in the world of video games, the movie overflows with references to retro games adults will remember with nostalgia, while also nailing a story and characters that small fry can plug into. The voice work is exceptional as well.
Director Rich Moore (“The Simpsons”) and executive producer John Lasseter, the genius behind Pixar, know how to make a make-believe world dazzle visually and resonate emotionally, for whatever age you happen to be.
The story centers on Wreck-It Ralph, who is tired of playing the high-rise-destroying villain in an old-feeling low-resolution game called “Fix-It Felix Jr.” (think “Donkey Kong”). Felix gets all the cheers and cocktail parties for fixing the damage, while lonely Ralph gets tossed in the mud and lives in a junkyard.
At a Bad-Anon support group (one game at a time), Ralph shares his malaise with other villains before deciding he needs a medal to change his status to hero.
Heading to Game Central Station, via the arcade's wiring, he sneaks aboard high-resolution “Hero's Duty” (think “Halo”), a military game that fights cyberbugs and can win him the gold. There he runs afoul of tough squad leader Sgt. Calhoun (voice of Jane Lynch).
His escape crash-lands him, along with a cyberbug, in the game of “Sugar Rush,” where little girls compete in go-kart racing (Candyland scenery, “Mario Kart” gaming). There, a sassy little glitch named Vanellope von Schweetz, who aspires to become one of the racers, blackmails Ralph into helping her by grabbing his gold medal. Two outsiders team to beat the system.
Meanwhile, Calhoun and Fix-It Felix are hot on Ralph's trail. Felix needs Ralph to come back before his game is permanently retired, while Calhoun has to catch that cyberbug before it multiplies and kills every game in the arcade.
Kart racing, vicious cyberbugs, a quirky “Sugar Rush” king (voice of Alan Tudyk channeling Ed Wynn) with a dark secret, and a budding romance between Felix and Calhoun keep things more than interesting.
The animators have a blast re-creating the atmosphere of both older and high-tech video worlds, and the special effects are dazzlers.
But what makes the film is the way John C. Reilly, voicing Ralph, and Sarah Silverman, as cheeky and determined Vanellope, bring those characters to life and make you care about them. Jack McBrayer (Kenneth on NBC's “30 Rock”) and Lynch (Sue Sylvester on Fox's “Glee”) are equally effective as the voices of blushing Felix and tough girl Calhoun.
The game references are a nonstop scorecard for hard-core gamers to count: “Metal Gear,” Konami, “Tapper,” “Pac-Man,” “Q*bert,” “Super Mario Brothers,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and more.
Like “Toy Story,” this story of children's playthings that have lives of their own when not being played with works on a lot of levels and is sure to rack up major box office profits.
Drawbacks? Silverman's dialogue is a bit spicier than your average PG rating, and the Candyland setting for most of the movie would not have been my favorite choice. This feels more like kids' stuff than many Pixar features.
That's not going to stop this from becoming a $200 million hit that hangs around until well after Thanksgiving. Arrive on time for a preshow hand-drawn romantic short titled “Paper Man” that's great. Stay through the credits for background and theme songs on a couple of “Wreck-It Ralph's” main characters.
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