Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Adam Carolla, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Joe Lo Truglio, Ed O'Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Edie McClurg
Written by: Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, based on a story by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jim Reardon
Directed by: Rich Moore
MPAA Rating: PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence
Running Time: 101
Date: 01/11/2012

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

In a Fix

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The 52rd official Disney animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph, which follows last year's excellent, underrated Winnie the Pooh, seems to have benefited from the influence of Pixar, the groundbreaking animation studio now owned by Disney. Specifically, it has a story and screenplay so tightly structured, and so consistently amusing and surprising, that it doesn't seem to suffer from any of Disney's usual shortcomings. And, above all, it's dazzling, hilarious, and a great deal of fun. (It's just one more entry in a series of excellent animated features in 2012.)

Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), is the bad guy in a "Donkey Kong"-like arcade game called "Fix-It-Felix." The game has been around for 30 years, and Ralph has grown tired of never getting any credit for his work, the way the pint-sized hero Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) does. Specifically, at the end of each level, Felix gets a medal. If only Ralph could get one, he believes, he would win the respect of the other characters in the game.

While drinking in the local "Tapper" game, he learns about a new game, a violent first-person-shooter called "Hero's Duty," in which he can get a medal. He manages this task, but winds up losing the medal inside another game, "Sugar Rush." Here, he befriends Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), and agrees to help her build a car and win a race in exchange for his medal back. But Felix and a tall, voluptuous heroine from the "Hero's Duty" game, Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), also head into "Sugar Rush" to help set things right.

That's a lot of plot synopsis, and I've only touched on about half the story. Yet writers Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, and director Rich Moore (a director on "The Simpsons" making his feature debut), manage to keep it completely balanced and clear, with each twist and turn coming at a logical place, and with logical purpose. The story moves briskly and smoothly over 108 minutes.

Then we have the look of the movie, which is especially striking in the three games, each representing a different style and era. The filmmakers have fun turning everything into tiny blocks inside the "Fix-It-Felix" game, including tiny little right-angle olives in a martini glass. The "Hero's Duty" game is positively terrifying, and "Sugar Rush" is the best of all, with bright, upbeat colors and giant-sized candy with such vivid textures, it makes you hungry. (The movie's heavy product placement will no doubt have kids asking for treats by brand name.)

Video game fans past and present will have fun identifying some of the more obscure favorites. "Q-Bert" is here, for those that remember, and so is the far more famous "Pac-Man." But there are dozens more for those with keen eyes and long memories.

Finally there are the performances: these actors seem to have been cast based on their personality and ability rather than star power, which is refreshing. Silverman in particular brings a hyperactive cuteness to Vanelope, but also a shrewd cynicism. Reilly, likewise, brings some heart and sadness to his big, destructive lug.

Ultimately, Wreck-It Ralph doesn't have much more to say than the usual kids' movie, which is to "be yourself," but that can be a valuable lesson, easily forgotten in the day's hustle-bustle. This movie is a wonderful way to remember it.

Note: video game fans from the 1980s should stick around until the end credits for a new song by the novelty duo Buckner & Garcia, who had a big hit in 1982 with "Pac Man Fever."

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