The film is about Ralph, the Donkey Kong-like antagonist of the fictional arcade game, Felix Fix-It Jr. Fed up with his lot in life, Ralph decides to leave his game to try and find recognition for something other than being a bad guy. The whole "villain proves himself to not be so bad," thing isn't new, but Ralph takes the idea and adds a level of freshness to it. It does start to sag in the middle and the climax goes a little over the top, but the story as a whole works and manages to find a happy medium between "be your own person" and "accept your responsibilities."
My favorite part of this movie was the earnestness with which it approaches video games. The movie goes to great lengths to maintain the feel of arcade games both old and new. Characters move like they would in their respective games, various visual effects take on a pixelated quality, and there are cameos galore. There are appearances from Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog, and too many classic arcade games to mention here. My personal favorite is a throwaway Metal Gear Solid gag that you might miss if you aren't paying attention. The only truly notable absence is Mario, but even he gets a mention early on, even if he never actually shows up. Even the fake first-person shooter Hero's Duty feels like an actual arcade shooter thanks to the way Jane Lynch narrates the play through as Calhoun, the tough-as-nails squad leader with, "the most tragic backstory ever." It reminded me of the old days playing Area 51 and House of the Dead.
What true gamer doesn't get giddy from this scene alone?
Other characters that stand out for me are Ralph and the Candy King, ruler of the saccharine racing game, Sugar Rush. John C. Reilly is one of those actors that I really love because of the diversity of his work. He can go from a dramatic role in Gangs of New York to making stoners chuckle on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! If Donkey Kong had been as relatable as Ralph, I would have felt much worse about hitting him with hammers and locking him up in a cage. Inversely, Alan Tudyk plays the Candy King like someone straight out of a Disney movie during the studio's animated heyday. The whole character felt like a more twisted version of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, and I loved him for it.
Some viewers who are not as familiar with classic gaming may not be as engrossed as the younger crowd, but the movie is strong enough to stay enjoyable. Plus, any movie that makes me like both Jane Lynch and Sarah Silverman has to be doing something right. Between Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, I'm really excited to see if next year's Frozen will keep the momentum going.
As a final note: if you go see Ralph (and you should), get there on time so you can catch John Kahrs' wonderful fabulous short, Paperman. Full analysis on that short (and possibly others) next week.