Disney has a talent for spinning existential despair into heartwarming, hilarious adventures; like the company’s best output (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Mulan), Wreck-It Ralph stars an outsider dissatisfied with his place in the world, hungry for something more.
From Ralph’s perspective, terrorizing the denizens of his 8-bit home is merely a nine-to-five job, but because he’s programmed to destroy everything he lays his oversized hands on, he finds himself shunned by his neighbors, forced to spend his nights at the local garbage dump. On the eve of his game’s thirtieth anniversary, Ralph, finally fed up with all the abuse, vows to prove once and for all that he’s more than just another Bad Guy–even if he has to leave his own machine to do so. Along the way, he encounters a spunky glitch named Vanellope von Schweetz, whose determination to prove her worth on the racetracks of Sugar Rush (sort of a candy-themed spin on Mario Kart) teaches him that there’s much more to being a Hero than winning medals.
From the inspired casting (John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, and Jane Lynch are all pitch-perfect) to the imaginative world-building (Game Central Station, where various familiar faces–Bowser, Sonic, Q*bert, and many more–gather after the arcade closes, is gorgeously realized), Wreck-It Ralph is a truly delightful experience from “Insert Coin” to “Game Over.” If there’s one flaw, it’s that the plot gets cluttered near the climax; as much as I adore the tough-as-nails Sgt. Calhoun, her sole narrative function–hunting down an escaped “Cy-Bug” before it devours every bit of data in its path–feels like an unnecessary attempt to raise the already hefty stakes (if Ralph fails to return to Fix-It Felix, Jr. within twenty-four hours, the owner will pull the plug; ‘nuff said). But when discussing such a beautifully-constructed tale of redemption and self-discovery, complaining about “too much conflict” seems a bit silly.
In one pivotal scene, Ralph, facing an almost certain demise, repeats his support group’s affirmation, realizing the full significance of the words for the first time:
I am bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There is no one I would rather be than me.
If you’re not weeping by the time he’s finished, I doubt that even Fix-It Felix’s magic hammer could repair your cold, hard heart.
[Originally written November 7, 2012.]