Clever idea, but too much sugar
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, November 2, 2012
Here’s what the reviews would say if “Wreck-It Ralph” were an actual video game and not a video-game-themed movie: Great concept and graphics, weak story mode.
The 3-D animated comedy is the story of a goofy bad guy out of a retro arcade game who “game jumps,” leaving his cloistered universe -- and prescribed role as the heavy -- in search of fulfillment in other games.
It’s a clever and original idea, with lots of cute sight gags. (One of the ghosts from “Pac-Man” is the leader of a support group for misunderstood villains.)
But the narrative itself is overly busy, noisy and unengaging, with little of the charm and heart that won viewers over in the “Toy Story” franchise, allowing that film to transcend its roots in the world of inanimate playthings.
The voice casting here works well. In the title role of a hulking destroyer who’s only good at smashing things but who dreams of becoming a hero, John C. Reilly manages to evoke the pathos of the outsider. And Sarah Silverman is pretty perfect as Vanellope von Schweetz, a tomboyish pre-adolescent driver in a kiddie drag-racing game called “Sugar Rush” that Ralph serendipitously finds himself in. Like Ralph, Vanellope aspires to video-game greatness.
Vanellope’s world may be almost nauseatingly pink and sugary -- it’s overstuffed with product placements for such junk food as Devil Dogs and Nesquik -- but the actress brings an acerbic tartness to the role. That, and the character’s salty if juvenile tongue helps cut some of the sweetness out of the setting. Vanellope makes much of the fact that Ralph visited a sci-fi war game called “Hero’s Duty” before arriving in “Sugar Rush.” (She, of course, pronounces it “doody.”)
The unexpected friendship between Ralph and Vanellope is one of the nicest things about the movie. He’s a misfit runaway, and she’s a “glitch,” a character whose digital computer code has begun to malfunction, threatening not just her livelihood as a driver, but also her life. Together they try to realize their own -- and each other’s -- dreams.
That, unsurprisingly, involves a lot of frenzied racing and other miscellaneous action. Following Ralph into “Sugar Rush” is his old nemesis, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), a goody-two-shoes with a magic golden hammer and his own discontents. “Why do I fix everything I touch?” he laments after trying -- and failing -- to break something.
Then there’s Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a pneumatic-bosomed warrior who’s trying to exterminate the alien “cybugs” that Ralph has inadvertently introduced into Vanellope’s world of gum drops and lollipops. (Don’t buy Milk Duds at the concession stand or you'll have a sugar crash.)
That’s a lot of plot, and that’s not even the half of it. That may please hardcore gamers who are used to processing complex, seemingly never-ending story lines, but it’s needless clutter in a movie geared toward a young audience. Plus it distracts from the “human” element of the tale, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.
It’s actually not. There’s a kernel of genuine feeling in the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope. Themes of self-sacrifice and being true to oneself also are there, if subtly.
But those themes are largely lost under the film’s candy coating, which emphasizes action and eye-popping visuals over emotion.
Contains mild video-game violence and bathroom humor.