Ralph fun with joyful shtick
OU’VE got to love a hero who says: ‘‘I wreck things. Professionally.’’
The speaker in Disney’s visually dazzling, intermittently funny Wreck-It Ralph is a depressed videogame villain who yearns to be the good guy. As in, good enough to make this movie an arcade version of Toy Story.
Despite a promising start, the movie doesn’t rise that high. After work, when the kids have gone home, Ralph (voiced by the brilliant John C. Reilly), the designated destroyer in a retro ’80s-style video game similar to Donkey Kong, sleeps in a dump – literally – and resents the penthouse partiers led by the game’s hero, Felix (Jack McBrayer), who won’t even invite him to a 30thanniversary celebration of their electronic universe.
Ralph resorts to hanging out in glum support groups with other villains such as the ghost from Pac-Man (possibly in the same therapist’s office frequented by The Incredibles).
Ralph is funny and endearing, and the film’s 3-D animation is spectacular, but the movie goes wrong when Ralph jumps into another game, Sugar Rush, a Willy Wonka-fied Oz with loads of candy puns and a saccharine heroine, Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced in a gratingly cutesy style by Sarah Silverman).
Vanellope is a fellow outcast handicapped by an e-birth defect: She’s a ‘‘glitch’’, meaning her avatar fades in and out, and from here on in the script flickers, too. The story line, initially about Ralph’s quest for a medal (which wouldn’t seem to reverse his pariah status anyway), is clouded as Vanellope prepares for a race in a homemade car fashioned out of candy.
Moreover, her character is irritating – an unattractive combo of pandering and political correctness. Buzz Lightyear didn’t need to carry a message. He was just funny.
Vanellope’s condition reminds us that we’re all special and nothing can ever stand in our way: Candyland meets Clicheville. Lots of other stale treats are on offer, too: Jane Lynch does her standard tough-talk shtick as a character from a military shoot-’em-up game, the big race looks like a girlied-up Cars and McBrayer’s lines sound like they’re straight out of 30 Rock. Time to freshen up the act a little.
Still, if you’re six or under, this will all seem new. And amid all the boring crashing and chasing and slapstick, there are some brilliant flashes of wit.
Vanellope, with her feisty one-liners, hoodie, miniskirt and striped tights, is like Poochie, The Simpsons’ surfing dog ‘‘with attitude’’, who wickedly illustrated corporate pandering to kids.
Ralph has a line whose self-evident lameness would have been mocked on The Simpsons, but here it’s actually delivered in earnest to cheer up Vanellope: ‘‘You’re a winner! And you’re adorable! And everybody loves an adorable winner!’’
Yes, and let’s not keep score and give everyone who plays the game the same prize afterward. Starting with this movie, which gets a big blue ribbon labelled: ‘‘Enthusiastic participant.’’
opens on Boxing Day.
Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz in the video game world of Sugar Rush in a scene from animated family romp