When Litwak’s Arcade closes at night, the various video game characters come to life in their own cyber world. Among these characters is Wreck-It Ralph (Reilly), the villain of a retro, eight-bit platform game who’s fed up being ostracised by his colleagues because he’s the bad guy. Determined to change this, Ralph heads off into the other games to search for a hero’s medal…
Set in an Arcade where the characters come to life after hours, Wreck-It Ralph is essentially Toy Story with video games. Sure to strike a chord with gamers (or former gamers) of a certain age, this hugely-promising setup is employed to great effect during the opening stages. There’s 8-bit graphics, bleeping sounds and inspired gaming humour, but the highlight is a sequence where Ralph attends a bad-guy self-help group with the likes of Zangief from Street Fighter II, Bowser from Super Mario Bros and a ghost from Pac-Man.
Non-gamers won’t get the same enjoyment, but those who know their Lara Crofts from their Dr. Robotniks will love the character cameos and jokes. See, for example, SFII’s Ryu and Ken nipping off for a drink after work, or Q*Bert living homeless as his game no longer features at the Arcade.
Unfortunately, though, the rest of the film fails to live up to its early stages. While the Halo-like shoot-em’-up which Ralph first ventures into promises that we’ll visit lots of cool gaming worlds, Disney’s latest then moves into a far less interesting setting – a candy-covered kart-racing game – and stays there. From here the early wit and invention gradually give way to tedious slapstick and generic, kid-friendly antics, and the movie never really recovers. There are sporadic flashes of inspiration, but more than anything it’s frustrating to watch as a brilliant premise is wasted.
Still, the animation is wonderful and John C. Reilly’s mopey hangdog shtick suits the Donkey Kong-like Ralph to a tee. But while the film comes with undoubted pedigree (Director Rich Moore used to work on The Simpsons, Pixar supremo John Lasseter serves as exec. producer), the story offers little beyond the age-old Disney message about being yourself. A late, villain-related twist is nice, but aside from Jane Lynch’s dominatrix Commando the supporting characters aren’t nearly as memorable as they need to be. Game over.
Wreck-It Ralph has a promising setup and the opening will strike a chord with gamers of a certain age, but it never recovers from a dull midsection which gradually squanders a great idea.