“Wreck-It Ralph” is a movie that begins with a plentitude of promise. Like an arcade game to pass the time, you pop your quarters into its formulaic machine and have a bit of a blast for a while. But when it’s game over and the movie asks you if you wish to continue, don’t be surprised if you end up saving your coins for another experience.
“Wreck-It” tells the story of titular villain Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the bad guy of an arcade video game called “Fix-it Felix Jr.” Ralph’s job is to savagely wreck the windows of a building while climbing to the roof, only to have his messes fixed by the game’s hero Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and eventually be thrown off the roof by the townspeople—day in and day out.
So it’s a tough world out there for a video game bad guy, and “Wreck-It Ralph” begins its inspired premise with just this idea — placing Ralph in a hilarious villain support group with Bowser and a ghost from Pacman, among other notable baddies. Ralph, exhausted of his sinister responsibilities and wishing to find something more in his pixelated life, abandons his game in search of a medal, something to turn him into a hero that everybody loves.
I was ready to follow “Wreck-It Ralph” through most of its motions, but then it becomes stranded in a narrative funk. After an interesting first act, Ralph spends the rest of the movie occupying the candy-coated world of a racing game called “Sugar Rush,” in which he bonds with a “glitch” named Vaneloppe von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who helps him discover himself, reveal a conspiracy, and save the day. The story, which begins seeming newly inspired and like something we have never seen before, soon becomes a formula-driven adventure tale we’ve all seen before.
The problems with “Wreck-It Ralph” lie in the fact that much of its humor relies on pop culture references to arcade fandom and less witty references to candy and sweets once we enter the world of “Sugar Rush.” Constant allusions, blatant and forced, provide the film with an obnoxious surge of anti-inspiration in where it tries to locate its funny bone. Instead, it feels like the movie borrows an entire skeletal system.
There simply arrives a point where the inventive potential of “Wreck-It Ralph” is sucked dry, and the movie’s genius idea has little room to travel once the plot gets stuck in a saccharine-soaked blur of cutesy characters and ineffective laughs. The concept of “Wreck-It Ralph” lays the groundwork for something special, but the ultimate premise simply can’t pave the way.
I was reminded a bit of “Toy Story,” especially in comparing the two universes in which fantasy characters come to life once humans are out of the picture. “Wreck-It Ralph’s” ingenious ideas of a Game Central Station, in which all games are traveled to via the wires in the arcade floor, is something that is never really built upon — just used as a creative, little crutch.
Imagine if the toys in “Toy Story” never left Andy’s room, and you have “Wreck-It Ralph.” It’s brilliantly animated and has some nice character moments, but all in all, it goes nowhere. It pulls the plug early on its creativeness, as if the filmmakers adopted the great idea of ‘Ralph’ solely with the intentions of wrecking it.
Wreck-It Ralph 2 1/2 out of 4 Stars