Without the unstoppable strength and forward momentum of Pixar, Disney have always struggled to break free of their tried and tested formulas – the ever-successful Disney Princess brand being the most obvious – and explore new, contemporary ideas. Wreck-It Ralph, however, was masterminded and directed by Emmy-winner Rich Moore, and sees the studio come crashing into the 21st century with a film that’s as stylish, colourful, sharp-minded and witty as it is bang up-to-date.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the villain of classic 8-bit arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr. After 30 years of being shut-out by the other Fix-It characters, including Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) himself, Ralph ventures outside of his contained world in search of a medal that he hopes will bring him all the attention he’s ever dreamt of. However, when he ends up in the candy world of Sugar Rush, a racing game where the shunned Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) is dealing with her own problems, he realises he’s not the only one who doesn’t fit in.
It would be impossible not to feel initially dissatisfied by Wreck-It Ralph’s similarities to Toy Story, or even its by-the-numbers narrative, but screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston squeeze so much into the film’s concise running time that it’s hard not to be won over by its nostalgic, imaginative charm. It’s an electric foray into the world of video games that’s constantly bursting at the seams with vigour, confidence and a cavalcade of familiar characters and references that will have even the more unfledged gaming enthusiast revelling in its radiance.
There’s an abundance of warmth and meaning to the narrative though that ensures the animation wizardry – Moore and his animators pull out all the stops in creating a dazzling world chock-full of eye-catching brilliance – never overtakes Ralph’s quest for self-discovery and acceptance. At its heart, once the film has settled down to a welcome pace, the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope blossoms as they bond over their isolation and slowly shake off their initial dislike for one another and teach each other a number of valuable lessons.
Moore wraps the whole thing up with some of Disney’s best ever animation, as the film effortlessly zips between an array of designs, from pixelated 8-bit to well-defined 3D, at a speed that seems almost impossible. Henry Jackman’s score complements the film’s upbeat yet maturing mood seamlessly, while the voice work is top-notch across the board, with Silverman and Jane Lynch as Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, a character from the Hero’s Duty game who finds herself reluctantly caught up in Ralph’s trail, emerging as the most impressive.
With Wreck-It Ralph, Disney have struck gold outside of their partnership with Pixar, delivering a riotous, sharp and stirring rollercoaster ride of an animated film, reinforced by clever, sentimental video game references and saccharine delight. It may sag a little in the middle, and some may be put off by its constant, breathless drive (the central narrative sometimes feels buried under the background hustle and bustle), but there’s no doubt that Wreck-It Ralph is a one of the kind specimen that deserves to be devoured, savoured and cherished.
Wreck-It Ralph will be released in UK cinemas on February 8th.