Wreck-It Ralph Review: Finally, A Video Game Movie Done Right

Of all the movie adaptations in history, it’s video games that tend to fare the worst. Time and time again, fans have flocked to the cinema to get a glimpse of their favorite series, hoping that this film will be the one, the one that gets their game, the one that gets them as a gamer.

And time and time again, it falls short, ranging from a small disappointment to a flat-out cheesy failure.

And let’s face it, it’s a difficult task to take on; video games are, for all intents and purposes, an interactive film. Take away the interaction and cut out the fat, and you’re left with a less-than-savory bit that doesn’t really have legs on its own.

That’s why I was pretty skeptical of Wreck-It Ralph after seeing the first trailer. Sure, it looks good, but don’t they all?

And like an awesome Christmas present I hadn’t asked for, Wreck-It Ralph was an amazing surprise.

The film stars John C. Reilly as Ralph, a game character struggling with an identity crisis. Built like a brick house, Ralph is the antagonist to Fix-It Felix, a do-gooder handyman tasked with cleaning up Ralph’s wrecking mess. Together, they make up the game Fix-It Felix Jr., a popular retro game in the arcade where they reside.

But despite his tough exterior, Ralph’s a guy with a heart of gold and stuck in an odd conundrum: he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore. He’s tired of all the flak it gets him, and he’s ready to start living the life of a hero.

Once he’s told by one of his game’s NPCs that he’ll be respected if he can manage to win a medal and be a hero, Ralph sets out on a quest to obtain a medal and finally claim the life that has eluded him for 30 years.

From there, Ralph’s led on an epic adventure that only Disney could deliver. Much like Toy Story, the game characters come to life after the arcade closes, crossing into each other’s games through power cords. Depressed, Ralph finds himself drawn to the game Hero’s Duty, a first-person shooter led by the abrasive Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch). With flavors of Gears of War and Halo, Hero’s Duty proves to be too frightening for our good-natured bad guy, and Ralph decides that slaughtering hordes of genetically modified bugs is too much for him. Still drawn by the appeal of a medal, Ralph grabs the medal awarded to winners out of the game and manages to escape, but not without taking one of the alien bugs with him in a haphazard escape pod that leaves the game and crash lands in the candy-themed kart racer Sugar Rush.

It’s there that Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweet (voiced by Sarah Silverman), a misunderstood character with a major glitching problem. Working together, Ralph and Vanellope team up to reach their mutual goals, all while putting a stop to the game’s villain and finding themselves in the process.

From start to finish, Wreck-It Ralph is an absolute gem. The film is rife with gaming references, from the Konami Code to “Aerith Lives” written on the wall of the train station in graffiti. And while it’s not a direct adaptation of a game, it still takes all of the beloved elements of games and puts them to masterful use throughout the story, connecting the film with an intact and competent understanding of what gaming is and what it’s all about.

Ralph himself is a character with great depth. Reilly does a great job with the voicework, bringing serious emotion to the role as Ralph struggles with difficult decisions and trying to figure out what a hero is and who he’s meant to be. Working alongside him, Silverman also brings a lighthearted personality to Vanellope that resonates and works well alongside Reilly, countering his often gloomy demeanor with her own quirkiness. The two have a dynamic friendship built on the fact that, as misfits, they understand each other.

Not to be outdone by Silverman and Reilly, the supporting cast features a great variety of depth and intrigue that delivers. Lynch works well as a brazen war vet, Jack McBayer is the lovable Felix, and Alan Tudyk plays the villain in King Candy, a character with a dangerous secret.

From start to finish, the film’s narrative is airtight. Any loose ends are neatly tied up, and no part of the story is left behind at its conclusion, fitting together nicely for a satisfying end.

Visuals are impressive, with a broad use of color meant to reflect the personality of each individual game world. But even beyond color and appearance, filmmakers even went the extra mile in using a choppy, reduced frame rate effect to make characters in retro games look and feel like, well, characters in retro games. It’s a bit odd to watch at first, but once you get a feel for it, it only adds to the film’s already overwhelming charm.

For all that it does well, Wreck-It Ralph does have a few drawbacks. Where it’s quick to throw references and inside jokes at you early on, it quickly abandons them and sticks to a much more general, kid-friendly set of gags. Which is fine, but the many references it does have give the film its charm and appeal that make it special. Take those away, and it suddenly becomes little more than a film for kids.

And for all the depth and detail the worlds have, it still feels like the film could have benefited from a bit more exploration into other game genres and types for the sake of fan service and more references.

Ralph at times can be a bit confusing, often appearing simple, but then turning around to counter his more naive nature with more intelligent or deep moves or thoughts. It doesn’t disrupt his character development per se, but it did make it difficult to get a solid handle on who he is and how he understands the world at times.

But really, the few complaints the film warrants are little more than petty wishes for more of what Wreck-It Ralph delivered on. It’s not just a good family film, it’s a great, and it’s one of the best video game-themed films to come out in years. It’s a film with heart, humor, and a unique understanding of gaming and gaming culture the likes of which hasn’t been successfully captured in a film before…until now.