As I mentioned before, video games never get the props they deserve at the movies. From Mortal Kombat to Super Mario Brothers to Doom to Tomb Raider, it seems like Hollywood just doesn't understand what to do with them. It could be that the two forms of entertainment are mutually exclusive (after all, it's not like games based on movies are really any better than movies based on games). But what's tragically clear is that the producers of video game movies aren't fans of the properties they're trying to depict.
But then along comes Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, a movie about a classic-era game villain named Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) who's tired of being ostracized and vows to become a hero instead. He abandons his Donkey Kong inspired game, Fix-It Felix Jr., and hops from game to game, trying to score a medal so that he can finally get some respect from his colleagues. The problem is that his game-jumping causes the Fix-It Felix game to seriously malfunction, so he has to make it back in time to save it before it's unplugged. Along the way, he also has to help out his glitchy friend Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) as she competes in her game, Sugar Rush. Meanwhile, Fix-It Felix (Jack MacBrayer) desperately tries to find his villain before it's too late with the help of Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the star of a modern shooter called Hero's Duty.
As you can tell, this movie expands beyond classic gaming to pay tribute to the video games genre as a whole. I love the wide variety of characters from different eras and the interactions between them that play up their differences. The characters both pay tribute to and parody the games they represent, and it's clear that the producers and animators "get it" when it comes to video games. There are lots of little touches in the movie that show this; for example, the herky-jerky movement of Felix and the citizens from Fix-It Felix Jr. mimic the limited animation in an 8-bit game. And Sgt. Calhoun's backstory is just comedic gold.
I also dig the game environments, especially Sugar Rush. Not only is it visual eye-candy (so to speak), but the movie has a lot of fun with the candy-theme and a legitimately cool race scene takes place towards the end. Sugar Rush takes up most of the screen time, but there are two other game environments that are explored: Niceland from Fix-It Felix Jr. and the alien world of Hero's Duty. As fun as they are, I would have liked to see more. The video game universe is so diverse that Ralph could have easily found himself in countless different worlds.
Arcade fans will love the almost endless Easter eggs in this movie. Some familiar faces get cameos, like Pac-Man's Clyde, Sonic the Hedgehog, Q-Bert, and Zangief. Even characters from obscure games like Root Beer Tapper get screen time, and it's great to see lesser-known games get some spotlight. If you keep your eyes open, you'll see lots of other background cameos, like Dig Dug, Neff (from Altered Beast), Frogger, Doctor Eggman, and King Koopa. Frankly, I'm surprised Disney managed to score the rights to show all of them in this movie. It will be a blast when this comes out on home video so that I can pause the Game Central Station scenes to see how many I can find.
Fortunately, super stars like Mario don't make an appearance. (Mario does exist in the Wreck-It Ralph universe, since King Koopa is shown in the Bad-Anon support group.) Sonic is probably the biggest currently-existing video game star in the movie, and he has a very brief cameo. This is good; if either had a larger role they would have detracted from the movie by eclipsing the other characters. The fact that Sonic and King Koopa are included at all is questionable because they're both console game characters in a movie that takes place within an arcade, but take it as you may.
Speaking of which, the most unrealistic aspect of the movie is the fact that it all takes place in a modern arcade that has a diverse range of games from multiple eras... all of which work well. Arcades are rare enough as it is, but finding a working arcade that's more than just dancing and sit-down racing is virtually impossible. Maybe this movie will remind people how awesome arcades were and we'll see a few more pop up... although considering you can get almost all the arcade classics on a tablet for a few bucks these days, I doubt arcades are even remotely financially feasible anymore.
Funny, imaginative, and heartfelt, Wreck-It Ralph is finally a movie that pays proper respects to video games and their fans. It's a movie that's more than just a bunch of cameos, but to really love it, you undoubtedly need some video game experience. Let's hope there's a sequel... Ralph's exploration of the video game universe has only scratched the surface. Out of five Felixes, I give Wreck-It Ralph...