Falling behind Pixar Animation Studios as well as DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios has been a laggard in the computer-animation wars.
But Disney has a well-earned hit with Wreck-It Ralph. The movie debuted last weekend with a constructive, profitable $49 million box office take.
Pixar veteran John Lasseter is Wreck-It Ralph’s executive producer. The movie contains Pixar qualities which, in turn, recall the hand-drawn classics created during Disney’s 80 years of animated-feature history.
Wreck-It Ralph has well-drawn and acted characters, sturdy storytelling, action that will please even boys, riotous color plus dark moments of hopelessness. The latter spots put the fun and exciting stuff in high relief, making them all the more satisfying.
The well-cast John C. Reilly is the voice of title character Wreck-It Ralph. A classic underdog, Ralph is a character in a game in a video-game arcade. A ham-fisted bad guy, his oversized hands and arms demolish everything they touch.
Much to Ralph’s rising disappointment, the good guy in his game, Fix-It Felix Jr., gets all the love and attention. Peppy little Felix has a magic hammer that can fix everything Ralph breaks.
As the years go by, Ralph finds it’s not easy being bad. Not only that, the people in the building where Felix fixes everything never invite Ralph to their parties. Felix gets a 30th anniversary celebration. Ralph gets to stay outside in the dump he calls home. He’s got a stump for a pillow and a bed of bricks.
Beyond Wreck-It Ralph’s many distinctive game-character personalities, the movie effectively creates an alternate universe of games in its video-game arcade. There are also rules that game characters must live by. Characters are required to check into work each day and be subjected to obnoxious security scrutiny. No one gets hassled more than Ralph. That’s minor, though, next to the rule that says if characters die outside of the boundaries of their games, they cannot regenerate, aka they die.
Ralph, mad as heck and not willing to take his lowly status anymore, casts the latter consequences out of his big, simpleminded head. Determined to prove that he, too, can be a hero, he goes AWOL.
The movie picks up the tempo, morphing into a computer-animated action flick, when Ralph breaks the rules and enters other games. Heavy combat and the threat of total destruction for all of the games in the arcade ensues. It’s exciting, suspenseful, fun and, back to those high Disney storytelling standards, heartfelt and touching.
Reilly’s performance as Ralph is complemented by fellow voice talent Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz. A cute and spunky little girl character in the Sugar Rush game, Vanellope is more than she seems. And a commanding Jane Lynch speaks the role of a hard-shelled warrior from the human-vs.-swarming-space-aliens game, Hero’s Duty.
Ralph and his new friends offer much action and adventure, but the movie scores most of all with its poignant scenes and the relationships among its characters. That soulfulness lifts Wreck-It Ralph to a new level of accomplishment for Disney.