You know you’re watching a movie aimed at the families-with-kids demographic when animated flicks dominate the previews, as was the case when I saw Wreck-It Ralph with someone special in a cozy Elk Grove theater (which was, in fact, filled with families and kids). I’m not complaining, though: Upcoming DreamWorks fare Rise of the Guardians (opening Nov. 21) and The Croods (opening March 2013) looked promising, the latter even more so.
My point: Wreck-It Ralph will make it painfully obvious that you’re watching a movie created in the “kids will love it and parents will get the references that go over the kids’ heads” vein. It also adds an extra-sugary vibe to its mix, which many people won’t expect. If that makes you sick, you might want to avoid Wreck-It Ralph. But if you’re OK with that, then you’ll find a well-crafted animated flick — yes, one you can enjoy sans family or kids.
Wreck-It Ralph isn’t mainly a film of video game references, even though it’s peppered with them in a living, breathing arcade world. Rather, its meat and potatoes is a story of a guy wanting to be loved.
The movie has a unique take on the concept, since its main character isn’t a good guy who’s a loser, but a bad guy who’s a loser — a double whammy that makes us want to root for the emotionally bullied Ralph (John C. Reilly, who is arguably the best person the filmmakers could have cast for the role). But as Street Fighter’s Zangief says, Ralph’s not really a bad guy. He only plays one in his day job, which requires him to be the villain in Fix-It Felix, a game in which he’s perennially overshadowed by his colleague Felix (voiced dynamically by Jack McBrayer).
Ralph sets out to become loved and admired. Along the way, he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (you’ll swear she’s the kid version of Sarah Silverman, by whom she’s voiced), a girl whose ambition mirrors Ralph’s. You can describe the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope as “heartwarming with an edge,” and it’s a relationship that propels the film through an engaging and twisty plot. I think the filmmakers did a great job unfolding the surprises, expertly refraining from foreshadowing too heavily.
The non-video game references (mostly to sweets) are a bit forced at times, but they’re far more welcome than not, and they’re presented in a lighthearted manner. And the video game references are well-timed and superbly rendered. The filmmakers obviously did their homework, and their attention to detail will be much appreciated not only by video game fans, but also by people who simply love desserts.
The sweeteners top off a stellar offering aimed at families and young kids. Will that audience enjoy the film? For sure. But the viewing coalition should be broader than that. Wreck-It Ralph is a quality animated flick, and the other sort of kids — us college kids — will find much to enjoy as well.
JOEY CHEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.