Starring John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman. Written by Jennifer Lee, Phil Johnston. Directed by Rich Moore. PG. 92 min. Opens Nov. 2.
Wreck-It Ralph borrows its central conceit from Toy Story: It’s a film about the secret lives of children’s playthings. But instead of tactile plastic objects, it focuses on the more ephemeral existence of videogame characters. While it’s interesting to note that we’ve reached a point where arcade games have the same built-in nostalgia factor (for some) as well-loved old toys, it’s the film’s storytelling mechanics that are truly old-school—which is a nice way of saying that this Disney animated film relies on clichés to power up its narrative.
The title character has toiled for 30 years as the villain in a game called Fix-It Felix. Voiced by John C. Reilly, he’s a self-described “bad guy” who wants a little appreciation. In other words, he’s Shrek with red hair, and his redemptive arc from ogre to hero follows the same trajectory. Wreck-It Ralph tries to have it both ways, flaunting a hip, knowing attitude towards its subject matter—there’s a support group for videogame villains, including Bowser from Super Mario Bros.—and then trying to wring real sentiment from Ralph’s friendship with the pixie-ish girl (Sarah Silverman) he meets while stranded in a candy-themed racing game.
This duality is also present in most Pixar productions, but the fact is that those filmmakers are peerless at disguising their calculations. Here, they stick out, and for all the skill of the vocal performances (Reilly is simply a great comic actor), Wreck-It Ralph ends up feeling derivative and strangely hollow, not to mention less compelling than any number of real-world console titles that incorporate storytelling into their gameplay.