Disney Animation takes a page out of Pixar's well-worn playbook for Wreck-It Ralph, a screwball farce with a novel setting and more edge than your average Disney 'toon.
Where Toy Story showed us the off-duty shenanigans of a kids' toy collection and Monsters, Inc. took us behind the scenes of the bogeyman business, Ralph finds fun in the outside-the-arcade-game life of the characters trapped in those games, forced to play hero, pawn or villain forever. Or until the game falls out of favor and the power is shut off.
The cartoon-voiced John C. Reilly gives life to Ralph, a beast in a Donkey Kong-like kiddie game titled Fix-It Felix. Felix, played by Jack McBrayer, the pixie-voiced page of 30 Rock, repairs this wonderful apartment building for all his friends, the tenants, to live in. The hulking Ralph, 9 feet tall and 643 pounds, lives in the brick pile over by the dump. He wrecks stuff that Felix has to fix.
The video game universe created here is Monsters, Inc.-detailed, and peppered with actual video game characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man and Qbert.
The filmmakers have fun with graphics and animation sophistication, from the jerky motion of the Pac-Man and Donkey Kong era to the HD slickness of today. Gamers will get a kick out of a montage showing the years pass in this one arcade, with forgotten games such as Battlezone replaced by the next big thing.
Since taking over all of Disney's animation, Pixar guru John Lasseter has made an imprint on the Mouse's non-Pixar films, and Ralph shows many Pixar house touches -- a solid story, dazzling detail, inventive settings and jokey characters. And there's a message bland enough to not offend everyone: "I will not be good and that's not bad. There's no one I would rather be than me."
The movie stalls in a game called Sugar Rush to the point where your teeth may ache. But there are plenty of video gamescapes left over for a -- wait for it -- sequel. The eye-popping animation and joke-ready setting suggest Wreck-It Ralph would be right at home crashing through many a game console, and for years to come.
Attached to the Wreck-It Ralph is Paper Man, a delightful black, white and red (lips) 2-D romantic short animated in a more traditional style that is so good it makes you hope Disney doesn't give up on films that aren't about toys, monsters, video games or princesses.