Review: Wreck-It Ralph

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Wreck-It RalphIn the tradition of Pixar films, before Wreck-It Ralph plays a wonderful short that was included in the Fantastic Fest animated shorts program, Paperman. Directed by John Kahrs and produced by John Lasseter, Paperman draws inspiration from the classic film The Red Balloon, and in fact includes a red balloon to drive the point home. However, this is a more adult tale than the 1956 children's fantasy. A chance encounter on a train station platform leads a young man to the girl of his dreams in a whimsical and touching film that encompasses a similar range of emotion to the opening few minutes of Up.

Lasseter is also executive producer on Wreck-It Ralph, opening this weekend. An adventure worthy of the man who brought us Toy Story and a logical successor to that trilogy, Ralph was directed by Rich Moore, who made some of the most-loved episodes of Futurama, The Simpsons, and The Critic. Written by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, Ralph is the story of a videogame villain who after 30 years realizes he needs a change of pace and instead of being a bad guy, he wants to be just one of the guys. Setting out to prove his worth, Ralph sets in motion a chain of events that could wreck the entire videogame world.

This is a banner year for animated features. Brave, Pirates!, Madagascar 3, Frankenweenie, Paranorman and Hotel Transylvania top the list that is still growing and now includes Wreck-It Ralph which, if not the best of them, is certainly the most fun. The comparison to Toy Story is clear: Videogame characters living inside their cabinets move around freely after hours when the arcade is closed. And just as Toy Story featured familiar classics like Slinky and Etch-a-Sketch, Wreck-It Ralph includes characters from Pac-Man, Sonic, Street Fighter, Super Mario, Mortal Kombat, Q*Bert, Frogger, Dig Dug and a slew of others old and new.

In addition to a script that's as smart as it is fun, casting for the vocal talents is flawless. John C. Reilly brings the nine-foot-tall Ralph to life as a likeable and misunderstood character who is also easy for children to connect with. In her 40s, Sarah Silverman simply should not be able to voice a little girl as convincingly and adorably as she does. Rounding out the main cast, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer and Alan Tudyk each inhabit their vocal roles as masterfully as they do their onscreen characters. The actors performed much of their voice work as a group, allowing for improvisation, and the result is very natural, organic-feeling dialogue uncommon in animated features.

Visually, Wreck-It Ralph explodes on the screen with a myriad of imagery and distinct styles from each game, as well as the "real-world" environment of the arcade. An interesting feature is that while the characters can move between each others' games, they remain trapped inside the world of their cabinets, able to view and interact with the outside world only through the screen. This is just one of countless examples of the level of detail and thought put into this production, which shares DNA as heavily with Tron as it does with Toy Story. I kept looking for the Pizza Planet truck, but it is not to be found. Though this feels in every way like classic Pixar, including the presence of the short before it, Wreck-It Ralph is actually a Disney Animation film. But with Lasseter's involvement, Disney animation has delivered possibly the best animated film this year.