Gaming meets Disney in Wreck-It Ralph

“What happens when the arcade closes?” Disney’s newest effort, Wreck-It Ralph, creatively answers this question through the story of a bad-guy-turned-hero. Wreck-It Ralph is an original film that explores an imaginary world of living, breathing video game characters: When the arcade closes at the end of the business day, the characters are free to shed their programmed roles, and (for the movie-watching audience) the real entertainment begins.

Unlike most movies, our protagonist in Wreck-It Ralph is the so-called villain. Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, is programmed to fulfill his role as the hot-tempered, destructive giant of the game Fix-It Felix, Jr. Even though Ralph is labeled as a “bad guy” from the onset, the audience views him as anything but. Rather than a menacing giant, the Ralph the audience meets at the beginning of the film is a pitiful character, neglected by his fellow video game characters and relegated to a rotten existence in the dump.

Although he stands at a hulking nine feet tall, with each hand about twice the size of his head — perfect for smashing buildings — Ralph’s tendency to pulverize everything he touches (when not in his video-game mode) is the result of innocent clumsiness rather than violence or malice. In a group therapy session with other video game villains like Bowser and Dr. Robotnik, Ralph reveals a deeply sensitive side and a lifetime of hurt as he questions his role in the video game world.

Ralph’s discontent reaches a boiling point within the first few minutes of the film. With the 30th anniversary of their game at hand, the good people of Fix-It Felix, Jr. are celebrating in the penthouse with cake. As an integral part of the game, Ralph believes he should be invited to join the fun — but even among his colleagues, he is rejected as the “bad guy.” Ralph receives a challenge from the other characters: If he wins a medal — an honor reserved for good guys only — he can move out of his pitiful home in the dump and into the penthouse.

Therefore, in spite of his bad guy title, the audience instantly sides with Ralph in the events that follow. Finally fed up with his circumstances, Ralph begins to “game jump”; navigating through the arcade’s Game Control Center, he tries to participate in games he wasn’t programmed into. But a serious problem arises when Ralph fails to return to his own game and Fix-It Felix, Jr. gets scheduled to be unplugged — a virtual death sentence for any game in the arcade.

The real magic of the film is the unlikely yet ultimately unbreakable friendship that forms between Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a go-kart racer in the candy-coated game Sugar Rush. Both characters are outcasts in their own games. The two characters couldn’t be more different, but somehow, united by their misfit status and mutual desire for acceptance, the pair makes for a great team. The two must team up to get Ralph his medal and enable Vanellope to finally achieve her dream of racing with the other characters.

Despite the humor that often characterizes their relationship, it is clear to the viewers that, over time, the two develop a profound bond that transcends mere friendship — to the point of self-sacrifice. Between their hilarious exchanges and obvious devotion to one another, the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope — two mismatched, entertaining, and incredibly devoted heroes — elevates the movie from a series of video game references to a film that anyone can enjoy.

Wreck-It Ralph is a funny movie that manages to incorporate many elements of video game history, while still retaining the heart of a Disney film. Between an original premise and a set of lovable, amusing characters, Wreck-It Ralph is a cinematic success.