What a pleasant surprise to discover Wreck-It Ralph (2012), an animated gem that leverages decades of video game lore to funny, quirky effect. Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the destructive villain of an old-school arcade game called Fix-It Felix, doomed forever to be the bad guy in a hopelessly programmed existence while his nemesis Felix (Jack McBrayer) reaps all the accolades. Ralph wants more out of life, and to that end he infiltrates another game in order to win a medal and become a hero. But Ralph’s quest for respectability has unexpected consequences when it takes a random turn into the racing game Sugar Rush. There his goals become entangled with those of Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), and, in a complicated chain of events, threatens to destroy the game-o-sphere.
Wreck-It Ralph does so many things right, and not just in the expected ways: the gorgeous animation, the sight gags, the perfect voice casting (especially from Reilly, Silverman, McBrayer, and Jane Lynch), the sense of humor, and the zany sensibility that welcomes newcomers even as it rewards seasoned, older gamers with amusing easter eggs. Even the product placement is clever. But most impressive to me was the surprising complexity of the story, which is rife with intricate subplotting and multiple resonating themes. The characters are winning, and their interactions are both fraught and affecting. Centrally, the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope is epic. And look, Mom, no sexism!
Somehow this film skated right past my radar when it came out, but it’s well worth watching: inventive, involved, funny, and surprisingly moving.