John C. Reilly provides the voice of the title character, the big, lumbering villain in a computer game called ‘Fix-it Felix Jr.’, where the hero is a goodie two-shoes plumber...er...carpenter voiced by Jack McBrayer from “30 Rock”. But Ralph isn’t such a bad guy after all, and he’s sick of playing the bad guy, longing to be accepted by his co-stars who don’t socialise with him when the game isn’t in use (I should probably point out at this juncture that the video game characters, like the toys in “Toy Story” are ‘alive’ to an extent). He wants to be the hero, just once. Not being invited to an anniversary party for the game is the last straw, as Ralph decides to enter a different computer game, ‘Hero’s Duty’ (a “Gears of War”-like shooter game) to win a medal and be the hero. After that, though, something goes awry and he ends up in a “Mario Kart”-like go-cart game called ‘Sugar Rush’, and his medal is ‘borrowed’ by Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman, surprisingly perfect), a wannabe go-cart racer who cashes the medal in to get herself in the race. Ralph is suitably irritated, but poor Vanellope is apparently a ‘glitch’, a character that wasn’t supposed to be in the game and is mocked by the fellow racers. So Ralph decides to help her win the race. Unfortunately, Ralph has unwittingly brought something along with him from ‘Hero’s Duty’, that might just unleash hell all over the saccharine-themed game. Meanwhile, Fix-it Felix has been sent to find Ralph, before the game goes from ‘out of order’ to unplugged. The true villain of the piece is King Candy, ruler of ‘Sugar Rush’, appearing and voiced by Alan Tudyk to resemble veteran comedian Ed Wynn.
Directed by Rich Moore, this 2012 Disney animated film is consistent with most of the animated films these days from either Disney or Pixar, which is to say it’s jolly good fun, but hardly “Pinocchio” or “Peter Pan”. The voice casting is particularly good, and although the animation isn’t photo-realistic or anything, it’s not meant to be, as it emulates (albeit with an upgrade) computer games and their characters. The design of the world for the ‘Sugar Rush’ game is almost too pretty and saccharine that it borders on diabetic. Just as I was unmoved by the ‘throwing away your toys when you go to college’ theme from “Toy Story 3” (I threw mine out in early high school, because I’m almost normal), I’m not entirely sure that championing a ‘glitch’ makes much sense for a message (though it eventually becomes a moot point as the film goes along), and I found the idea of video arcades still being around (and populated) to be a bit bizarre I have to be honest (are they still around?), let alone machines housing such antiquated games as ‘Fix-it Felix Jr’ which would’ve been around when I was a kid (mid 80s). The filmmakers must’ve sensed this, because although the animation isn’t “Rango”-level, it sure as hell ain’t Commodore 64 or Atari-level, either for the most part. Hell, ‘Sugar Rush’ seemed more like a console-era game to me, not an arcade one.
Other than that, though I had a really good time with this, having not expected much at all. It’s kind of a “Toy Story” for gamers (instead of being abandoned or thrown out, the characters are scared of their game being ‘out of order’), and indeed gamers will get even more out of the film, as there are references and cameos galore on that front. For starters, Fix-it Felix the character is quite clearly modelled on a certain moustachioed plumber, Ralph is kinda like Donkey Kong in human form, and the game itself isn’t too far removed from one of my favourite games, “Rampage” where you could play as various monsters (one named Ralph, no less) destroying buildings. As more of a film buff than a gamer, I particularly loved the “Wizard of Oz” reference involving the Oreo guards (What’s that they’re chanting?). I’m sure Moore (a debutant with animation experience on “The Simpsons”) and writers Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee had a whale of a time coming up with this concept (apparently star Reilly also had a hand in the creative process), and the enthusiasm is pretty infectious, if not entirely long-lasting. It made me feel good for 90 minutes or so, and I think that’s all it was designed to do.
The inclusion of such faves as Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders kinda made me feel nostalgic. I was a bit sad that “Leisure Suit Larry” and “Turrican” (the latter being my favourite game of all-time) didn’t make cameos, though. Here’s a rare computer game movie that works, referencing a whole bunch of games without really being a big-screen translation of any of them in particular.