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Movie Review | Snappy ‘Wreck−It Ralph’ falls just short of great

Disney’s new film just misses its potential

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 07:11

In “Wreck−It Ralph,” everyone goes through hard times, even the bad guys. “When I hit bottom, I was crushing man’s skull like sparrow egg between my thighs,” confesses “Street Fighter’s” Zangief to a room of nodding anti−heroes. But redemption is for everyone, too. Zangief goes on to explain, “Then I have moment of clarity. I say, ‘Zangief, you are a bad guy, but this does not mean you are bad ... guy.”

Welcome to the world of “Wreck−It Ralph,” where the jokes are always rapid−fire and the pop−culture references are a dime a dozen. Mock Alcoholics Anonymous−style meetings aren’t a new joke — “Finding Nemo” (2003), anyone? — but the “Bad−Anon” meeting is so funny that there’s no time to ponder the lack of originality. The novelty of Bowser, Clyde the Pac Man ghost and a host of other famous villains encouraging each other to stay “bad” is more than enough to keep the scene interesting.

Director Rich Moore brings us into the world of Litwick’s Arcade, where video game characters treat their games like nine−to−five jobs. After hours, the characters are “just like us”: They have weird friends, loud parties and awkward romances. However, even in this pixelated universe, there’s an in−crowd and there are losers. And the title character, Ralph, is most definitely a loser.

For the past 30 years, Ralph has dutifully worked in the fictional game “Fix−it Felix.” Every time someone plays, Ralph must wreck an apartment building so his good−guy counterpart, Felix, can swoop in and rebuild. Afterward, all the building’s occupants cheerfully chuck Ralph off the roof. When the arcade closes each night and the other characters go about their after−hours socializing, Ralph is treated like a social pariah.

Ralph is desperate for a little — pardon the pun — “wreck−ognition” and he goes searching for it by abandoning his game. Of course, this attempt to be someone he’s not wreaks havoc on the arcade and Ralph must try to save the day before it’s too late. John C. Reilly brilliantly gives voice to the film’s wannabe hero. Unlike contemporaries Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen, Reilly’s comic genius isn’t about constantly drawing attention to his own bizarre antics. Rather, Reilly shines when playing guys like Ralph, the archetypal average Joe stuck in a bad situation. Other familiar voices include Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer and Mindy Kaling, but Jane Lynch of “Glee” fame steals the show. As the “Call of Duty”−style Sergeant Calhoun, Lynch delivers a constant stream of saucy one−liners meant for grown−ups.

“Wreck−it Ralph” has been in the works since the late 1980s and sometimes if feels like Disney is attempting to squeeze 25 years’ worth of jokes into 108 minutes. Still, the graphics are definitely 2012−style and it’s easy to be mesmerized by their brilliance. Like its animated ancestors “The Incredibles” (2004) and “Monsters, Inc.”(2001), “Wreck−It Ralph” creates a colorful universe that is both absurd and almost believable. Watching classic video game characters commute through “Game Central Station” is funny because it seamlessly fuses the banal and the ridiculous: There are monotone PA announcements, dreary security guards and then there’s Doctor Robotnik of “Sonic the Hedgehog” casually riding a train.

Still, something stops “Wreck−it Ralph” just short of “Toy Story” (1995)−esque glory. The dazzling graphics and lightning−quick quips are gleefully entertaining to be sure. And it’s fun to see so many familiar video game characters all jumbled together. But there’s not enough time left over to dig into the heart of the film — that is, what it’s like to be an outsider. It’s amply clear that the redeeming message is meant to be that it’s okay to be “different.” But in the rush to deliver more laughs, the sentimental moments end up feeling more obligatory than genuine. Maybe that’s why, despite the spectacular animation, Ralph and his friends never quite come alive. But is this wild ride worth a trip to the Somerville Theatre this weekend? Absolutely.

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