Anyone who has ever been caught up in the videogame revolution that exploded in the late 1970s and early 1980s -- which has all but consumed popular culture for kids and teens in the time since -- should have a ball with Wreck-It Ralph.
But you don't need to be a gamer -- or the parent of a gamer -- to appreciate the humor and heart of Wreck-It Ralph. Director Rich Moore, working from a script by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, makes this a computer-animated treat that is as funny for what it is doing on the surface as for the inside jokes that will serve as "Easter eggs" for the initiated.
John C. Reilly voices the title character, the villain in a Donkey Kong-like arcade game called "Fix-It Felix, Jr." For 30 years, every time someone plugs a quarter into the machine, Ralph wrecks the same apartment building -- only to have the game's hero, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock) come along with his magic hammer and fix everything Ralph has destroyed. Then Ralph is unceremoniously dumped off the top of the apartment building roof into the mud, while Felix is given a medal by the apartment dwellers.
Ralph has lived with that for a long time; it's the way he's programmed, after all. But, as he tells other electronic villains at a Bad-Anon meeting, he has feelings, too. Being the bad guy is his job, he says -- but it's not who he is. The last straw: a 30th anniversary party that the apartment dwellers throw for Felix, without inviting Ralph.
So Ralph goes rogue -- or "Turbo," in the parlance of the characters in this film, after an early videogame character in a car-racing game who got jealous of a newer, more popular racing game and, through electronic wizardry, jumped to that game. Turbo became a glitch that forced the new game to be scrapped. In the arcade, an "Out of Order" sign is like a death sentence, one step away from pulling the plug.
Ralph, however, has a different plan. He wants to earn a medal, like the ones that Felix receives every time he defeats Ralph. So he escapes into a first-person-shooter game called "Hero's Duty," in hopes of doing just that. All he does, however, is muck up a mission led by the tough-talking (and very funny) Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch), against the ravenously destructive Cy-bugs.
He is able, however, to grab a medal, just before he's expelled from that game (unwittingly taking a Cy-bug with him).
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