Latest Disney animated film aims for wide audience, disappointing in lack of depth

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Video games are the biggest time suck a college student can encounter. Facebook and the demands of maintaining a decent GPA are reason enough to let your consoles collect dust. However, everyone remembers countless afternoons spent button-mashing and guzzling Mountain Dew, and for that crowd, “Wreck-It Ralph” is a healthy dose of nostalgia and a touching, creative work from Disney’s animated branch.

The film’s titular character exists only in a video game called Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), where he’s the Donkey Kong to Felix’s Mario. Ralph (John C. Reilly) decides he’s tired of breaking things and being eternally vanquished, so he decides to head to greener pastures and explore some other video games in the arcade where he lives. However, the consequences prove to be more severe than he anticipated after he brings a monster from a war game into a happy-go-lucky racing game, a move that could get them all removed from the arcade for good.

“Wreck-It Ralph” stands out for its consistent creativity. Every concept is brought to life in an intelligent, funny way, such as a support meeting for video game villains held in the middle of a Pac-Man console, or Game Central Station, a hub of activity where characters can travel between games. The film is packed with small inside jokes for video game fans and creates several distinct worlds, each of them building a different atmosphere and playing with different stakes.

However, the film makes one major blunder. After setting up an entire world of video games for Ralph to visit, the film only gives us a handful of locations. About half the film takes place in Sugar Rush, the racing game Ralph unintentionally infects, and while the game is vibrantly designed and sure to delight anyone with a sweet tooth, it’s a shame to think of all the different locations and gaming genres “Wreck-It Ralph” could have utilized and parodied.

Once Ralph visits Sugar Rush, he develops a relationship with in-game character Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) that’s every bit as sweet as the film’s underwhelming dominant location. Vanellope is trapped in Sugar Rush, unable to race because of a programming error, and she uses an unwitting Ralph to get her back in the action. Silverman does work that’s more sweet and accessible than her usual pixie-voiced obscenity, and she and Reilly manage to build some chemistry and a charming rapport. Although you can see almost every beat in “Wreck-It Ralph” coming from a mile away, the dynamic between Ralph and Vanellope is so well executed that it’s hard not to get involved.

“Wreck-It Ralph” is a surprisingly savvy, entertaining film with an unabashedly sweet, uplifting message and plenty of unexpectedly well-rounded twists on popular video game tropes. The film is nostalgic enough for video game geeks, syrupy enough for those eager for a new Disney princess and colorful and involving enough for kids. It’s a clever film, disappointing in its utilization of its premise, but a crowd-pleaser on every level nonetheless.

Printed on Friday, November 2, 2012 as: Animated Disney film plays up nostalgia, fun