A few movies come to mind that have referenced video games. Some of the best known ones are “Tron” and “Tron Legacy” that relied primarily on its spectacular visual effects over a great story. Even the first Tron from 30 years ago had effects that can arguably be considered impressive today; poor costume design notwithstanding. Then there were the video game movies that shameless promoted real-life games. None truer was that than with “The Wizard” that shamelessly and brilliantly promoted Super Mario Bros. 3. There is also the highly-anticipated film adaptation of the amazing video game sci-fi novel “Ready Player One,” which will likely be a cross between “Willy Wonka” and “The Matrix.” (At least that’s what USA Today said about the book.)
With the exception of “Ready Player One” of course, none one of these films had much emotion behind it. With the exception of Jeff Bridges and Michael Sheen (in Tron Legacy,) no one could really act in the Tron movies. And that’s understandable, right? I mean how much real “drama” can you get from a movie about a video game? Then I heard some great advice about taking life one game at a time.“Wreck-It Ralph” is the story about Ralph, the bad guy in the vintage arcade game “Fix It Felix.” It’s so funny that all the characters in the game move like an 8-bit video game even when the game isn’t being played. They move kinda glitchy and only turn at 90 degrees. (To all my nostalgia gamers out there, “Fix It Felix” kinda works like a reverse “Rampage.”) After 30 years of Ralph being disrespected and even feared by Felix and the residents of the hotel, Ralph decides to extend an olive branch only to be shunned even further causing Ralph to spiral into depression. He even joins a support group for video game villains which tips its hat to other classic video game characters that include M. Bison, Zangief, Dr. Robotnik, and Bowser.
When Ralph decides he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore and become a hero, he game jumps to a modern FPS called Hero’s Duty. There, Ralph meets a hard-core soldier commando named Calhoun and gets a Hero’s medal by cheating. When Felix goes looking for Ralph, Ralph runs away to a candy-themed racing game called “Sugar Rush” where he meets a glitchy little wannabe racer named Vanellope.
The movie brilliantly treats the extension chords from the arcade machines like subway lines and the surge protectors like a Grand Central Station where game characters can game jump when the arcade is closed at night. It’s sort of like “Toy Story” but the characters are confined to arcade machines.
Enough about the plot…
“Wreck-It Ralph” (like all Disney masterpieces) takes stories with deep and important life-affirming lessons and masks them with hilarious and unforgettable characters. This is a very-adult story about believing in yourself despite all the doubters, self-acceptance, and how hard it is to change (for better or worse.) Like all video games nowadays, this movie is filled with easter eggs and tips of the hat to classic game franchises like PacMan, Sonic the Hedgehog, Metal Gear Solid, and even makes reference to the immortalized God code from Contra. (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, START.)
The ensemble cast that includes John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer give a wonderful balance of different types of humor, characterization, and personality to the wonderful locales-and dare I say-level designs.
Get there early to watch the animated short beforehand called “Paperman.” I’m calling it now that it’ll win the Oscar for Best Animated Short. And stay after the movie to watch the end credits; they are beautifully done with tons of references and nods to classic games as well.