Did you, like me, pump too many 20c coins into arcade games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders or Frogger in your day? Do you suffer RSI of the thumbs from toggling those PS3 or Xbox controllers? Do you own your own special gaming chair and headphones?
Then you will be in vid-game movie heaven at Wreck-It Ralph, Disney's nostalgic, creative, animated family comedy that taps into the child inside us all.
Playing something like Scott Pilgrim meets Toy Story meets Tron, it's a clever, fast-paced adventure set largely inside a video game itself, where quirky pixellated characters come to life once it's "game over". Only this time, it's multiple game worlds from multiple eras, from the ultra-jerky 8-bit arcade games of the 1980s to the ultra-modern first-person online war games of today.
Kids will love the look of it, adults will like the gags that go over the kids' heads and gamers will drool at all the in-jokes and references to real-life games and characters.
The star of the show, better still, is not a hero but a villain. He's Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the bad guy of a Donkey Kong-style arcade game called Fix It Felix. Tired of playing nasty, let alone living in a repetitive existential hell, Ralph visits Villains Anonymous ("Hi, Ralph"), where other baddies like the ghost from Pac-Man, Bowser from Super Mario Bros and Zangief from Street Fighter share their feelings.
But Ralph dreams of bigger things. He wants respect. He wants love. He wants to be . . . the hero!
These early scenes are some of Wreck-It Ralph's best, with its blocky, jumpy, pixellated 8-bit characters and two-dimensional world. It will take those who grew up in the '80s back to some pleasant childhood memories, and make us all see how far we've come.
When Ralph finally breaks free of Fix It Felix, he enters Game Central, a power board-like hub that connects all games. He joins a group of marines in a Gears of War-style first-person shooter, steals the affections of tough-as-nails GI Jane (Jane Lynch) and wins an elusive gold coin. But when Ralph loses said coin in a Mario Kart-style candy game, he teams up with its mischievous heroine Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) to get it back.
These later scenes are not nearly as strong and play to a much younger audience. Vanellope is a cloying character and their Mario Kart-style race to the finish line becomes quickly tiresome. With Ralph achieving his epic win and hero status halfway through the movie, it also makes the point of it all easy to forget.While that drains some of Wreck-It Ralph's life, Reilly provides his patented put-upon voice to make Ralph a lovable lunk you can really root for. And debut director Rich Moore (The Simpsons, Futurama) and executive producer John Lasseter (Pixar) ensures the film moves at a fair clip and bounces between enough game environments to keep audiences spotting the inspirations. Some will be old enough to recognise Q*bert while others will be young enough to spot Dance Dance Revolution. So while Wreck-It Ralph is not quite the epic win it aspires to be, it's littered with enough familiar heroes, villains, sights and sounds of the vid-game universe to be a thoroughly entertaining trip into pixel land.
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