The titular Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the marauding bad guy in a Donkey Kong-like vintage 1980s game called Fix-It Felix, and he’s grown weary of finding himself with no opportunity to do the things that would earn him the affection showered on Felix (Jack McBrayer). Maybe Ralph could win heroic honors if he took a quick visit to the first-person shooter soldiers-vs.-aliens game next door. There, it seemed, was the great opportunity for Wreck-It Ralph, in the collision between 8-bit sensibility and the intense, photorealistic next-generation graphics that replaced it. Director Rich Moore — a veteran of The Simpsons and Futurama — brings that sort of modern rapid-fire referencing to the places where the video-game characters congregate. Most of the story takes place inside the car-racing game Sugar Rush, where Ralph tries to retrieve his hard-won medal from a mischievous “glitch” named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). The relationship between the two shunned outcasts becomes the emotional center of the movie, and Silverman in particular provides a lively, spiky energy to the little girl who’s like a digital manifestation of attention-deficit disorder. But the filmmakers proceed to spend all their creative energy building the particular world of the Sugar Rush game, and its various visual gags and puns based on sweets. As punchy as the punch lines are, they pull the focus in the wrong direction. Like Ralph himself, we’re stuck in the wrong world. Even more problematic, the character arc gets trapped in similar sticky sweetness. The shame of it is that there’s plenty of imagination on display in Wreck-It Ralph, particularly in its deft visual touches like the jittery linear movements of the citizens from Ralph’s world. But that imagination doesn’t extend to finding a genuinely creative way to exploit the idea of consciousness inside a video game, or with finding potent story elements in places where the rules and limitations are programmed. It’s too easy for Ralph to go wherever he needs to go, which leaves Wreck-It Ralph as a world built without one of the things that most clearly defines a world: identifiable borders.
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