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Robert Cartagena is a boxing correspondent for SFBay.ca. He graduated from SF State in 2011 with a B.A. in journalism and spent more than a year contributing monthly articles to The Hudsucker, an online magazine with a blog twist. He has a passion for sports journalism -- particularly boxing -- as well as film reviews. He also enjoys blogging and aspires to be a professional actor one day.

‘Wreck-It Ralph’ Earns High Score with Clever Script and Gaming Nostalgia

Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph can easily be described as video games galore. The film’s opening – complete with an 8-bit title card – is a prime example.

We’re taken inside the world of a popular arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr., an 8-bit throwback to Nintendo’s 1981 classic, Donkey Kong. Here, we meet Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), who uses his massive fists and feet to wreck the local loft inhabited by the Nicelanders.

But have no fear, Fix-It Felix Jr. is here!

Image Credit: Disney Pictures

Image Credit: Disney Pictures

Armed with his trusty hammer, Felix (Jack McBrayer) jumps into action and repairs the damage Ralph has caused. He is then awarded a gold medal for his efforts – all while Ralph is thrown off the building and into a mud puddle.

It looks like I just summed up the entire film in a nutshell, but actually, here is where the story picks up: Most – if not, all – video games today have a hero and a villain. But what if after 30 years of successfully doing his job, the villain decides he doesn’t want to be bad anymore? Such cleverness and originality powers Wreck-It Ralph. After landing in one mud puddle too many, Ralph decides he wants to abandon his bad guy duties and prove he can be a hero for once – much to the chagrin of his bad guy brethren.

Like popular Disney-Pixar films Monsters, Inc. and the Toy Story franchise, the characters in Wreck-It Ralph (though fictional) are presented as ordinary people dealing with everyday issues. Ralph’s dilemma is very familiar: He’s an outcast who simply wants to earn the admiration and respect of his peers – the same peers who stereotype him as nothing more than a brute who’s only worth wrecking things.

Reilly’s performance is superb as the misunderstood colossus because Ralph is simply that: misunderstood. Though he is the antagonist of his game, he is good-hearted outside it. Plus, he has remained loyal to his game for 30 years and yet, still hasn’t received the recognition that his counterpart has. You can say Ralph is a traditional underdog, but in his world, tradition – as well as the standard video game rulebook – is thrown out the window. This underdog with the ability to “game jump” (as the film refers to it) is ready to make his mama proud and earn that gold medal he yearns so much – and Reilly makes this underdog one you’ll definitely want to cheer for.

The film’s vibrant environments help bring it to life, giving it an authentic video game feel. Ralph’s quest for a gold medal leads him to the dark and gritty world of Hero’s Duty, a Halo-style first-person shooter. What follows is an insane and thrilling action sequence that features everything you would expect from a game the caliber of Halo – including a clever take on how the first-person perspective is established in such a game.

But the real treat is when Ralph inadvertently lands in the Candy Land-style racing game Sugar Rush, where he meets the sometimes annoying, but always charming Vanellope van Schweetz (the eccentric Sarah Silverman). Silverman and Reilly make quite the likeable odd couple simply because their characters are exactly alike. Silverman also steals certain scenes with her style of humor and while some of it is obviously directed towards children (such as Vanellope referring to Hero’s Duty as “Hero’s Doody”), it never becomes stale or tasteless. Plus, the film plays off some of Sugar Rush’s treats quite cleverly – including quicksand made up of Nesquik chocolate milk.

With a well-written script from Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee and a superb voice cast that includes Jane Lynch as tough-as-nails Sgt. Tamora Calhoun, Wreck-It Ralph is guaranteed to delight gamers of all ages – and moviegoers of all ages as well. It definitely deserves bonus points for its nostalgia factor with its countless cameos from iconic game characters. Where else can you see M. Bison from Street Fighter, Bowser from Super Mario Bros. and Clyde the orange ghost from Pac-Man in the same scene – let alone, the same room? It also deserves credit for incorporating classic gaming sound effects that stand out during certain scenes, especially the support group scene where Ralph reveals that he wants to be the good guy.

As much as the film is clever and original, it’s also very charming and witty and has a few surprises up its sleeve (be sure to look out for how the filmmakers pay homage to a certain Nintendo cheat code). Whether you grew up during the 8-bit era of gaming or are accustomed to today’s much advanced gaming technology, Wreck-It Ralph is a winner on all levels – and definitely gets its game on!

Wreck-It Ralph is rated PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence. Running time: 108 minutes.

Overall: A-

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