Wreck-It Ralph: An Hour and a Half of Pure Nostalgia and Arcade Tributes

I just knew this movie was going to be awesome when I first saw the trailer this summer. When Disney makes movies like this, it helps me feel less anxious about the fact that they now own Star Wars. After all, creating an animated movie based on or derived from classic arcade and video games that only adults would recognize is a bold strategy because you’re essentially widening the target demographic from just kids to kids through adults.

I imagine that’s a nightmare for screenwriters since they have to write a story, characters, and jokes that will relate to anyone from ages 3 to 50. Then again, you throw in some bright colors and a few poop jokes, and the kids are entertained. I can’t technically speak for most people because I’m one of those adults that still watches Spongebob Squarepants (and I don’t have children), but I would bet that movies like this one are much more fun to take your kids to than going to see the OoglyZebraWiggles, or whatever the hell those creepy kids shows are called.

Here’s how Disney describes the plot: “Ralph (John C. Reilly) is tired of being overshadowed by Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), the ‘good guy’ star of their game who always gets to save the day. But after decades doing the same thing and seeing all the glory go to Felix, Ralph decides he’s tired of playing the role of a bad guy. He takes matters into his own massive hands and sets off on a game-hopping journey across the arcade through every generation of video games to prove he’s got what it takes to be a hero. On his quest, he meets the tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from the first-person action game Hero’s Duty. But it’s the feisty misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) from the candy-coated cart racing game, Sugar Rush, whose world is threatened when Ralph accidentally unleashes a deadly enemy that threatens the entire arcade. Will Ralph realize his dream and save the day before it’s too late?”

In the most basic summary of the entire movie, Ralph is tired of being the bad guy in his game, so he travels to other games, hoping to bring back a medal to the townspeople in his game, so that he can prove he’s worthy of their appreciation, like Fix-It Felix Jr. Along the way, he screws up Hero’s Duty while trying to get his medal and unleashes a cybug (cyborg bug) from that game into the go-kart racing game Sugar Rush. During Ralph’s time in Sugar Rush, he meets a game “glitch” named Vanellope von Schweetz, who is trying to win a spot in the arcade game’s race roster despite being constantly shunned by the other racers and King Candy—who, ironically, is also a glitch that game-jumped from several unplugged games and hid in Sugar Rush.

In the end, Ralph ends up saving Sugar Rush from the quickly multiplying cybugs and from the game-jumping King Candy, rightfully restoring the game back to its original leader, Princess Vanellope von Schweetz. Unlike some of Disney’s other animations for kids (*cough* DISNEY PRINCESS MOVIES), I felt like Wreck-It Ralph‘s story had a good message for its younger audience.

If you didn’t catch on to that message (or if you haven’t seen the movie yet), the message goes a little something like this: Just because you’re not the hero everyone remembers doesn’t mean you’re not a hero to somebody. I think that is really smart on Disney’s part. For so long, we’ve been teaching kids that each and every single one of them is special, and that everybody in the world should just be fascinated with how special they are. But this message brings a little more down-to-earth “hero” appeal by saying, “Hey, it’s okay if not everybody knows how special you are. It doesn’t mean you’re not special to the people who know you.” Even as an adult, I’ll take that advice.

The art direction and graphic design for the multiple game settings was fantastic. Wreck-It Ralph was designed with Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. in mind, which is why it seemed very 8-bit reminiscent; the high-definition Hero’s Duty was an amalgamation of the current first-person shooter games, like Halo, Call of Duty, BioShock, Modern Warfare, etc.; and Sugar Rush was a go-kart racing game with anime-like characters and a childish world, so it was most likely modeled after Mario Kart and other kid-friendly video games. You can tell just by paying attention to the animation and style of each game that the design was a very unique and detailed (if not obsessed) tribute to arcade and video games.

And there were so many good jokes about arcade and video games, as well as about classic and current pop culture! I have to say, my favorite was when the first-person shooter appeared in Hero’s Duty. It was just a computer screen on wheels that displayed the kid in the arcade’s face while Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) led the computer screen on wheels through the game, giving it instructions. Oh, and let’s not forget the Game Central hobos (including Q*Bert) whose games were unplugged, or “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” written in graffiti on a Game Central wall.

As for some pop culture jokes, there was the Diet Coke mountain with Mentos dangling in its cavern, the “Bad-Anon” meeting for game villains, the donut and eclair police officers in Sugar Rush named Wynnchel and Duncan (after Winchell’s and Dunkin Donuts), the Nesquik-sand and laughing Laffy Taffy…I could go on. Oh, wait! One more! Did anyone else notice that there was a Skrillex character DJing at the party for Fix-It Felix Jr.? I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising since Skrillex recorded some dubstep for the soundtrack, which played during the Hero’s Duty scenes.

You know that nostalgic, childish feeling you get when you watch certain movies? Yeah, that’s pretty much Wreck-It Ralph for you. This movie’s story was just developed so well that I couldn’t help but feel like a kid at certain points (Yes, I totally giggled when Ralph said “Duty”). It was funny, it was relatable, and it was something that an audience of kids and adults could enjoy.

Honestly, the only complaint I have is that I wish the story would’ve included Ralph jumping through more games than just Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush. Sure, they included a lot of characters in the “Bad-Anon” meeting for game villains and in wide shots of traveling through Game Central and the arcade; and, of course, Wreck-It Ralph, Hero’s Duty, and Sugar Rush were all combinations of classic and current games, but I feel like they could’ve included more. I’m guessing they didn’t include Tron because Disney just released Tron: Legacy within the last few years, but still…could you imagine if they had Ralph playing through Tron, too? Or Dragon’s Lair? Okay, I’m nerding out just thinking about that. This doesn’t ruin the movie at all; it’s more just a personal wish.

Overall, Wreck-It Ralph is one of those movies that is so good that I’m almost at a loss of words when trying to explain why it’s so good (if you couldn’t tell by how little I had to say in the spoilers section). It’s a movie that will entertain both kids and adults, as its story and jokes have a little something for everybody. If anything, you should see this movie just for the impeccable design of each featured arcade and video game—as there were several tributes to Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros, Pac Man, Q*bert, Mario Kart, Halo, Call of Duty, etc.

Parents, if you’re looking for a Disney movie with a good message that also won’t bore your eyeballs out of their sockets, then I highly recommend that you take your kids to see Wreck-It Ralph. Adults without children, if you’re into animated films and arcade/video games, then I highly recommend that you see Wreck-It Ralph, so that we can nerd out about the movie’s pop culture references over a few beers. Also, if you saw the movie and haven’t already downloaded Owl City’s “When Can I See You Again?” from the soundtrack, I suggest you do it now. I have listened to that song 37 times today alone.

Wreck-It-Ralph: A

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