John C. Reilly rocks as Wreck-It Ralph, another animated Disney dazzler

by Mark Burger

What has been a banner year for bigscreen animation gets even better with the release of Wreck-It Ralph , yet another crowd-pleasing dynamo from Disney.

Wreck-It Ralph was not produced under the Pixar shingle — although, since Disney owns Pixar, in a way it was, and Pixar founder John Lasseter is credited as executive producer — the film features a number of thematic similarities to any number of past Pixar triumphs. The main character acts impetuously, causes trouble in doing so, gains a new respect for those he or she left behind then finds the inner strength to set things right.

Here, it’s the title character of “Wreck-It Ralph” (delightfully voiced by the talented John C. Reilly), the resident villain of the vintage video game Fix-It Felix Jr. (We know it’s vintage because it only costs a single quarter to play.)

Ralph is good at what he does — being bad and wrecking things — and he doesn’t begrudge Felix Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer), who, after all, is the hero of the game. But, as Ralph reasons, the game wouldn’t have remained so popular had he not done his job well, too. He just wants a little credit, and it wouldn’t hurt if the other characters in the game didn’t regard him with such fear and trepidation during the off-hours.

Despite repeated protests that he’s not “going turbo” (i.e. going rogue), Wreck-It Ralph eventually does just that, barging into other video games and wreaking hilarious havoc wherever he goes. It’s only when he realizes that his actions could have serious consequences, both for his video game and for those he intrudes upon, that the gravity of the situation — such as it is — occurs to him.

The inventiveness of the animation is evident in its video-game graphics, each of which boast a distinctive look and texture as befits each different game. It’s so inventive, actually, that it might have been nice had Ralph invaded a few more video games. Henry Jackman’s excellent, varied score also offers a different sound for each game, neatly matching the animation. It’s hardly a surprise given the studio’s longstanding track record that, on a technical level, Wreck-It Ralph is outstanding in every respect. Disney set the standard, and this lives up to it.

As with any film, animated or live-action, story is tremendously important. Visual splendor goes far sometimes, but too often these days it either obscures, or tries to cover up, a faulty narrative. Director Rich Moore (making his feature debut) and screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston (who also voices the Surge Protector) do an expert job of balancing the various elements in the film, and Reilly himself is also credited with “additional story material,” leading one to believe he either put a few words down on paper or added some improvisation (or perhaps both).

Other familiar voices heard throughout Wreck-It Ralph include those of Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Ed O’Neill, Mindy Kaling, Dennis Haysbert, Adam Carolla and Alan Tudyk (doing a perfect Ed Wynn impression, for those who remember Ed Wynn). Videogame buffs will also enjoy “guest appearances” by the likes of Q*Bert, Pac-Man, Tapper and other arcade favorites from years past.

The film’s messages about friendship, loyalty and responsibility are conveyed in a pleasingly breezy fashion that never interrupts the momentum or distracts from the comedic aspects of the story. Such notions needn’t be overemphasized or wallowed in to be effective. Most of the time, it’s just the opposite. Cleverly realized and gorgeously designed, Wreck-It Ralph ranks as yet another Disney dynamo, primed to score big with audiences of all ages.

Preceding Wreck-It Ralph is “Paperman,” a wistful and winsome animated black-and-white Disney short that’s well worth catching. Directed by John Kahrs from a story by Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer, it is certainly an added bonus for Wreck-It Ralph audiences. It’s refreshing to see a studio giving a little something extra to audiences, and “Paperman” is truly a treat.

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s award-winning documentary Detropia , which screened earlier this year at the RiverRun International Film Festival, takes a long, hard, sometimes depressing look at the economic woes that have battered the city of Detroit in recent years. It’s not a pretty picture, but it is a relevant and timely one, told in sympathetic but not candy-colored terms. If what was once among the nation’s most industrious cities is sinking into a murky swamp of economic catastrophe, is any city immune from the same fate?

Detropia opens Friday at the A/perture cinemas, 311 W. 4 th St., Winston-Salem.

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