For its first third, Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Wreck-It Ralph" is good--very good. Better than really any movie before it, this feature from writer-director Rich Moore is one of the finest, sweetest homages to classic gaming, with loving nods to arcade games of the past via its story of a video game bad guy who wants to go good (John C. Reilly, perfect).
It's when the CG-animated feature digs its heels into one of the games created for the film, "Sugar Rush," that "Wreck-It Ralph" starts to feel a little rote, going through the usual storytelling motions while (most distressingly) ignoring all of the rich video game history with a series of bloated subplots that lose a little bit of the initial charm.
Reilly plays the title good-hearted bad guy who's not, we're reminded not actually a "bad" guy. He just wants some recognition after 30 years of playing the heavy in the classic arcade game "Fix-it Felix Jr." opposite the sweet and accommodating hero of that game, voiced by "30 Rock's" Jack McBrayer. Seeking some kind of validation, any kind, Ralph leaps out of his game at the arcade and out into the wider game world where he can be the hero for once.
The opening scenes offer opportunities for Moore and the Walt Disney Animation Studios team to dig through the last three decades of gaming, with cameos from classic game characters like Zangief, Bowser, and Q-Bert, and these moments--where "Wreck-It Ralph" is about video games--are the best.
It's really when the story moves to the back two-thirds set in "Sugar Rush" that things come grinding to a halt. This bloated section sees Ralph helping a glitchy competitor in the candy-colored racing game attempting to build her own cart so something something we're all special blah blah validation. All of the performers are delivering fine work here, including Sarah Silverman as the bratty but fragile Vanellope, but the film loses its personality a bit in this extended chunk where our villain is revealed and our hero must make a big decision.
The animation should be singled out here for its high quality and attention to the interesting each world, from the angular, action-oriented design of the "Hero's Duty" characters to the blocky people of "Fix-It Felix Jr." (the low frames of animation for these characters is a particularly nice touch). It's a gorgeous movie all around that just loses its heart a little along the way, although I have to admit that final scene with Ralph getting to look out the screen at the arcade tugs at the heart a little.
Besides the "Paperman" short, both the standard DVD and 3D Blu-ray lack any additional features, so you'll have to go to the "Wreck-It Ralph" 2D Blu for all of the supplemental materials. That disc is thankfully pretty stacked.
- "Paperman" Theatrical Short (06:34, HD): Am I the only one who wasn't quite as taken with this Oscar-winning short from director John Kahrs? While the essential concept is sweet enough (shy office drone finds love via the magic of paper), there's something deeply creepy about the way the planes press and pulse upon our nameless hero's body, forcing him around the city into a second fateful encounter with the girl of his dreams. The line between fantasy and horror is thin, and "Paperman" tilts a little too far towards the latter for my tastes.
- Bit By Bit: Creating the Worlds of 'Wreck-It Ralph' (16:40, HD): "The goal for us was to celebrate the cube." This short and informative doc about the conception and making of "Wreck-It Ralph" provides some nice details about the film, including the origins of the transportation between games (originally, Ralph would have discovered a path between games via a toilet, an idea nixed after three days). You'll also get a chance to see storyboards and concept art here, too.
- Alternate and Deleted Scenes (14:28, HD): Four scenes featuring optional commentary from director Rich Moore, as well as a brief intro. All of them are fully-voiced (by stand-ins for the real cast) animatics featuring a shaggier design for Ralph than the one that ended up in the film. They're cute enough, but are farther away from the central video game conceit. The scenes give us the rough shape of an alternate version of the movie where Ralph leaves the arcade entirely.
- Video Game Commercials (02:39, HD): Faux trailers for the games created for the movie including "Fix-It Felix Jr." (and the arcade where it's available in the movie) and "Sugar Rush," each presented in era-appropriate aspect ratios.
"Wreck-It Ralph" is available now on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray from Walt Disney Animation Studios.