‘Wreck-It Ralph’ movie review: new Disney film is Toy Story at the arcade

A vibrant, fast-paced ride, Disney has a real winner in Wreck-It Ralph, which should entertain parents just as much as their kids. Just as long as those parents can appreciate the early 80s retro feel and a barrage of arcade and video game references (from Pac-Man to Super Mario Brothers to The House of the Dead) which help elevate a pedestrian storyline into something fun and unique. 

Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the chief villain in Fix It Felix, Jr., a Donkey Kong-like arcade game in which hero Felix (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer) repairs damage Ralph causes to an apartment building. The game console itself sits among Frogger and Space Invaders at a local arcade, where it has endured popularity for the past 30 years.

The movie, however, mostly takes place inside the game; or rather, inside the world of video games at the arcade. While the machines operate normally by day, when they’re not being played – a la Toy Story – the characters in the games come to life, and even travel between games (a surge protector serves as an airport-like hub). When Ralph wants a pint, he heads over to Tapper.

This is a great concept, with vital incorporation of real-life games and characters; while the three main machines (Wreck-It Ralph, Hero’s Duty, a intense first-person shooter, and Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racer) have been created for the movie, just about everything else is a real-life game. Retro video game fans are sure to get a rush of nostalgia from all the references, which are carefully woven into the story throughout the film.

We first meet Ralph at a support group for villains alongside Bowser, Dr. Eggman, and Mortal Kombat’s Kano. He’s tired of being the bad guy, an outcast in his own game, living in a dump and missing out on the big 30th anniversary party. His quest for acceptance brings him to Sugar Rush, where he meets another outcast: Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) a ‘glitch’ character who can never officially be a part of the game. 

The majority of the film takes place inside Sugar Rush, a sickly-sweet Willy Wonka-like land filled with as many candy references as the rest of the film has arcade references. The animators are clearly having fun here, but it’s a sensory overload – after more than half an hour in this place, the alien insects from Hero’s Duty are a welcome reprieve.   

Wreck-It Ralph was directed by Rich Moore, making his theatrical debut; Moore previously worked on The Simpsons (directing some of the series’ most beloved episodes), The Critic, and Futurama

Here, he’s created the perfect blend of retro gaming nostalgia and delivered Disney Animation’s best film in years. In a banner year for animated movies, Wreck-It Ralph stands with Pirates! and Paranorman at the top. 

The 3D used in Wreck-It Ralph is proficient but utterly unmemorable; I’d recommend catching the 2D version. The film is preceded by Paperman, a terrific black & white short.

Note: while most of Wreck-It Ralph is perfect for family audiences, some of the sequences from the Halo-like Hero’s Duty, which feature armed commandos battling waves of alien insects, might be too intense for the youngest viewers. 


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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