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Wreck-It Ralph

This one has the goods, and what a pleasant surprise. The trailer showed me another heavily marketed, loaded with tie-ins and product placement, 3D Disney cumbersome vehicle…and my automatic cynic kicked in. Happy to be misled for a change. It’s got punchy direction from “The Simpsons” vet Rich Moore, and some wonderful voice work from John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch. There are also some nice, nostalgic, cultural touchstones and some very funny video game and film references(love the Oreo bit that mines “The Wizard of Oz”). The plot recalls the “Toy Story” series in that the video game characters enjoy a stealth, freestyle life after the arcade closes and people aren’t around. One of the popular old-school games is called Fix-It Felix, Jr. and it’s celebrating 30 years as a game room favorite. The game’s villain is Wreck-It Ralph(the versatile Mr. Reilly), who tires of being the “bad guy” after three decades of service. In fact, he attends meetings of a support group full of arcade baddies who lament their lives of being shunned by their other fellow game characters(including some hilarious bits with Pac-Man’s ghosts and also a zombie)! Looking for a new avenue in his existence, Ralph disguises himself as a soldier and enters the game Hero’s Duty, only to have a mishap involving an escape pod—and crash-landing in a game called Sugar Rush. It’s there that he meets Vanellope von Schweetz(a wonderfully peppy Sarah Silverman—who’s having a superb film year 2012 between this and “Take this Waltz”). Vanellope is also shunned by her fellow game characters, because she occasionally “fades out” and is considered nothing more than a computer glitch. Soon, a madcap adventure is in place, with Sergeant Calhoun(the priceless Jane Lynch)from Hero’s Duty teaming with Felix(Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock”)from Fix-It Felix, Jr., attempting to save various games from electronic bugs and missing-in-action characters that threatens each with the dreaded “unplugging”. I was sold on this soon after it began, because it quickly became clear that it had a keen sensibility and an inspired screenplay(by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee). The characters are endearing, the worlds they inhabit are vibrant and colorful(of course)and there are delightful cameos from the games of my youth like Q*bert and Frogger. If the pace is so breakneck that it gets away from itself occasionally—hey, I’m not saying it’s perfect. Anyway, it always quickly recovers from these wanderings. Throw in a delightful opening short called “Paperman”, and “Wreck-It Ralph” ponies up as the family-friendly winner(my 5 and 7-year-olds loved it—btw, we attended a non-3D showing)that I never thought it would be.     Grade:  B+

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