There are plenty of reasons why movies adapted from video games usually flounder, and why movies that feel like video games typically stink.
Rather than list them all here, let’s just boil it down to this: None of those movies are as clever as Wreck-It Ralph, an animated feature that isn’t based on a video game as much as it is a video game.
It’s exciting and imaginative, both visually and narratively, while appealing equally to adults and kids. And there’s a bonus level of enjoyment for video-game aficionados who might never look at classic arcade games quite the same way again.
The story begins in the title game, a Donkey Kong knockoff that sees the brute strength of Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) always outdone by the wholesome ingenuity of Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), with victory achieved when Felix is awarded a medal and Ralph is thrown in the mud.
Once the game is turned off each night, Ralph remains an outcast, relegated to his role but dreaming of one day earning the same type of medal as Felix. Determined to prove that he won’t be appreciated until he’s gone, Ralph abandons his own game and embarks on a quest that takes him from one game to the next, seeking the rare opportunity to be considered a hero.
It’s a thoroughly amusing concept, with the focus on classic-style arcade games (mixing some real-life favorites in with the made-up titles) providing a nostalgic kick for adults who remember childhood days spent with rows of quarters and greasy joysticks. Yet the film also offers a fast pace and colorful characters for children who grew up on Playstation or Xbox.
Shot in 3D, the film marks the feature directorial debut of animation veteran Rich Moore, who was one of the creative forces behind the early seasons of “The Simpsons,” and it aims for the same sort of subversive charm as that groundbreaking show.
There are hilarious sight gags and sound effects galore, as the film creates an imaginative world with a set of rules regarding characters moving between games that isn’t too convoluted. The animation is impressively detailed regardless of the graphic limitations of the games themselves.
Even if the finale is predictably chaotic, there is plenty to enjoy until that point. By sticking with low resolution, Wreck-It Ralph achieves a high score.
Rated PG, 93 minutes.