It's a good thing "Tron" didn't turn Disney sour on video games, because now we get the joys of "Wreck-It Ralph."
Like "Tron," "Wreck-It Ralph" takes us deep into the video-game universe, though this time as a fully computer-animated adventure brimming with humor, clever insider references and a pair of charming protagonists.
Wreck-It Ralph is an unlikely hero, because for 30 years he's been the bad guy. He's the villain in "Fix-It Felix Jr.," a 30-year-old video game (following the model of "Donkey Kong") in which a hammer-wielding handyman repairs the damage done by Ralph to an apartment building in Niceland.
But, as Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) tells the guys at his villain support group, just once he'd like to be the good guy. So he violates one of the main rules of the arcade: Never game-jump.
Director Rich Moore and writers Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee find plenty of fun in creating fully realized video-game worlds that evoke classic styles. Ralph's game evokes the '80s 8-bit glory of "Donkey Kong" and "Super Mario Bros." Later, Ralph enters a dark first-person-shooter game, "Hero's Duty," and later the super-saturated color field of the candy-themed auto game "Sugar Rush Racers."
When Ralph lands in "Sugar Rush Racers," he meets the scrappy Vanellope Von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), a program "glitch" who wants to race against the established characters. But game-jumping is dangerous for characters and the games they leave behind, so Fix-It Felix (voiced by "30 Rock's" Jack McBrayer) teams with "Hero's Duty's" tough-but-beautiful Sgt. Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) to retrieve Ralph and prevent a bigger threat to the whole video-game community.
The movie's rich atmosphere derives from knowing references to familiar video games, just as "Toy Story" got mileage from using established toy brands. For example, that villains' support group, Bad-Anon, includes Mario's nemesis Bowzer and one of the Pac-Man ghosts while QBert and Pong are among those populating Game Central Station, the central power strip of the arcade.
"Wreck-It Ralph" also benefits from perfect voice casting. The breakout star here is Silverman, who channels her caustic Kewpie doll stand-up personality into the impish Vanellope to give her some bite and a lot of heart. Reilly may give Wreck-It Ralph his voice, but Silverman gives the movie extra life.
By the way, don't miss the short film that accompanies the feature. "Paperman" is a beautiful 5-minute black-and-white cartoon that starts with a guy seeing a girl on a train platform and ends as something sweetly magical.
Enter the video-game world in this fun and inventive animated adventure from Disney.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, Nov. 2.
Rating • PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence.
Running time • 92 minutes, plus a 5-minute short, "Paperman."