Today's animated film routinely target both parents and their kiddies. Trot out a goofy slapstick fall one minute, then drop a sly reference to a beloved '50s TV show the next.
It's calculated, and it works far more often than not.
Wreck-It Ralph, available March 5 on Blu-ray and DVD, is a 90-plus minute ode to the video games today's parents spent their formative years feeding every quarter they had. Frogger. Q-bert. Donkey Kong. What's missing is the narrative cohesion to keep distracted kids engaged and parents looking for more than just a trip down analog memory lane.
John C. Reilly is the perfect choice to voice Ralph, the villain in an old-school arcade game called Fix-It Felix. Ralph never gets the girl, or the applause, and he longs for the kind of acceptance his video game peers get with every play.
When he leaves his own game to seek new adventures he meets a fiery girl named Venellope (Sarah Silverman) in a game called Sugar Rush. Together they stand a chance of making both their dream scenarios come true.
Wreck-It Ralph stages a clever introductory sequence where Ralph gets to unload his woes in a group counseling session along with other video game baddies. He wants to smash his social caste, and he's willing to risk everything to do so.
It's an admirable theme, but the film focuses far more on kinetic action sequences, one-note gags and authentic arcade bleeping sounds. The middle section is particularly scattershot, with the duo's budding friendship not quite established and the story's meandering nature taking up too much screen time.
The Sugar Rush environment gives the animators a chance to explore its candy-coated terrain, but the setting makes the relationships and life lessons take a back seat to the plucky visuals.
Supporting players try to spark the film, but even reliable scene swipers like Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) and Glee's Jane Lynch can only do so much with material that cares more about Donkey Kong tributes than a compelling narrative.
The Blu-ray extras include the theatrical short Paperman, featuring lush black and white animation and a love story so sweet it makes the Sugar Rush terrain look like a desert. We're also treated to alternate and deleted scenes, some ingenious mock video game commercials and Bit by Bit: Creating the World of Wreck-It Ralph.
Pixar legend John Lasseter recruited director John Moore to helm Wreck-It Ralph, and the filmmakers used the Toy Story franchise as creative inspiration. The project began with Felix (McBrayer) as the movie's lead before the writer realized Ralph offered a far more complex, and dramatic, story to tell.