Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has been part of the Fix-It Felix Jr arcade game for around about thirty years, and his cabinet has sat in the same emporium for all that time as the innovations continued and bigger, louder, more advanced games sprouted up around it. Yet through all that, Ralph has endured in his relatively simple design, a furious character who tries to smash up a building while the player operates Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his magic hammer, fixing all the damage. But after decades of being the bad guy, Ralph doesn't think he's really all that bad...
Disney had made a film about computer games back in the eighties with Tron, though that had a human entering the world of the machine, while this one had the machine characters interacting with each other as if their games were their 9 to 5 jobs, a simple enough idea but one which paid dividends in creating humour. The adventure part entered into this when those games begin to be mixed up as Ralph, after attending his first meeting of Bad Guys Anonymous, is getting mightily sick of always being the outsider who everyone sees as a threat, when he believes he's a perfectly reasonable man who they haven't got to know properly.
The main joke being that when he tries to prove all this, he does nothing but live up to his name as chaos erupts around him for bucking the system. After gatecrashing his game's 30th anniversary party and being made to feel less than welcome, he decides what he needs is a medal to show how he is not just some brainless thug, and leaves the confines of the cabinet to see if he can locate one. He ends up in a first person shooter which is a massive culture shock as he didn't realise games had gotten so violent, just one of the film's culture-savvy gags, but after messing up that for one unlucky player he does manage to locate his medal. Surely it's plain sailing from then on?
Oh no, not at all, because true to form Ralph causes disaster once again and crashes into a candy-themed racing game, yet another meticulously drawn landscape for him to blunder through: the attention to detail throughout was a sugar rush for the eyes, which may be why the racing game has that title. Here he meets another misfit, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, ideally cast), who wants to enter the contest but has been banned for she is a glitch; after initial antagonism, they become friends, and the theme appears to be whether a leopard can change its spots. Is it possible for Ralph and Vanellope to shake off the roles and become useful, or will all those around them force them to conform so they can have someone to kick about?
But once we are deeper into the story, with the King of Sugar Rush (Alan Tudyk) ruling with an unexpectedly iron hand and one bug Ralph has allowed to escape laying eggs underground which will spawn a plague, we can understand this isn't about changing your personality completely to suit others, it's about adapting who you are to the circumstances, being true to yourself to find peace of mind, all very Disney but not such a bad way to carry yourself through the world. Ralph acknowledges his limitations, and by the end has grown to like them and who he is, which may come across like some psychological self-help course more than a goofy cartoon, but there were plenty of laughs, genuine dilemmas and the visuals popped with invention. Not to mention all those game references which could have been pandering to that community, but instead came across as the work of artists who knew what they were on about and were going to have fun with it. Proof that at last it was possible to make a great movie out of a computer game. Pitch perfect electro-music by Henry Jackman.