Perhaps the best reason to go and see ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, Disney’s spangly attempt to beat daughter company Pixar at their own high-level game, isn’t in the film itself: rather, it’s ‘Paperman’, the Oscar-nominated seven-minute short that precedes it. A wordless black-and-white romance combining hand-drawn and computer animation techniques, it’s a graceful fusion of twenty-first-century wizardry and old-school Disney warmth. By contrast, the Mouse House manages only half that equation in ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, a fluorescent funride through an imagined arcade game universe that bludgeons the viewer with cleverness and state-of-the-art nostalgia, but is found rather wanting in the charm department.
The premise might seem alien to anyone younger than Sonic the Hedgehog. Ralph (John C Reilly) is the building-demolishing antagonist of a rudimentary 8-bit video game in the ‘Donkey Kong’ vein. Yearning to be a hero, he sets forth into the complex inner universe of the arcade to find an alternative game that can cast him differently. But he finds himself mired in the hot-pink purgatory of girly go-kart race Sugar Rush Speedway, where he joins forces with fellow outcast Vanellope (the delightful Sarah Silverman) to play the system at its own game, as it were. There’s a lot more than that to this rule-ridden story world, but the initial excitement of the film’s zigzagging between artificial environments soon becomes exhausting, particularly with so little human feeling to underpin the dazzling spectacle. Disney’s found a lot to play with here, but you may find yourself itching to take the controls.