When it comes to the game of filmmaking, Wreck-It Ralph plays on the hardest difficulty. For this is a project - long-awaited, highly anticipated and highly ambitious - that could have gone spectacularly wrong.
Luckily, with Disney and director Rich Moore (The Simpsons), the controller is in the right hands. The story, scripted by Phil Johnston (Cedar Rapids) and newcomer Jennifer Lee, is as human as it is pixelated.
John c. Reilly’s Ralph - he of ‘Wreck-It’ fame - is fed up with his villainous role in the virtual world of Litwak’s arcade: a place where, a la Toy Story, videogame characters come to life in spectacularly realised detail after we’ve stopped playing with them.
From its opening scene in ‘Bad Anon’ - a support group for digi-villains such as Bowser, M Bison and Doctor Robotnik - to its Game Central Station setting (a city populated by hundreds of classic characters travelling from game to game), this is a world created with the sort of love, precision and cheeky referencing that, especially if you’ve ever been a gamer, you’ll never want to leave.
Ralph doesn’t feel quite so thrilled, however.
Faced with the daily ridicule of playing the bad guy in the shadow of his heroic nemesis Fix-It Felix Jr (Jack McBrayer), he decides to abandon the confines of his game in the hope of finding the gold medal that will earn him status and respect among his fellow pixel pals.
His quest first lands him in the Halo-esque ‘Hero’s duty’, led by Jane Lynch’s no-nonsense Sergeant Calhoun (“she’s programmed with the most tragic backstory ever”), and eventually into the sickly-sweet kart-racing game ‘Sugar Rush’, where he meets kindred outsider Vanellope von Schweetz - a nine-year-old wannabe racer banished for being a ‘glitch’ - and decides to help her win her way back onto the circuit.
Perkily voiced (with an edge of snark) by Sarah Silverman, Schweetz cements the film’s themes of individuality and self-acceptance, although she does cue up a barrage of candy-based punnery - visual and verbal - that some may find a little jarring. (The bumbling cop duo who come in the form of a talking donut and chocolate éclair are lip-smackingly cool, mind.)
Still, such a glitch in the script is hardly enough to undo the film’s high-scoring virtues: warmth, wit, scale and ambition. And though loose ends are neatly tied - no mean feat given a spate of subplots - there’s also tantalising scope for a franchise.
In the words of its final shot: PRESS START.
A Disney flick that feels like on-form Pixar, blending knowing humour and sophistication with a large helping of heart. You’ll want another go.