Wreck-It Ralph: Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a

If you were born in the 70s and 80s and love video games, Wreck-It Ralph is designed specifically for you.

The world of Wreck-It Ralph, like something straight out of Toy Story, is an arcade after the customers head home for the night. When the lights go out, the games’ characters come alive, leave their day jobs of shooting, jumping, racing, or in Ralph’s case, wrecking, and head off to relax. Ralph’s game is called Fix-It Felix, Jr., a kind of Rampage meets Donkey Kong affair, and Ralph (John C. Reilly) spends his 9-to-5 smashing the windows of a skyscraper while Felix (Jack McBrayer) tirelessly fixes the damage. Felix, the game’s playable character, is hailed as a hero game after game, awarded with medals, and showered with the praise of his in-game non-playable characters. Ralph, the game’s villain, sleeps on a tree stump surrounded by a pile of bricks. It’s not the most equitable of situations.

Despite meetings with Bad-Anon (Bad Guys Anonymous)–which is moderated by a ghost from Pac-Man and attended by Zangief, Bowser, and Dr. Eggman–Ralph isn’t convinced that just because he’s a “bad guy” doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy.1 He needs to prove it to the world, and himself, that he could be a good guy if he wanted. Luckily, one night, while drowning his sorrows at the local bar2 he hears of a different game, a first person shooter called Hero’s Duty. Simply climb the tower in Hero’s Duty and waiting for you at the top, is a shiny medal–it even says “hero” right on the thing! Nothing goes quite according to plan, and while Ralph ends up with the medal, he also ends up crash landing in another game called Sugar Rush–a Candyland / Mario Kart mashup. It’s there that Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), one of Sugar Rush’s racers. She nabs his medal, and the two’s fate are entwined for the rest of the film.

Wreck-it Ralph is a movie specifically created for parents born in the 70s and 80s to share with their children. If you’re older, or somehow missed the whole “video game console” thing, you’re gonna miss a lot of jokes and references. And, if you miss a lot of the jokes/references, there’s not a whole lot left for you. Most of the film’s entertainment value comes from spotting the cameos from video game characters of days gone by; guys like Q*bert, Sonic, Ryu & Ken, and Peach all make appearances, as do dozens of others.3 There’s lots of video game culture floating around in the background that makes for some really neat finds throughout the film–enough that you’d never catch them all the first time through.

There’s also a lot of really clever decisions made in the way the characters are animated. It’s kinda meta if you think about it: Ralph is an animated movie about forty years of animated characters. Making each character feel distinct while drawing them all in a similar style was a challenge, I’m sure. The Pac-Man ghost slowly shifts up, down, left, right as he hovers above his chair. The characters from the 8-bit Fix-It Felix Jr., while roundly animated, skip a couple frames of animation, giving them that “classic” feel.

So, yeah. It’s pretty to look at and fun to get the references. Don’t get me wrong, John C. Reilly is excellent and carries the film in his funny, self-deprecating way. But my dad, born before video game consoles, and my son, born into a post-console world, missed many (most?) of the inside jokes,4 without which the film is pretty hollow.

JR’s thoughts

My son JR had lots of thoughts about our experience at the movie theatre, mostly he wanted to talk about the preview for Oz: The Great and Powerful. But he also had some insight into which superhero Ralph reminded him of and whether or not he’d recommend the movie to his friends. In fact, here are his thoughts straight from his snotty, head-cold infected face:

— ∮∮∮ —

Why you should see this movie

You are Shigeru Miyamoto. Honestly, if you’re Miyamoto you’d probably make your ticket price back in the royalties you’d get from watching this thing.

Why you should stay home

You were born outside of the tiny golden age of console gaming.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. The Bad-Anon meeting closes out with the Bad Guy Affirmation: “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.” 
  2. Tapper
  3. Including Skrillex! OK, he’s not a video game character…YET. 
  4. Neither of them got the Konami Code reference! Weak! 
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Ross Catrow

Founder and publisher of RVANews.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. I concede that, absent any video game knowledge, lots or most of the references would be lost. But I contend that the video game references are set dressing in this movie. While I got many of them (I’m in their demo, I guess), they weren’t even a fraction of why I loved this movie. This movie is aimed at our age group for another reason – it deals with the realities of working life and finding meaning in work even when it seems a) repetitive and b) thankless. It has multiple fully realized worlds and characters, and a story that builds up to an emotional payoff on a few different levels.

    If the avalanche of video game references distracts those who don’t get them (though how would you notice them if you don’t get them?), that’s IS unfortunate. But I feel like this movie happens to be in a video game world but has so much more to do with its characters and what they’re dealing with.

  2. I thought we were going to bounce from game to game a little more, and I was disappointed a little that, save a scene in a bar game and that first visit to the Halo-style universe, the movie was mostly set in Sugar Rush.

  3. “Ooooh. Spooky shadows!” I loved JR’s summary!

  4. I would JR to just take over movie reviews now. No offense, Suze and Ross.

  5. *like

  6. Tiffanie on said:

    I second Val’s comment, and I’m not his mother.

    Two things that I need: a regular JR video/column on the topic of his choosing and some of that amazing JR hair.

  7. @Val None taken. We’re on the same page here.

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