By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Wreck-It Ralph is pleasantly nostalgic for days when the most popular video games were proudly innocuous, not first-person virtual killing machines, when arcades sounded more like circus calliopes than battlefields, and collecting magic coins was more important than body counts.
Taking a cue from Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph presents a fantasy of what video game characters do in their off hours, when humans leave the room. Mostly they behave like humans, shuttling to and from work on trains from the Game Central Station hub. Each tunnel leads to another game, and nobody goes where they aren't programmed to be — except anyone can go to Tappers for root beer.
Wreck-It Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, is an unappreciated hulk in an outdated '80s video game. It's named for him, but the hero is Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), who scores points by patching whatever Ralph breaks on an apartment building populated by amusing low-res socialites. Ralph is Donkey Kong to Felix's Mario, the reason the game exists but not its star.
After being shunned at the game's 30th anniversary party, Ralph deserts the program and invades Hero's Duty, a state-of-the-art warfare game led by gung-ho Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch). Ralph hopes to obtain a medal to prove he's a hero, but the gentle lug isn't cut out for combat. Eventually his quest leads to Sugar Rush, a candy land game ruled by wicked King Candy (Alan Tudyk) and where bratty Vanellope von Schweetz (vocal standout Sarah Silverman) has a crucial race to win.
The movie's first half is its funniest, as Moore sets up this alternate low-resolution universe. Game Central Station and Ralph's visit to Bad-Anon, a support group for insecure villains, become delightful twists on the cartoon cameos in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The second half is cleverly designed, high-fructose eye candy, with typical Disney lessons in reaching for the stars, being who you are, blah, blah, blah.
A delightful contrast to Moore's frenetic adventure is offered by an accompanying short subject that's black and white, nearly wordless and very romantic.
Paperman is the sweet, simple tale of an office drone enamored of a woman briefly met on an elevated train platform and serendipitously spied in another office building later. The man begins folding stacks of paperwork into airplanes, sailing them to get her attention, with the winds of fate guiding their destiny. It's the reason for the "plus" in my grade, and a likely Oscar nominee in the animated short film category.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.