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Don't look now, but Disney just beat Pixar at its own game.
Wreck-it Ralph not only is terrific fun, it's the best movie made by Walt Disney Feature Animation since its glory days in the 90s. Heartfelt, visually dazzling and wonderfully clever, the movie tops such recent Disney efforts as Tangled and Pixar's Brave - both films I very much enjoyed - but with reservations. Reservations are absent this time.
That's largely because, in a way, Disney has truly begun to assimilate Pixar and its storytelling techniques. All of Disney's feature films since Meet the Robinsons have been overseen to some degree by Pixar guru John Lasseter. But this is the first time Disney has truly mastered the mix of humor and heart that makes Pixar so potent. I expected to have fun, but not this much fun.
Like the Toy Story films, Wreck it Ralph takes kind of a behind-the-scenes look at a very familiar world. This time, it's the world of 80s/90s video games. Many people have said the game in the movie, Fix-It Felix, resembles Donkey Kong, and it does, but it most reminded me of another 80s game called Crazy Climber, the first game I can recall that talked. Your climber character said "Ouch" when people dropped things on its head, and then screamed "Oh nooooooo!" when you finally fell off.
I digress, but this movie was a nostalgic blast that constantly reminded me of games of yore. But even better, that conceit isn't just a gimmick. It's a doorway to a well-thought-out story where Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) tires of being a villain and jumps to other games to be more heroic. One of the other games is called Sugar Rush, which is like Candy Lane gone delectably berserk. There, Ralph meets the impetuous but endearing Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) who enlists Ralph's help to race in a go-kart game.
Wreck-It-Ralph blends the best of its Disney and Pixar fathers. Ralph's quest to be loved is not unlike the "I Want" quest of Disney princesses. And the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope is like a slightly more mature take on Sully and Boo in Monsters Inc. And just as Pixar made Larry the Cable Guy endearing, Wreck It Ralph pulls a similar miracle here with Sarah Silverman, who normally annoys me, but utterly won me over here. For the first I laughed at loud at Oreos, and more than once, I had to adjust my 3D glasses because I had something wet in my eye.
So yes, it's emotional and flashy, in all the best ways. All the gameplay will appeal to boys, but Vanellope is a much stronger character than the ads let on, so girls will love it too.
Most movies based on video games falter because it's like watching someone else play. This one scores because it lets us all in - even a guy like me, who has never owned a video game console. Not even an Atari 2600.