*** (out of four)
Anyone who has ever possessed a weakness for candy and/or video games will want to jump inside “Wreck-It Ralph,” a sweet, colorful 3-D animated feature that finds Disney passing its stuck-in-a-rut partners at Pixar (“Cars 2,” “Brave”).
Like “Toy Story,” “Ralph” focuses on what non-living entertainment items do once people leave the premises. Looking kind of like Colin Farrell if he gained a lot of weight, 9-foot-tall, 600-pound Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has had it with being the bad guy in “Fix It Felix Jr.,” a “Rampage”-looking, 30-year-old arcade game that features happy-go-lucky carpenter Felix (Jack McBrayer) using a magic hammer to repair the damage Ralph causes. This earns Felix a building full of fans (who give him pie) and Ralph a lonely post-work existence, when he retreats to a dump in which he sleeps against a stump on a pile of bricks.
The solution, Ralph thinks, will be hopping into a game called “Hero's Duty” and proving to the folks in “Fix It Felix” that not only good guys can win medals. There he encounters a a world full of evil bugs and a tough-talking sergeant (Jane Lynch) with a tragic backstory. Later, in a polar opposite setting that looks like a pre-Russell Brand Katy Perry video, Ralph enters a candy go-kart game called “Sugar Rush” and develops a rocky relationship with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who is ostracized for being a “glitch.”
The result looks like a delightful video game crossover episode, where unemployed Q-Bert begs for money and Sonic the Hedgehog warns, “If you die outside your own game, you don't regenerate. Game over.” The sporadically funny script from Phil Johnston (“Cedar Rapids”) and Jennifer Lee works too hard to generate kids' giggles, relying too heavily on “duty” sounding the same as “doody” and jokes such as Ralph telling a character who is stuck to something to “stick around.”
Yet “Wreck-It Ralph” proves surprisingly fresh and agile, especially considering the increasingly common animated film storyline of villains who want to show their softer side (“Despicable Me,” “Megamind”). Ralph has to learn to love himself; Vanellope must triumph over her game's group-think. Viewers of all ages can enjoy the message that feeling left out may come from a misunderstanding or other people's issues, not because you need to change. The movie finds fun in friendship and playing with your food, so you’re forgiven if you focus most strongly on the cupcakes and chocolate lakes.
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