Proving once again that today’s animation is largely meant for kids of a certain age (the wizened cusp of 40?), Disney’s warmhearted adventure places us squarely in the video-game arcade, where, deep within the innards of ageing cabinets, an unrest brews. Donkey Kong-like smasher Wreck-It Ralph (John C Reilly) is sick of plummeting to his undignified defeat in a mud pile, quarter after quarter. Don’t blame the player, blame the game, he’s told in so many words, but ingratitude burns this softie. So Ralph goes rogue and sets out for other pastures, risking a dreaded out of order sign for his workmates – including unctuous hero Fix-It Felix (30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer) – but also elimination outside his own reset-able universe. The metaphor is clever, injecting real-life risk and reward into these beautifully artificial vistas, scored to composer Henry Jackman’s Nintendo-worthy beeps and bloops.
Even within that smart setup, though, Wreck-It Ralph finds a whole new level to play, after our hero, shell-shocked by an Aliens-esque first-person shooter, plunges down the candyish slopes of Sugar Rush, a girly driving game. There he encounters its black sheep, the exquisitely named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman, fully in her element), who looks and sounds like a surly nine-year-old with SweeTarts in her hair. This relationship – more father-daughter than anything – accesses a rare degree of emotion for any movie, never mind the animated ones: Vanellope just wants to win the race and not feel like a “glitch.” Ralph has confidence issues as well. Their mutual bonding ratchets up the drama, softening Silverman’s snark and magnifying Reilly’s dignity. Of course, you get plenty of headbonking and lane-swerving too, but it goes down easy with cameos from Dig Dug and His Mouthiness Himself, Pac-Man, a total party hog.