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If it ain't broke Wreck-It Ralph'

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Disney film offers glimpse inside the lives of video games

For people of a certain age, there's nothing quite like classic video games. Sure, technology has advanced far beyond the simple arcade games of the 1980s, but for many of us, those are the games that we'll always remember.

Disney has found a wonderful way to capture that sense of nostalgia with 'Wreck-It Ralph,' giving us a brand-new look at some of those iconic characters.

It's the story of the titular Ralph (John C. Reilly, 'Carnage'), the bad guy in the popular arcade game 'Fix-It Felix Jr.' Ralph's job is quite simply, to wreck stuff. He wrecks the building over and over, while Felix (Jack McBrayer, TV's '30 Rock') fixes it. All day every day for decades, Ralph wrecks and Felix fixes.

Ralph finds himself dealing with an existential crisis, struggling with his identity as 'the bad guy.' He even attends a support group for other video game villains in an attempt to understand and cope with these feelings. However, the last straw arrives when the denizens of his game throw a party to celebrate the game's 30th anniversary and neglect to invite him.

Ralph decides that he needs to prove himself to be more than just the bad guy. To do so, he jumps games, finding himself in the first-person shooter 'Hero's Duty' where he meets Captain Calhoun (Jane Lynch, TV's 'Glee'), leader of the battle against the psy-bugs. An unfortunate mishap sends Ralph (and an unwanted stowaway) into 'Sugar Rush,' a candy-themed racing game.

There, he encounters Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, 'Take This Waltz'), a game glitch who wants nothing more than to be allowed to race. However, King Candy (Alan Tudyk, TV's 'Suburgatory') stands in the way of both Venellope's and Ralph's dreams hers to race, his to be a hero. When unexpected repercussions of Ralph's game-jumping arise, friends and enemies alike are thrown together in a desperate attempt to save the entire arcade.

This is a film that strikes an ideal balance between fun for children and fun for adults. The kids will have an absolutely marvelous time it's hard not to fall in love with these characters while the grown-ups will find themselves hearkening back to their own arcade good old days. The lineup crosses generations, with winks and nods to every brand of gamer nostalgia.

All of these wonderful characters come together in a beautifully realized world. One of the best parts of the film is the back-and-forth shift between perspectives; sometimes we see the characters as the gamers see them, sometimes we see them as they see themselves. It adds another layer of richness to the overall viewing experience, offering subtle touches that accent the movie's 'reality.'

Reilly is a delight as Ralph; it's the sort of amiable muddle-head that he excels at portraying. Silverman finds the sweet spot with regards to channeling her inherent snarkiness into something adorably snide. Lynch and McBrayer both bring serious comedic chops to the table, and each gets to do a wonderful distillation of their strengths Lynch is caustic and mean, McBrayer is nice and well-meaning.

Ralph's journey is a heroic one straight out of Joseph Campbell, a man refusing to accept the hand that he was dealt and striving to create a new life for himself. Despite his bad guy persona, he has a good heart. He's an underdog, striving for something more; you can't help but root for him. His imperfections only serve to make him more lovable and his aims more admirable.

Sure, there's plenty of the standard Disney sentimentality here, but that's OK. It's a tale that warrants that sort of emotional connection. The story also occasionally finds itself bogged down juggling its own mythology, but that too is a minor criticism.

'Wreck-It Ralph' was eagerly anticipated and managed to earn that anticipation. Simply put, it might just be the best animated film of 2012.

5 out of 5

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