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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" is in theaters now.
Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" is in theaters now.

"Wreck-It Ralph" a smashing addition to Disney's catalog

Combining a kid-friendly story and slick, well-written script is a pretty good way to guarantee a box office hit. Throw in the nostalgia of a whole history of bygone video games and there's no way you can fail. "Wreck-It Ralph" does just that, and the results are expectedly superb.

The action takes place inside the pint-sized electrical network of a video game arcade, where characters spend their off-duty hours hanging out in their, and each other's, game worlds. It's a decent living for almost everyone – except Ralph.

As the "bad guy," Ralph is ostracized by the townspeople of his game. Vowing to make something of himself and prove he's more than just a wrecker, Ralph abandons his game and sets out to become a hero.

His quest brings him to Hero's Duty, a brand-new first-person shooter game that just happens to award hero medals to its winners. It's smooth sailing until Ralph wrecks more than he can handle and ends up in the candyland cart racing game Sugar Rush, putting the whole arcade at risk of getting shut down.

Disney's powerhouse productions are in full force for its latest animated adventure. It's collected a cast of top talent, including John C. Reilly as the voice of Ralph, plus Jack McBrayer as Ralph's good-guy foil, Fix-It Felix Jr., Jane Lynch as Hero's Duty sergeant Calhoun, and Sarah Silverman as Ralph's troublemaking Sugar Rush ally, Vanellope von Schweetz.

They do a great job, made even better by smart writing and their own comedic sensibilities. The humor is straightforward and aims at all ages simultaneously; there are few – if any – inside jokes planted to appeal to grown-up viewers.

The highlight of "Wreck-It Ralph," though, is its sharp use of old-school video games and aspects of gamer culture. The movie is flush with classic video game characters, from Pac Man and Q*Bert to characters from Mortal Kombat, Sonic and Super Mario Bros.

The use of the games themselves is smartly handled, too. Ralph and others travel in and out of games via their plugs and cables, and their interactions in each world generate their fair share of laughs (especially in the connecting hub Game Central Station, a.k.a. the surge protector).

"Wreck-It Ralph" isn't just a gimmick, however, and that's key. While the nods to video game culture are well done and present throughout the movie, it's the underlying story that provides a strong foundation for them to flourish.

Ralph's adventures in Sugar Rush and over the course of the movie are fun, but purposeful. They're finely tuned to the point where it almost seems effortless, providing a real story underneath all the references. Far from the destruction the character creates in his game, "Wreck-It Ralph" is honed to near perfection.

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