Presses the right buttonsMovies
Reviewer's rating: 7/10
Disney animated characters have been getting into mischief in the workplace since Mickey Mouse played up in his debut, 1928's Steamboat Willie, but they find a new angle, both enjoyable and clever, in the studio's latest release. Set in the boxy world of an amusement arcade, Wreck-it Ralph sticks to the genre's core values for children - understanding, teamwork, a poop gag or two - while appealing to adults' gaming nostalgia.
Director Rich Moore's movie echoes Toy Story in giving us the after-hours adventures of dutiful playthings. When the arcade closes, the characters clock off, socialise - although a Pac-Man ghost doesn't have great conversational skills - and, in the case of veteran villains, go to a support group.
That's where the hulking Ralph (voiced by Reilly) - or Wreck-it Ralph, as he's known professionally - goes after a long day of trashing a building only to see it repaired and have himself banished by Felix (McBrayer), the titular hero of their game machine, Fix-it Felix Jr. Shunned by his co-workers despite 30 years of employment in the old-fashioned game, Ralph ends up visiting other games in the arcade in his rash quest for affirmation.
The first time you see Fix-it Felix Jr it's the standard player's blocky, pulsating view, but once you're inside the game the electronic vistas have a luminous glow and rich detail; the characters aren't flat, they're just coded that way. Ralph finds himself in a shoot-'em-up - ''when did video games become so violent?'' he howls as bugs attack - and then a flowery kart-racing game, and each environment has distinct visual identity and gaming philosophy.
As in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo, Ralph's absence has repercussions for his colleagues, so Felix pursues him as Ralph dodges a no-nonsense soldier, Sergeant Calhoun (Lynch), and works with a glitch-afflicted race driver, Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman). It's clear how this all will conclude, but the journey is exceptionally busy and colourful, while some taboos are crossed - Felix and Calhoun engage in an inter-game relationship.
There's an air of existential fear hanging over the milieu - games get unplugged and their characters become homeless - but the notion of trying to change your life in a world of scripted outcomes suits children and adults.
The lessons are learnt somewhat bluntly, but the vocal performances are exceptional. The historic gaming references might evade younger viewers, but Ralph is far from obsolete.
Rated PG, 108 minutes, opens Boxing Day
Stars: John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, SarahSilverman, Jack McBrayer