Has Q*bert a soul? Does Pac-Man dream? What lies beyond the land of "Mario Go Kart"? And in the human comedy of free will versus not, can we change what we are or are we simply the result of our programming?
Such questions resonate throughout the animated Disney feature "Wreck-It Ralph," in which the titular video-game bad guy, tired of being ostracized and looked down upon by the fellow denizens of the arcade game "Fix-It Felix," runs away from home, basically -- a brilliantly minimalistic take on the root of the classic heroic journey. From there, the simple, striving Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) finds allies, fails, hits bottom and -- hardly a spoiler -- ultimately helps himself and others by coming to terms with who he is.
That "Wreck-It Ralph" is also a miraculous mesh of dry comedy-of-manners and silly kids' humor only adds to its all-ages appeal, as does the risky but ultimately home-run casting of R-rated comic Sarah Silverman as Ralph's little-girl ally, Vanellope von Schweetz -- a misfit whose snarky bravado pretty well hides her primal fear that, as a software glitch, she was never supposed to exist in the first place.
Ralph meets her in the candy-coated racing game "Sugar Rush" after first leaving his own game -- in which hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) races to repair the huge-fisted Ralph's destruction of an apartment building -- and then masquerading as an armored soldier in the first-person shooter "Hero's Duty," where sexy ramrod Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch) leads her men against flying, rapidly multiplying Cy-Bugs. When Ralph unknowingly sets that menace loose, all of gamedom is threatened.
A loving homage to arcade video games, with cameos by everyone from the Street Fighters to Sonic the Hedgehog, "Wreck-It Ralph" blends poignancy and a piston-powered plot that revels in both visual inventiveness and a vaudevillian sense of timing.
PLOT A video-game bad guy wants to be a hero. RATING PG (rude humor, mild action/violence)
BOTTOM LINE Witty adventure and a heartfelt homage to arcade games past.