Cross "Toy Story" with a video arcade game and you get "Wreck-It Ralph" (Disney), a clever 3-D animated adventure that explores the meaning of life inside the machine, once the "Game Over" message appears.
Director Rich Moore is a veteran of "The Simpsons" television series, and it shows, for better and worse. "Wreck-It Ralph" is fast-paced and full of action, but some rude humor skews this film toward older kids and their baby-boomer parents.
The eponymous hero (voice of John C. Reilly) makes his living smashing things to bits in an arcade game called "Fix-It Felix." Hot in pursuit is said Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer), who repairs everything Ralph wrecks with a magic hammer. The game ends when the victorious Felix is awarded a medal, and Ralph is consigned to the dump.
After 30 years of the same routine, Ralph has an existential crisis: He no longer wants to be the bad guy. He confesses this to his "Bad-Anon" support group made up of fellow game villains. (Inappropriately for such light comic fare, Satan himself is numbered among these). At their meetings, the black hats recite a mantra: "I'm bad and that's good. I will never be good and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be than me."
But Ralph wants more, and takes the drastic step of switching games in search of fame and glory. First stop: "Hero's Duty," a violent shoot-'em-up where Sgt. Calhoun (voice of Jane Lynch) leads an army of warriors to annihilate cyber-bugs on a distant planet.
Ralph gets a taste of success, but at a price, unleashing a deadly force that threatens to pull the plug of every game in the arcade. That includes his next stop: "Sugar Rush," a sickly sweet racing game in a magical kingdom ruled by King Candy (voice of Alan Tudyk).
"Sugar Rush" is filled with puns and sight gags. King Kandy's bodyguards are two donuts called Duncan and Wynnchel, and his bloodhounds are Devil Dogs, who take care not to step in the Nesquiksand.
Ralph joins forces with an outcast, Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman). Vanellope is a "glitch," phasing in and out due to a programming error or, as she puts it, "I have pixlexia." She is ridiculed by her fellow racers, and lives alone in a junkyard.
Ralph can relate, and comes to Vanellope's aid. To save the day they must overcome prejudice and embrace their differences, offering positive lessons in self-esteem for young viewers.
Along the way, older gamers in the audience will enjoy the cameos from classic video game characters such as Pac-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, Frogger, and the forever unintelligible Q*bert.
"Wreck-It Ralph" is preceded by a charming short film "Paperman," directed by newcomer John Kahrs, about young love in the big city nurtured by, of all things, a simple paper airplane.
The film contains mild cartoonish violence and some rude humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested, some material may not be suitable for children.