Stark raving ingenuity makes the Disney 3-D animated feature Wreck-It Ralph a rare treat. To paraphrase Joe Bob Briggs, the fable it tells doesn't get in the way of the story. Wreck-It Ralph walks a fine line between the cute and the uncanny, though any under-6-year-old viewers better be tough, since the film climaxes with a sequence of Lewis Carroll–worthy scariness.
An apelike 8-bit video-game heavy has been demolishing the same apartment house for some 30 years, quarter by quarter. Shunned by the other characters in the Fix-It Felix Jr. video game, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) sojourns into neighboring video games in hopes of distinguishing himself.
Through mishap, Ralph is stranded in a sticky, fer-girls racetrack game called Sugar Rush, in which adorable candy princesses race in cookie cars. This increasingly sinister Candyland is ruled over by a bulbous-headed King Candy (Alan Tudyk voices, doing a sharp Ed Wynn imitation). A reject "glitch" girl called Vanellope longs to join the racers, but her participation may lead to the total destruction of the game.
The metaphysics of how this arcade world works includes a transit system and homeless characters from out-of-order games and graffiti ("All your base are belong to us" is scrawled on a wall by some vandal). Yet Wreck-It Ralph isn't crushed by its own concept or by in-jokes, and the central fable transcends good-vs.-evil storytelling. The film honors the balance between creation and destruction. You certainly couldn't improve the balance of the characters, a matchup of the put-upon Reilly and the bratty Sarah Silverman, who voices the candy-covered gamine Vanellope.
The opening cartoon is similar jaw-dropping. Paperman may introduce sugared-out kids to the glory of black-and-white, dialogue-free storytelling. Set in New York shortly before the end of elevated-rail service (1955 or so), Paperman follows the meeting between a young white-shirted salaryman and a large-eyed girl whose lipstick kiss is the only red in the movie. On the cusp between Billy Wilder and Ozu, this gorgeous short has one thing in common with Wreck-It Ralph: both are exemplifications of what can be done with animation; both are ideas that could only exist in the realm of cartoons.
PG; 108 min.