Critics have awarded a high score to Wreck-It Ralph, the new animated Disney movie that hits theaters today. The film tells the story of a fictional, Donkey Kong-esque arcade game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly) who decides, after 30 years, that he'd like to become a video game hero. (Watch a trailer below.) The film's strong reviews make it an outlier among movies based on video games, which have typically drawn less-than-stellar reviews. What makes Wreck-It Ralph the best video game movie in history? Here, four theories:
1. Wreck-It's director knows video game history
Director Rich Moore has finally delivered "a computer-animated movie that makes sense, because its protagonists all exist on motherboards," says Rene Rodriguez at The Miami Herald. Wreck-It Ralph offers surprisingly savvy commentary on the advances in video game technology, making jokes about the differences between decades-old games like Nintendo's Donkey Kong and modern games like the Xbox 360's Call of Duty franchise. Clever details abound, from the way older, unpopular characters "hang around like vagrants, begging for food" to a scene in which "an old 8-bit character stares in awe at a modern, high-def warrior in all its glossy, shiny detail."
2. The movie is full of cameos by video game characters
Much like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which legendarily paired Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, Wreck-It Ralph is packed with licensed cameos from actual video game characters, including Q*Bert, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Tapper. In another early scene, Ralph, along with a host of other familiar video game villains, gather at the home of the Pac-Man ghosts in a "Bad-Anon" support group, says Peter Debruge at Variety. The movie began with "the bright idea of paying tribute to retro games," and its constant vintage-game influences ensure that hardcore gamers won't be disappointed.
3. It incorporates familiar video game rules
The cameos are clever, says Charlie McCollum at the San Jose Mercury News, but Wreck-It Ralph's sharpest tribute to video game history is its careful adherence to video game rules. The film's arcade games are connected through what its characters call "Game Central Station" — and what we would call a power strip — "with surge protectors acting as security guards." And just like in real video games, characters that die in their own games can be infinitely revived — but if they die in another video game, they die for good. By twisting and tweaking the real-life rules of video games to suit its story, Wreck-It Ralph tips its hat its arcade roots.
4. The story is compelling
The video game touches are inspired, says Betsy Sharkey at The Los Angeles Times, but "it's not just the joystick junkie in me that admires Wreck-It Ralph." The film's "major asset is its humanity," with Ralph standing out as a sympathetic, instantly loveable character. By combining Disney's old-school commitment to storytelling with a new-school setting and characters, Wreck-It Ralph is "a fresh 21st-century breeze" for the legendary animation studio.
Consensus: Wreck-It Ralph is a sharp, joyful romp through video-game history sure to delight old-school and new-school gamers alike.