Is Wreck-It Ralph a contender for best movie of 2012?

Think you’ve seen the best movie you’ll watch this year? Think again: Wreck-It Ralph is going to change your 2012 rankings. The Disney — sans Pixar — 3-D CGI film had a $49.1 million opening weekend, a record for Disney Animation Studios.

Wreck-It Ralph’s plot is rather “Pixar” — the film is about a day in the life of a video game character — as opposed to that of a toy, rat, car or fish. Although some critics have called out the feature for brand-switching, Disney lives up to the challenge of going Pixar.

The story follows Ralph (John C. Reilly), a video game character who’s tired of being the bad guy in his own video game, Fix-It Felix. So he leaves the game, determined to earn a medal to prove that he, too, can be a good guy. Jumping between games, he comes across the hard-as-rocks sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from the game Hero’s Duty, where he finds a medal and promptly loses it again in his next game, Sugar Rush. Bumbling through the candy-filled fantasy land of the latter game, he meets Vannellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), the sassy little glitch girl banned from racing in the game.

Although a heartrending and convincing character, Ralph was not the film’s focus. He is a central point around which the ingenious universe setup and hilarious supporting cast revolve. Silverman as Vannellope and Jack McBrayer as Fix-It-Felix are perfect, in part because of their typecast roles but also thanks to a convincing script. The plot is just as tight as the script, and it’s to the writers’ credit that the film is surprising, as well as comforting. There is not one moment where you doubt the emotional bond of a couple brought together by drowning in chocolate milk inside a video game about racing through candy. At least once during the movie, you’ll find yourself tearing up or laughing riotously. The plot upholds every bit of minutiae imagined by a 40-year-old video game nerd in the writing room and nothing is redundant, from characters’ names to objects lying on the ground.

The most exciting part of the film is its retro nostalgia. The incredibly detailed scenes play out like a game of “I Spy,” in which you try to recognize as many video game characters as you can in a 15-second pan. Mario comes in, Pac-Man makes an appearance, and then you spend some time reminiscing about your first Atari.

Because the art manages to tie together several stylizations, from 8-Bit ‘80s games to Halo-esque shooter scenes, the movie successfully appeals to a range of ages.

If nothing else, Wreck-It Ralph is worth a watch for the Pixar short that precedes it: a cute little episode at the beginning of a love story. Or the smart Fix-It-Felix online game that comes with the film. But even on its own, Wreck-It Ralph is a surprisingly good flick, with endearing characters and artful animation — an easy contender next to the other less-than-shiny animated features from 2012, from Brave to Frankenweenie.

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