Stark-raving ingenuity makes the Disney 3-D animated Wreck It Ralph a rare treat, and to paraphrase Joe Bob Briggs, the fable it tells doesn't get in the way of the story.
It walks a fine line between the cute and the uncanny. An ape-like 8-bit video-game heavy named Wreck It Ralph 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 mishaps, he's 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 the bulbous-headed King Candy (Alan Tudyk voices, doing a sharp Ed Wynn imitation). A reject "glitch" girl 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 include a transit system, 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 its central fable transcends good-vs.-evil storytelling. It honors the balance between creation and destruction. You couldn't improve the balance of the characters, a match-up of the put-upon Reilly and the bratty Sarah Silverman, who voices the candy-covered gamine Vanellope.
The opening cartoon is a similar jaw-drop: "Paperman" may introduce sugared-out kids to the glory of black-and-white, dialogue-free story-telling. Set in New York City shortly before the end of elevated-rail service (1955 or so), it follows the meeting between a young white-shirted salary-man and a large-eyed girl whose lipstick kiss is the only red in the movie. On the cusp between Billy Wilder and Yasujirô Ozu, this gorgeous short has one thing in common with Wreck It Ralph: both are examples of what can be done with animation through ideas that could only exist in the realm of cartoons.
'Wreck it Ralph' opens in wide release on Friday, Nov. 2.