Video game movies face an uphill battle basically from day one. In an attempt to make a film more appealing to a broader audience, Hollywood oftentimes waters down the source material to the point where it's almost unrecognizable to the game's fans. Gamers are often disappointed, and critics often find the films lacking. Disney's Wreck It Ralph manages to not only be a cute enough family film that it can appeal to most demographics, but it does so without alienating gamers.

My last blog was about the problems I had with a CNN article about the console industry - one example of the intersection of video games and mainstream media, and how in many cases the media tends to miss or intentionally overlook crucial factors on an issue in favor of focusing on one aspect because it makes for a better story. Another place where video games sometimes intersect with society at large is movies, and we've seen no shortage of terrible video game film adaptations over the years. Movie versions of Resident Evil and Prince of Persia may spell big bucks for movie studios, but equally large heartache for fans of the respective series. Wreck It Ralph manages to succeed where so many others failed.

By keeping the material lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, Disney afforded itself a lot of wiggle room. The idea of the video game world being a massive, connected multi-verse, with characters from every game reporting to their "jobs" during work hours (when arcades are open and the machines are turned on,) and socializing after work, instead of attempting a strict, serious adaptation of any one game, lets them frame the movie as a big picture of their own creation - and at the same time, completely sidestep the usual fanboy and canon criticisms associated with getting any details of a game adaptation wrong.

Good thing they didn't call her Anya - we'd never hear the end of it.

In addition to crafting the film on their own terms, they also took aim at an odd pair of demographics - families with young children, and gamers. It's not a pairing that you often see catered to, and in fact many films fail in an attempt to draw in only one of those groups. But Wreck It Ralph manages to be two things at once - a cute film for young children, as well as a fun movie for gamers to enjoy. Disney has a long resume of making films that draw in the young'uns, and with more and more gamers becoming parents (rather than there being a generational gap like there used to exist) it was only a matter of time before someone realized you can appeal to both. But Disney also lovingly crafted a film that treats gamers with respect, rather than whittle it down to insulting generalizations.

Despite playing off some genre archetypes - Jane Lynch's character is basically Gears of War's Anya Stroud, and "Hero's Duty" is a mish-mash of first person shooters- it also brings life and personality to the characters and their games, rather than just presenting them as one-dimensional plot devices. The references span decades; everyone and everything from Q-Bert to Street Fighter to a certain famous cheat code is fair game, and the "Game Station" scenes offer a wealth of cameos. I'm already looking forward to the DVD so I can pause the movie to look for details I missed in the theater.

This is what brilliant looks like.

The voice cast is great, and the characters are surprisingly well written for such a lighthearted film. Even the overall story, despite following a familiar 3-act structure, doesn't feel sloppy, trite, or forced. The end result is a one of a kind movie (for now, anyway,) that appeals to gamers with young children, keeping kids entertained without making grownups groan from plot holes or lazy gamer stereotypes. I saw this with my wife, sister in law, and 4 year old niece, and all four of us had an absolute blast.

(Unrelated, anyone who catches this in theaters should be treated to the animated short "Paperman," in the running for an Oscar. Despite being only a few minutes long and having no spoken dialogue, it's one of the more gorgeous pieces I've seen in a while. The black-and-white short is beautifully drawn and wonderfully animated, and the incredible score does the rest of the work.)

This short is better than some entire movies I've seen this year.