Smart, inventive and witty, it fully deserves its best Animated Feature Oscar nomination

IT SHOULDN'T be viewed as too much of a problem that the basic premise of Disney's latest mega-budget CG animation, Wreck-It Ralph, is simply a variation on Toy Story, only instead of toys, it is video game characters who come to life when humans aren't around.

Nor, for that matter, should we worry that the idea of the support group that's the catalyst for the title character starting out on his journey was already used in a Pixar short called Small Fry.

What Wreck-It Ralph lacks in originality, it makes up for with wit and verve, appealing characters and a joyousness that grows increasingly infectious.

Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the bad guy in a fictitious 1980s video game, Fix-It Felix Junior, whose job it is to destroy an apartment block with his massive fists before Felix can rebuild it.

He's envious of the nice lifestyle enjoyed by the other characters in the game, who when the arcade closes, party and have fun in the apartment building while he goes back to living in a dump. After 30 years of this, he's growing a little tired of always being the bad guy, and gets the idea in his head that if can win a medal then the other Fix-It Felix characters will accept him.

Leaving his game world, Ralph ends up in a flashy modern sci-fi shooting game where he unwittingly unleashes a bug that could destroy every game in the arcade. With passing references rather than full-on tributes to games of yore, game fans may find themselves a little disappointed with the level of involvement.

Mostly it's a riot of colour, bursting with dazzling animation and design, particularly by the time we get to the candy-coated world of the racing game, Sugar Rush, where Ralph meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a young girl who is something of an outcast in her world.

Though we perhaps spend a bit more time in Sugar Rush than is ideal, it's here that the character work is done, as Ralph and Vanellope clash then bond, before we move on to the bigger picture of the danger facing the gaming world.

There are plenty of laughs, both from clever lines and cute visual gags, and voices that are very well matched with the characters. Reilly does a big lug well, Silverman is cute, and even though her avatar looks more like Ellen Barkin, Jane Lynch is on top form as super-soldier Calhoun, while 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer is a hoot as Ralph's nemesis, Felix.

Smart, inventive and witty, Wreck-It Ralph is fully deserving of its Oscar nomination for best animated feature, and if better ones come along this year, then cinema audiences will be all the richer for it.

Director: Rich Moore

Running time: 108 mins


Fluffy biopic fails to go to the dark side

IT'S 1959 and Alfred Hitchcock is the most famous film director on the planet.

Looking for his next project, preferably something nasty and dark, he comes across a book called Psycho and puts his reputation on the line by financing the filming of it himself.

Trying to be too many things, this fluffy biopic never fully succeeds at any of them. It's a little too arch and knowing when it comes to the moviemaking process and the Hollywood system, as characters explain in simple terms everything the audience needs to know.

As Hitchcock, we get a decent enough impersonation from Anthony Hopkins that too often slips into the actor just being himself, so we must look to his wife Alma (a terrific Helen Mirren) and their relationship for any real insight.

Though portrayed as lecherous and single-minded, this window into the great director seems somewhat sanitised, getting nowhere near – if reports are to be believed – to how sadistic he really was.

It's all surface frivolity, with the only thing keeping it going the enduring power of Psycho itself.

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Running time: 98 mins


Sloppy plotting spoils zombie comedy that tries to be different

THE apocalypse isn't all fun and games in this surprisingly mournful comedy horror that's on the one hand praiseworthy for doing something a bit different within the zombie genre, but on the other generates the lingering whiff of a Twilight cash-in with its romance between the living and the undead.

The undead here is R (Nicholas Hoult) who, though a zombie, helps instead of eats the still-alive Julie (Teresa Palmer) and begins to feel himself change, perhaps on the way to becoming human again.

With a strong thematic hook, about clinging on to humanity as long as possible, it's a shame the rest of the plotting is so sloppy and the teen-friendly rating means any zombie-munching action is underfed.

Ally that to a much too deliberately paced build-up and a resolution that's too easily earned, and Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead can sleep easy. But the romantic element is winning and there's certainly some fun – if hardly a barrel of laughs – to be had with the premise, usually provided by Hoult's zombified reactions and the always dependable Rob Corddry.

Director: Jonathan Levine

Running time: 98 mins

I GIVE IT A YEAR (15) ***

A remarkable amount of laughs

THOUGH trading in a familiar set-up, Brit rom-com I Give It a Year almost manages to do something a bit different with a moribund genre.

Newlyweds Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne are the central pairing but their friends think the marriage won't last, and indeed, some months later they're struggling to keep it together, as she gets close with a business colleague and he with his ex.

There's a mixed-bag approach to the humour, much of if rather forced and often obvious, and the surrounding gubbins is frequently pretty ropey, if at least nothing like as hateful as the recent glut of British wedding-themed comedies.

Stephen Merchant gets the most cringeworthy material, and the film is always the better for his absence.

And yet for all that, there's a remarkable amount of laughs to be had, with a couple of sequences, particularly one involving an electronic photo frame containing an unfortunate selection of pictures, very funny indeed.

Spall has a likeable Martin Freeman-style nervousness, and his fumblings are behind most of the best chuckles in what, bizarrely, could be one of the poorest films ever to make you laugh like a drain.

Director: Dan Mazer

Running time: 97 mins


Gimme the Loot (15, 101 mins) *****

Director: Adam Leon

Though giving off a surface grimness, this is actually a life-affirming look as the day-to-day shenanigans of a pair of New York teenagers, who hustle and scam their way around the city while pursuing their dream to graffiti a baseball icon.

With a sparky, no-nonsense approach aiding the rough and ready appeal of the characters, this is indie filmmaking at its freshest and most vibrant.

:: GFT, Monday 11th, 20.45

Fat Kid Rules the World (15, 94 mins) ****

Director: Matthew Lillard

Overweight, friendless high-schooler Troy forms an uneasy alliance with slacker Marcus, who may, or may not, want him to play drums in his band. As he learns to grow beyond his loner persona, we follow Troy's difficult journey, told through witty cutaways and refreshing characters we haven't seen a million times before in this sort of thing.

:: GFT, Saturday 9th, 18.30

Kauwboy (Ages 10+, 81 mins) ****

Director: Boudewijn Koole

Echoing Kes and the work of the Dardenne brothers, this touching Dutch drama follows 10-year old Jojo, who lives with his uncaring father while his mother is seemingly working abroad.

As Jojo tends to an injured jackdaw, the thematic richness and acting naturalism result in a family tale that's warm and tender but not afraid to confront emotional issues head-on.

:: GFT, Wednesday 13th, 14.45