Yesterday was my first day out and about since I got back from Paris, the time change and jet lag, mixed with the furious effort to get out of Paris before Hurricane Sandy hit, left me in a horizontal haze. I made up my mind I’d get out of the house to check out a movie, and out of all the films that appealed to me, me and my homeboy Frank decided on “Wreck-It, Ralph”.
The movie is a fresh, inventive take on the classic Disney theme of self love and acceptance. The story centers on the fable of a video game villian, “Wreck It Ralph”, from an early wave ’80s coin op, “Fix it Felix”. Ralph is the “villian” of the game, but contrasting early video games with modern games, Ralph does not per se inflict very much harm on the other characters in the game, he simply wrecks things, which isn’t really so bad when you consider that without his wreckage, the hero of the game, “Fix it Felix Jr”, wouldn’t be able to come in and practice his hammering alchemy.
The film follows the lead of films such as “Toy Story” and “Shrek”, in going into the lives of childrens playthings, anthropomorphizing them to show a rich inner life after the children have stopped playing with them. In this case, the video game characters all leave their respective games to hang out in “Game Central Station.” After work however, the same relationship heirarchy that exists in the games exists in their after work lives, with “good” characters associating with each other and villians getting together in group therapy meetings to affirm their villany so they can keep up the bad work.
Ralph is depicted as a “villian” with heart, in reality just a large man with large hands who is misunderstood. When the 30th anniversary of his game comes, he finds himself and uninvited and unwelcome guest at the anniversary party of the games protagonists. When he finally gets in, he finds himself depicted on the cake with a mean snarl, as if he actually does his acts of wreckery out of malice instead of that being his function in the game. His co characters fail to realize that Ralph is just doing his job and there would be no game without Ralph.
Ralph then goes on a quest for heroism in order to be accepted in his own game, which leads him to other games. His first stop is an ultra modern first person shooter entitled “Hero’s Duty.” Old school 8 bit Ralph, use to moving on a single screen, is totally intimidated by the ultra modern, omni directional first person shooter. The climax of the movie however, occurs in a Japanese style, younger kids racing game entitled “Sugar Rush”, where Ralph meets his true friend and agent of change, Vanellope Von Schweetz.
As Ralph goes on this journey however, he’s missing from his game and his counterparts in his video game recognize exactly how important he was, without Ralph the game is in danger of being shut down. Ralph ultimately triumphs through self acceptance, it’s not in the cards for him to magically become a good guy, and he does not at the end of the movie. He remains good ol “Wreck It, Ralph”, as ham handed as ever. But that’s what he’s suited to do. This movie is a good example of the adage, “stay in your lane.” What changes is not Ralphs role in the video game, but the appreciation he gains through his comrades understanding that without him, there is no game, and his role is of central importance to the success of their game.
Along the way he’s taught this in part by Vanellope Von Schwertz, the hero of “Sugar Rush”, wrongly dethroned by the villanous Turbo, masquerading as “King Candy.” Turbo was an early video game hero who could not adjust to his new role as new games took over. Vanellope chooses to retain her “glitch” even after she defeats it because it gives her character, individuality and special abilities, a clear message for the kids (and adults) in a world of conformity on various levels.
The film also offers some mild commentary on the more violent video games of today. Seargent Calhoun, the shapely ball busting leader of the heroes on “Hero’s Duty”, is shown to be in need of a hug more than anything (a character confides of her, “she was programmed with the most tragic backstory ever) and is mellowed out by a marraige to the corny, goofy, but sincere 8 bit character “Fix it Felix”, who I’m sure will take his magical hammer to her nightly. In the end the old 8 bit game becomes a revived hit after the calamity that almost destroys the whole arcade and everybody learns to respect each others roles, in what actually is one of the more realistic “happily ever afters” I’ve seen on the screen.
All in all this is a very fun movie with a very good message, not asking us to magically become princes (or frogs) after being kissed, but to accept oneself and to accept the contributions of others for what they do to keep the whole thing running, whether they are pleasant roles or not. While it’s still basically a kids movie and was slow in parts, it has a great appeal to the thirty and up crowd as well that grew up with video games, and it serves as a pocket history of and commentary on the video game movement at the same time it tells it’s story.