I’m a gamer at heart. This former obsession (read: addiction) to video games has been somewhat replaced by my passion for movies, but only in recent years. I recall receiving a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas as a young child. This strange and delightful box would radically alter my life. I held up the bright orange pistol and fired at the pixelated ducks as they flapped and fluttered across my television screen. The arcade had, quite literally, come home. Over the years, my video game habits have waned due to busyness and the sense that my time in front of a screen was a waste of my time. Yet this gaming addiction is still part of my story.
Wreck-It Ralph conjured up strangely similar nostalgic feelings to my first viewing of the Toy Story films. What if there was life behind the pixelated screens after the “Game Over” ended the most recent escapade? The characters of my childhood obsession were presented on the big screen as actual characters, with feelings and stories and conflicts and dreams.
When it comes to world-building, the creators of Wreck-It Ralph are ambitious and competent. To put it plainly, this is the best video game movie I’ve seen. The characters travel from game to game via train cars that run through electrical conduits, all connected to the Grand Central Station (aka, the power strip plugged into the arcade wall). Each game is an expansive and unique world filled with a variety of characters and scenarios that both hard-core gamers and children will find delightful.
Wreck-It Ralph‘s titular character is the large-handed antagonist of an arcade game, “Fix-It Felix.” Ralph destroys an apartment complex; Felix fixes it; the apartment dwellers toss Ralph off the roof. And so on. For thirty years, Ralph has been the bad guy, the villain, the one on the outside. After Ralph crashes the thirty-year anniversary celebration of their game, a sarcastic challenge from one of the apartment residents. Win a medal (like Felix) and you can join us. Ralph accepts the dare. Traveling from game to game in a quest to win a medal, Ralph finds himself in “Sugar Rush,” a cutesy racing game that seems to have gotten its decorating tips from the board game Candyland. He meets Vanellope, a misfit girl who dreams of being able to race one more time. Ralph’s unorthodox journey puts the entire arcade in danger, opening up doors between games that should have never been broached, generating the potential destruction of both “Fix-It Felix” and “Sugar Rush.”
Ralph and Vanellope form a bond as the outcasts of their respective games. They’re part of the game, but only tolerated by the rest of the inhabitants. Vanellope is labeled as a glitch by her fellow racers, mostly due to an uncontrollable pixellated seizure of sorts. She doesn’thave a glitch. She is a glitch. This is an important distinction, because Vanellope’s identity and worth are inherently intertwined with her disability. Ralph helps her build a car and learn how to race, not out of a selfish ambition to get a medal, but simply to help his new friend and find redemption for them both.
The narrative arc of “outcast that becomes a hero” is a familiar one, yet Wreck-It Ralph is refreshing in its approach. Both Ralph and Vanellope don’t overcome their apparent disabilities. At the end of the film, she is still a glitch. Ralph is still the bad guy, still punching holes in the walls of the apartment building. These defects and roles are never “fixed,” but rather redeemed as strengths and character qualities. They don’t have to be normal or fit into their game; they have embraced a way of being that is beyond normal. What at first appeared to be a weakness or a detriment proves to be a unique gift offering a blessing and benefit to their respective arcade game communities. Like Zangief tells Ralph in a “Bad Guys Anonymous” session, “being the bad guy doesn’t make you a bad guy.”
Wreck-It Ralph is charming, creative, entertaining, and insightful. Maybe video games aren’t a waste of time after all.
(Oh, and the hand-drawn animated short, Paperman, was simply delightful, offering a striking contrast in tone and animation to Wreck-It Ralph‘s vibrant worlds. I haven’t been that moved by a near-silent romance since the first ten minutes of Up. Show up early, you won’t want to miss it.)
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1772341/