Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Never much one for arcade games, I nonetheless found some nostalgia moments in this film when I finally got around to watching it. (Most of them had to with Pac-Man.) It was fun to see the evolution of the games over thirty years – and that how they are still fun after that long. Sometimes, it is not the amazing graphics, high definition resolution, or angsty character backstories that make a game fun to play, but the simple, campy fun of unrealistic destruction and rebuilding.
Our protagonist, Wreck-It Ralph, has spent three decades as a villain, day-in, day-out. His job is to wreck an apartment building not quite as fast as Fix-It Felix can put it back together. Felix gets the accolades from the simpleminded residents of the building, including pies, while Ralph is demonized and left to live in exile just offscreen on a pile of crushed bricks.
Even though he is just a punch-clock villain, with little backstory or desire to actually wreck anything, his community does not accept him. He is essential to the game – when he decides to quit, the game is considered broken and the whole cast of characters is set to be rendered homeless. Only then do they realise how much they miss and need their villain, and how badly they have treated him.
As befitting his heroic nature, Felix is the one who recognizes how integral Ralph is to the Fix-It Felix Jr. game. He considers him to be a friend, although he does not share this with Ralph until it is nearly too late.
Much has been said about the actual plot and the other main characters in the story (Vanellope von Schweetz, King Candy, Sergeant Calhoun, etc.), but the overall theme of the film is love and acceptance, both of oneself and of one’s community members.
The crux of the story is that Ralph decides to leave his game to prove to his fellow game-mates that he is capable of being a hero. He thinks being a hero is a matter of getting a medal like Felix does every winning game, but what he fails to understand is that being a hero is more than glory. It is more than being awarded a shiny trinket.
Being a hero is doing the right thing, no matter how hard or easy it is, no matter how glorious or ignoble, and doing so in love. It is being a good and loyal friend, and about being content with one’s place in the world, but open to changing it when necessary.
Ralph was in a bad place for thirty years, but it took him that long to figure out that he needed to change. He had grown so resentful that only Felix was open to accepting him – and even then only with a lot of hesitation. He set out with the right idea, namely to prove that he could be heroic, but had the wrong notion of what being heroic was. He did set out to change and accomplished that, albeit in a roundabout way.
At the end of all the battles, races, and identity crises, Ralph and Felix are back in their respective places in their game, but they are much more joyful in their roles. The apartment-dwellers gain a new respect for Ralph and all are much happier. They are practically laughing as they toss him off the top of their building for the umpteenth time per day, and Ralph is laughing along with them.
Wreck-It Ralph is a universal story, but one of its drawbacks is how unapproachable it initially seems. Being set in an arcade, with complex rules for how characters go between games and how they interact with each other, distracts from the story itself, as does the nostalgia factor. The settings are diverse and fun to look at, but make the story hard to follow, particularly for the younger members of the target audience.
Overall, this is an enjoyable Disney film that appeals to viewers of all ages, as Disney has been good at. Its themes are important for children as well as adults, because no matter where we are hoping to end up in life, we need to have a loving and joyful attitude wherever we are. We need to do the right thing no matter how much we feel wronged by others.
It ultimately does not matter whether we are the designated hero or villain – or supporting character or dead-rightaway-extra, for that matter. We will play all of those roles throughout our lives. What matters is how we live out those roles with heroism.