Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Directed by Rich Moore

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Wreck-It Ralph is playful little movie about a video game villain who wants to be the hero.  It has all the familiar tropes and plot mechanics of every other kid’s movie, with the character wanting something in the beginning that drives the story forward but which by the end he or she will recognize as unimportant because the thing that really matters is friendship.

It’s predictable but rewarding and surprisingly effective.  These stories are important, I’d say, because to young audiences they help emphasize the idea that we often overlook what’s really meaningful in our lives in favor of more flashy objects and desires.  The lesson Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) will learn is to be okay with things as they are.

The movie allows for the opportunity to play around with the diversity of video game worlds.  Our hero is the villain of a Donkey Kong-like old school video game, but in within the arcade characters can travel freely between the games.  They intersect in the power strips into which games are plugged, like an airport terminal with departing flights to anywhere in the world.  Ralph’s journey brings him into the world of a Candyland-esque racing game by way of a first person shooter involving space aliens.

Ralph is tired of being the bad guy.  It’s in his nature to be destructive, and this helps explain away his stubborn goal of getting a medal (which says “hero”) so that he can prove the characters of his own game that he’s not a bad guy.

Ralph finds this medal in the first person shooter, a game called “Hero’s Duty.”  This sequence of the movie might be the most visually and aesthetically engaging.  It nails all the imagery and sounds of this type of game, complete with the general character (voiced by Jane Lynch) and the electronic pump up music.  It’s actually quite thrilling, I want to rewatch it as I write this.

There Ralph finds his medal, but when certain aliens attack, he hops onboard a small jet, loses control and finds himself crashed in the candy-coated world of “Sugar Rush.”  There he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a spunky character who steals his medal in an effort to cash it in, placing her in the race around which her game is based.

You know immediately that Ralph and Vanellope will make a deal to help each other out, setting them on a journey in which they form a bond before Ralph does something to hurt her after which he will have to make it up and save the day in act 3.  And that’s exactly what happens, but it’s great, you know?  Like it’s really fun.

Vanellope desperately wants to race, but she’s a “glitch,” which means she doesn’t belong in the game.  King Candy (Alan Tudyk) runs this world and is deathly afraid of her getting into the race, thinking that a glitch might make the game player think the game is broken, leading to it being shut off, effectively making the characters homeless.  As we will learn later, while Ralph can travel freely between game worlds, a glitch cannot.  Were the game to be shut off, Vanellope would die with it.

So Ralph helps her builds a car, believing that if she wins the race she can get him his sought-after medal, and he can prove he’s a good guy.  Over the course of a couple scenes and a few montages, they help each other out and grow as friends.  Then King Candy reveals all that nonsense about glitches, and Ralph turns on her, thinking it’s for her own good.  He smashes her car to pieces which, based on how they established Vanellope’s love for the car, is like having him annihilate a puppy in front of her.  It’s still G-rated, this being an animated kid’s movie, but Ralph’s and Vanellope’s dispositions make it as though they were living through the My Lai Massacre.

Ralph then finds out that King Candy lied to him and that if Vanellope wins the race, she could un-glitch herself and make everything okay.  Ralph breaks free Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) whom I realize I’ve neglected to mention.  Felix is the good guy in Ralph’s own game.  He keeps Ralph at arm’s distance like that friend in your friend group whom you’ll do anything to avoid being alone with.  When Ralph leaves their game, he makes the arcade manager believe the game is broken, thus risking the entire game’s future.

Felix and General Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from “Hero’s Duty” spend most of the movie trying to track Ralph down.  Felix hopes to bring Ralph home, and Calhoun looks for the aliens from her own game who have infiltrated “Sugar Rush” and risk acting as viruses, corrupting the game as a whole.  They will end up getting married by the end of the movie.

So Ralph gets Felix to fix Vanellope’s car, and she enters the race, hoping to win her freedom.  During the race, Vanellope exposes King Candy as Turbo, a character spoken of as you would an urban legend.  He once tried to take over someone else’s game when kids stopped playing his.  We learn that he took over “Sugar Rush,” and displaced Vanellope who is in reality the main character of the game.

Vanellope nearly vanquishes King Candy/Turbo, but she is unable to finish the race because the alien invaders are taking over the game.  Everyone flees to the power strip terminal, but Vanellope can’t leave.  This is the “all is lost” moment before Ralph concocts a plan to destroy the aliens.  They are attracted to the light of a beacon, like mosquitoes, so he goes to Diet Cola Mountain, a place we learned about earlier during the happy montage scenes depicting Ralph’s and Vanellope’s friendship.  There he knocks loose the mentos which spill into the diet cola, causing a bright volcano which attracts and kills the alien invaders.

Ralph saves the day, and with King Candy/Turbo dead, Vanellope is revealed to be the true leader of the game, Princess Vanellope.  All is well, Ralph is a hero, he has new friends, and he returns to his own game.

There is a remarkably touching moment near the end.  Ralph narrates the new status quo to a group of other game villains (whom we met in the movie’s opening scene), and he says that he’s still thrown to the ground in his own game because it’s part of the game.  Only, now it doesn’t bother him because when Felix lifts him up, it gives him just enough height to look across the arcade and see “Sugar Rush” where Vanellope lives and races.  They make eye contact, smile, and Felix throws Ralph to the ground.

These movies are great, and I know they’re great when the world established by the end of the movie is one that part of me desperately wants to visit.  Everything feels so wholesome and friendly, and the world is a better place if we all get along, make nice and kill our singular enemy, preferably in a spectacular manner.

A kids movie like this follows the formula of so many before it.  There is no reinventing the wheel, there are still a number of lame jokes and clunky exposition, but none of that matters.  It’s just fun and works on an emotional level.  Even as you know what’s going to happen, watching it happen is no less enjoyable if it’s done well.

Up Next: Little Hours (2017), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Bringing Up Baby (1938)

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