Friday night I saw the highly-anticipated Disney film Wreck-It Ralph, and, above and beyond anything else I say here, I totally recommend this movie. It is adorable and geeky and heartwarming.
A brief plot teaser/synopsis: Wreck-It Ralph has been the bad guy in his video game for 30 years now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. He’s just doing his job. When the other characters in his game refuse to see it that way, he sets out to prove them wrong by winning a hero’s medal in a different game. But his actions have far-reaching consequences, and he is forced to decide whether the medal is worth risking his life, his new-found friendship with young Vanellope von Schweetz, and every game and character in the arcade for.
Now let’s move on to specifics.
First of all, there is an animated short before the movie called Paperman, and it is beautiful. The animation is done in a way that it appears both like CGI and traditional animation, and the story and score are both quite lovely.
Now that that’s out of the way, what about the actual movie? Well, I thought the video game references were really well done, and that they work on a sliding scale—the more you know about gaming culture, the funnier they are (at one point a character uses the Konami code to surreptitiously access the base code of his game), but it’s still really funny if you’re pretty ignorant of gaming like me, and I think they’d still be funny to a total newb.
Plot spoilers after the jump.
I thought the twist ending with Turbo was really well done. The script had Russell T. Davies-level allusions to Turbo throughout the movie, and the reveal of who he was really satisfying, and I didn’t expect the King Candy to be him in disguise until the actual reveal.
The character designs for the people of each game were really cool, and had neat little touches that set them apart and called back to their respective games.
The pop culture references were also well done—I mean, hell, the day is saved by a Diet Coke and Mentos fountain, and video game-ized Skrillex is seen DJing a party in the Fix-It Felix Jr. game.
It was interesting to try and figure out which characters Disney had been able to license for the film, and which were spoofs. Obviously the Hero’s Duty game is a knockoff of Halo and Call of Duty and other futuristic first person shooters; but along the way they got Sonic and Robotnik, Ken and Ryu and Chun-li, Bowser, Qbert, and a host of others to represent real games. I was surprised, though, considering that the fact that the Kingdom Hearts games exist means that Disney has some sort of license to use the Final Fantasy franchise’s characters, that there weren’t any cameos or spoofs of JRPG types in the movie. I know that the plot is set around arcade games, but with all the other sorts of games represented I felt there should have been a call-out to this genre too.
Now how about the ladies? Well, first of all, I thought it was cool that the main human gamer we see in the arcade throughout the game is a young girl. She is good at the games and seems to like to play both the stereotypically feminine games like the Sugar Rush racing game as well as the stereotypically masculine games like Hero’s Duty.
I thought Vanellope was a cute character, and I thought that her struggle with and eventual acceptance of her glitch was very positively done. Media nowadays tends to lack portrayals of disabled people who accepts their disability and use it as a strength—hell, she even chooses to keep the glitch when the game resets. The glitch is a part of her, not something that’s inherently wrong or lacking about her. I did think her bit about taking apart the monarchy and becoming president of Sugar Rush at the end was a little forced, and also, you can’t decide to set up a constitutional democracy and then declare yourself the president. That’s just not how it works.
I’m sure people will have mixed reviews about the treatment of Jane Lynch’s character Calhoun, but I thought that her character worked on two levels. First, although I disapprove of her use of femininity as a pejorative (i.e. calling her male troops ‘Ladies’ to humiliate them), on the surface she seems pretty remarkable for a female action video game character—she’s fully dressed, wearing armor made to fit her, and is the commander of her unit, with the responsibility of keeping the game on track.
Secondly, I think she was designed to be a satire of female action game characters—she has to act stereotypically masculine to gain respect, and “she was programmed with the most tragic backstory ever”, which led my geek-filled theater (it was the Friday night 10:15 showing, of course it was all adults there) to laugh in a “of course she was, she’s a female character in an action game how could she exist without a tragic backstory” sort of way. I don’t know how I feel about the romance between her and Felix; on some levels it was cute, and on some levels it was ‘hook up the strong no-nonsense lady with a guy and she’ll soften up’, which is hella overdone in movies. She also speaks almost entirely in terrible metaphor/idiom, which is neither here nor there but is still funny.
And as a last little geeky side note, the Sugar Rush game’s theme was sung by Japanese pop supergroup AKB48, which is awesome.
The morals of this story seem to be that finding your place in the world is hard, and that relationships are more important than monetary gain, and that no one is predestined to be a bad guy. And those are ideas I can get behind. Go see this movie, and tell me if you liked it as much as I did!