“Wreck-It Ralph” is Disney’s first video game movie – filled with game-jumping, crossover zaniness – so naturally this film is a fan favorite of many gamers. I’m not a gamer, so I didn’t catch all of the winks and the references that are in this movie, but I am tickled pink that Pacman (freaking Pacman) is now an official character in the Disney canon. “Wreck-It Ralph” has a lot of fun with it’s status as a video game movie beyond tongue-in-cheek references, commenting as well on how much video games have changed and how far they’ve come since their humble beginnings. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the war game, “Hero’s Duty”, proves to be intense for old Ralphie (a character from the 80’s) and he dissolves into a sobbing mess about how violent and scary video games have become, before he punks out entirely and costs the player their game. Good times. All the characters in “Wreck-It Ralph” live inside an arcade, and their games are connected by a power cord (giant-sized from their perspective), which leads to a lot of fun world-building and game-hopping (partly because of how the physics of video game logic translate to other games). The movie especially comes alive when Ralph gets to Vanellope’s racing game, “Sugar Rush”, and the movie indulges in all sorts of sight gags and candy puns. Make no mistake though, there is purpose to all this fanwankery beyond simple fun. “Wreck-It Ralph” is a movie loaded with foreshadowing. Every bit of exposition, every character beat, and many of the throw-away gags become a Chekov’s gun at some point and build towards the climax. Ralph’s desire to be a hero, Turbo’s backstory, Vanellope’s claim that racing is in her code, Vanellope’s glitching, video game characters dying outside their games, Cybugs becoming what they consume, Vanellope’s secret bonus level, even Ralph’s vendetta against chocolate. “Wreck-It Ralph” is a very dense and tightly plotted movie, and that’s just the way I like my films.
Each era of the Disney canon seems to have a different objective or theme bonding the films. The golden and silver eras wanted to explore the medium of animation and test the boundaries of what it was capable of through fairy tales. The dark age focused a lot on humor and having likable ensemble casts. The renaissance era also wanted to test the limits of animation, by elevating a crowd-pleasing, romantic and adventurous Broadway formula. The post-renaissance era focused a lot on developing relationships between protagonists, especially the platonic kind in films like “The Emperor’s New Groove”, “Lilo And Stitch”, “Treasure Planet”, and “Brother Bear“. The revival era seems to be about tackling real world problems in a fantastical setting. “Tangled” had emotional abuse, “Frozen” had mental health issues and childhood trauma, “Zootopia” had prejudice and discrimination, and “Wreck It Ralph” has bullying and ostracization. I’ve noticed the movies from the 2010’s can cut even deeper than usual, because at least one of them will remind of you something you’ve dealt with or your friends have dealt with at some point. “Wreck-It Ralph” makes it clear bullying and mistreatment is something that can happen to anyone – regardless of size, shape or gender – and the way the characters treat Ralph and Vanellope is really very awful. I also have to give “Wreck-It Ralph” credit for not shying away from pain like some other movies might do. There are some scenes in this movie that are legitimately hard to watch because of how raw and ugly they are, like the scene where Ralph betrays Vanellope’s trust or the scene where Ralph realizes he may have signed Vanellope’s death sentence. If I do have one complaint, it’s that the copious amounts of lowbrow humor gets annoying pretty quickly, and Vanellope seems to get the most of it.
The film’s protagonist, the titular Wreck-It Ralph, has not been dealt the best hand in life. Ralph and the other inhabitants of his game are essentially actors playing a part; each of them has their own role to play in keeping their game up and running, because if they ever stop the game shuts down and they all lose their homes. That’s kind of a bleak premise to start with – years of monotony and stagnation. Someone has to be the bad guy / the heel, and despite being a good-natured guy, that’s Ralph’s position. It’s a pretty thankless job and the other Nicelanders resent him for it, giving him the cold shoulder for decades, especially Gene. What Ralph wants more than anything in this movie is to belong and to receive some recognition for his part in the game. Which isn’t to say that Ralph is a purely innocent little woobie. He can be gruff, hotheaded, destructive and selfish. After accepting a challenge from Gene, Ralph winds up game-hopping, risking his own life and thoughtlessly endangering several other games for a medal he hasn’t earned in a misguided attempt at being a ‘hero’ – trying to change his nature. Something Ralph has in common with the glitch Vanellope is that they’re both troubled outcasts who want so badly to get ahead in life that they wind up selfishly screwing people over (something they actually initially bond over), though the fact that they both learn and grow from this is what separates them from the villain Turbo, who only ever cares about his pride, greed and his vanity.
Something Ralph struggles with is the idea that he can be a bad guy and a good person at the same time. The audience is aware that Ralph has a warm heart, as evidenced by how he gradually slots into the role of Vanellope’s older. surrogate brother as their friendship blossoms, but Ralph has convinced himself over the years that the only way he’ll ever be worth something is if he becomes a hero, and King Candy / Turbo craftily uses that mentality to manipulate him mid-movie. The chat Ralph and Turbo have about Vanellope’s safety at the end of the second act is fascinatingly dark, and the scene that follows in many ways recalls Baloo breaking Mowgli’s trust in him to try to save him in “The Jungle Book“, but is much more bleak and traumatizing – and unlike Bagheera, Candy has ulterior motives. After a nice guilt trip, Ralph gets his priorities fully in order and becomes a wholly selfless and helpful individual by the third act, though like a few other Disney protagonists (Aladdin, Ariel, etc) Ralph discovers he got so caught up in his goals earlier that he endangered all of his friends (there still aren’t many of them) and almost brought about the end of the world. Ralph pulls off a heroic sacrifice (that’s thankfully interrupted by Vanellope) and redeems himself, learning an important lesson about loving himself for who he is in the process. When Ralph returns home, he’s in a better place emotionally and has gained some respect. Not all of his problems have been solved neatly, but he’s learned to take life one step at a time, appreciate the little things, and enjoy having good friends. It’s a very satisfying emotional arc, though it is possible to take a more pessimistic reading of it as encouraging people to know their place and never try to break strict caste systems at the risk of destroying society, which I’m sure is unintentional.
Vanellope Von Schweetz is the film’s pint-sized deuteragonist. Vanellope is a peppy and perky little girl, always quick with an honest and unasked for opinion, but is in equal measures sassy and snarky – years of living on her own lending the girl a cynical edge. She initially seems like your usual mouthy brat, but as you’d expect from a deuteragonist, there’s more to her than that. Vanellope is both a homeless kid and a glitch – an error in the video game software that has trouble staying 100% corporeal – and like Ralph, she’s not above doing morally dubious things to try to get what she wants. Vanellope has a rather vicious rivalry with mean, valley girl stereotype Taffyta, who honestly reminds me of Pacifica Northwest from “Gravity Falls” (in fact, many of their scenes are reminiscent of Mabel and Pacifica’s dynamic, but are far less humorous). Vanellope’s goal is to become a racer like the other kids in her racing game; partly because it’s fun, partly to improve her social standing, and partly because she claims it’s in her code, drawing her to the sport like it’s her a calling – a subtle bit of a foreshadowing for her true nature later in the film.
Vanellope strikes up a friendship with Ralph as both of them work towards their own ends – discovering they’re two of the only individuals that can empathize with what the other has had to put up with before now and soften towards each other accordingly. They become your archetypal gentle giant and little kid duo, and Vanellope grows on you a lot over the course of the movie with all of her guts, enthusiasm and determination. It’s great seeing her overcome the stigma of being glitch, and learn to not only control her abilities but use them to her advantage – embracing them as a positive part of her, and ironically using what King Candy did to her to beat him and all the other dickish racers in Sugar Rsuh. Vanellope’s best moment is during the climax, when she realizes Ralph is about to pull a classic hero’s sacrifice to save the world and go out like Jesus, and she decides she ain’t having any of that – jumping into the fray without question to bail her boy out. As it turns out, Vanellope is actually the rightful ruler and head racer of Sugar Rush that King Candy / Turbo usurped out of jealousy and mindwiped her, making her an official Disney princess. Vanellope decides the princess gig isn’t for her, and quite rightly disposes of her hideous new princess get-up, deciding to try out running for president instead.
Felix-It Felix is Ralph’s co-worker and the local hero of his game. Felix’s personality is that of a cheery, sanitized 1950’s everyman. He’s very much a parody of the squeaky-clean, overly optimistic, old fashioned hero (despite being a character from the edgy 80’s), and while they’re not friends, he’s one of the few Nicelanders who holds no ill-will towards Ralph and tries to keep the peace between him and the other Nicelanders. After Ralph goes Turbo, Felix has to step outside the safety of his game and his comfort zone in general, and pursue him through the arcade to save their jobs and their homes. Felix is forced to challenge the way he does things (not always being able to rely on his magic hammer or jumping skills to solve a problem), and gains a greater sense of empathy for other people, when he couldn’t quite connect to them before. Along the way, he teams up with and becomes smitten with military woman, Sergeant Tamora Calhoun. Sergeant Calhoun is a stern, authoritative, domineering soldier – one who’s highly competent – and she officially has the most tragic backstory ever of any Disney character. She didn’t do a perimeter check on her wedding day, so her fiancee was killed and eaten by the cybugs she fights in her game. While played for laughs, the incident seems to have left her with PTSD that she struggles to overcome, and a drive to exterminate all cybugs. Calhoun is well aware of Felix’s crush on her, and truthfully she reciprocates it, but she’d prefer to focus on the mission on the hand. As an opposites-attract sort of romance, Felix and Calhoun are both over-the-top hilarious in their own way and I honestly do ship them more than I thought I would as the movie progresses. They’re the world’s most unlikely battle couple.
Gene, surprisingly, is a character that I appreciate precisely because of how unlikable he is. The Nicelanders, quite frankly, get what they deserve when treating like Ralph like a pariah for thirty years costs them their home and their jobs. Does Gene, the most antagonistic of the bunch, do some self-reflecting and realize his prickish behavior over the years helped play a part in making this happen? Absolutely not. He doubles down, shifts full and total responsibility onto Ralph, and when the opportunity presents itself he not so subtly shames Ralph for being an ingrate. It’s exactly the sort of thing someone who’s used to treating someone poorly for decades would do, and it’s a bold choice to have this character receive little to no redemption by the end (also, harsh as it was, Gene’s rant was what Ralph needed to hear at the time, to get his head on straight). As secondary antagonists, the Cybugs are pretty creepy. The sickly green glow they emit gives them an unsettling aesthetic, especially when they travel together in a swarm, and having them be essentially an unstoppable, mindless virus is an inspired bit of writing, since the protagonists of this movie are video game characters and the Cybugs are arguably one of the few things that could do any real damage to them. The Cybugs are basically the fallout of Ralph’s terrible choices, snowballing in the background of the movie, and the climax, where they finally catch up to him and start to put the whole arcade in grave danger, is both distressing and terrifying.
I think my real MVP from this movie though is King Candy / Turbo. Turbo is a villain who’s set-up well and developed well, but he still manages to blindside you because he is a Grade A bastard. Turbo is established very early on as a fallen figure from a real life cautionary tale, who fell from grace because of envy, greed and wrath. He set the standards for what a video game character should never become, and what Ralph might be in danger of becoming, even if he has good intentions. We’re not given any reason to think he’s relevant to the main plot beyond that though, despite the racing connection that I feel rather thick for missing. When we’re first introduced to King Candy of Sugar Rush, he’s obviously a pastiche of the Mad Hatter from “Alice Of Wonderland” – a seemingly wise, just and affable ruler, and a kooky, zany old man. It’s a facade of course. Pretty soon, King Candy reveals himself to be pretty paranoid, quite the control freak and even a bit sinister. He’s desperate to keep Vanellope from racing, for reasons that he claims are for everyone’s own good – keeping Sugar Rush from shutting down because of Vallope’s glitching. As things start to unravel, we see that Candy at his core is vain, ruthless and manipulative – tricking Ralph into betraying Vanellope and throwing her in his dungeon.
By the climax, he’s become completely unhinged and is promptly unmasked – King Candy is Turbo. After escaping deletion, Turbo fled to Vanellope’s game, rewrote the entire software, and stole her position for years out of petty jealousy and spite, leaving her to be bullied by her own subjects. Having grown tired of her, Turbo tries to straight up murder Vanellope (remember that she’s still ten). Turbo is also nothing if not adaptable. He even manages to take his delicious, Cybug related comeuppance and use it to his advantage to level up even further and become almost unstoppable – strong enough to take his revenge out on the entire arcade. In true villain fashion, Turbo sarcastically thanks Ralph for helping him get where he is, and goads the powerless man about getting to watch Vanellope die and be eaten by Cybugs in front of them (this dude is so messed up. I love it). Since Turbo is thoroughly twisted, it’s only fitting that his final death be twisted as well. He gets to die screaming as his new Cybug body, that he loved previously, betrays him and whisks him away into oblivion. Disney’s been doing a lot of plot twist villains lately, like Hans from “Frozen”, or Callaghan from “Big Hero 6”, or Belleweather from “Zootopia”, but so far Turbo has done it best.
The animation is very high quality. By this point, Disney had seven years of experience under their belt and had come into their own with their CGI animation, allowing them to parody the different art styles and graphics of numerous video games, and bring Ralph’s expansive arcade world to life flawlessly. “Sugar Rush” in particular is a beauty to look at as a location, and it feels like it stretches on forever with all of it’s sleek, sleek rendering. Henry Jackman’s score is peppy and pleasant, if a bit of generic in places, and it makes the race scenes thrilling to watch. I’m impressed by how Disney managed to sneak Rihanna’s “Shut Up And Drive” past the radar, considering how many double entendres the song contains (it even made the official soundtrack), but it was excellent choice, since the cool, suave energy of it fits Vanellope’s training montage perfectly (the little kids of the 2010’s are gonna lift a few eyebrows when they hit their teens and hear that song again). Likewise, “When Can I See You Again” is the perfect electronic pop song to close the film on and say goodbye to the characters we’ve spent the last ninety-five minutes with (at least, until the sequel).
“Wreck-It Ralph” is a rare example of a video game movie that’s actually good, and a nice experiment at trying something new from Disney. I’ve grown to really like it over the years and I’m giving it high marks.
* “Anything to declare?” “I hate you” “I get that a lot. Proceed”.
* “Pacman?! They invited Pacman?! That cherry chasing, dot-muncher isn’t even a part of this game!”
* “Hey Glenn!” “…Ralph”.
* “You win it by climbing a building?” “AND FIGHTING BUGS!!!”
* “It’s make your mamas proud time!” “I love my mama!”
* “Taste it!” In true action hero fashion, Calhoun always packs so much heat – even at her wedding.
* “Oreo, Oreo! Oreo, Oreo!”
* “If I ever see you again Wreck-It Ralph, I’ll lock you in my fungeon!” “Fungeon?” “Fun dungeon. It’s word play” This dungeon doesn’t look that fun.
* “It’s that little crumb snatcher!” Ralph is really getting into the pastry puns.
* “How dare you insult Hero’s Duty!” The sheer amount of cringe that led up to that line was almost worth it for the pay-off.
* “Is he in there?” “Nope, lucky for him. Otherwise, I would have slapped his corpse” She made good on that promise too.
* “The selfish man is like a mangy dog chasing a cautionary tale” “I know, right?”
* I’m not sure how I feel about the Nesquick sand scene. On the one hand, it’s very funny, but on the other hand, it really wouldn’t fly if the genders were flipped.
* “What’s this? You’re a full-on criminal, aren’t you?” Ralph, my man, don’t judge. You’ve probably broken so many laws today, if video games have laws.
* “What did you think? ‘Oh, I’ll just magically win the race, just cause I really want to!'”
* “This might come as a shock to you, but in my game I’m the bad guy, and I live in the garbage!” “Cool!” “No, not cool! Unhygienic and lonely and boring!”
* “I sleep in these candy wrappers, and I bundle myself up like a little homeless lady” There was a whole alternate version of this scene that was cut, but this line was so good it made it to the final draft.
* “So if you feel it, let me know, know, know! Come on now, what you waiting for, for, for? My engine’s ready to explode, explode, explode! So start me up and watch me go, go, go, go!”
* “That’s not blunt force trauma, ma’am, that’s just the honey glow in my cheeks”.
* “Have you seen my friend, Wreck-It Ralph?” “We should have locked him up when we had a chance, but I’m not gonna make the same mistake with you” “Wait, what? Auugghh!”
* Vanellope decides to double back for something just long enough for King Candy to appear and talk to Ralph. How convenient for the plot.
* “Doomsday and armageddon had a baby, and it is ugly!”
* “Now remember, you don’t have to win, you just have to cross the finish line, and you’ll be a real racer” “I already am a real racer, and I’m gonna win!” Vanellope is ready to kick King Candy’s ass.
* “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be.. ..than me”
* “As your merciful princess, I hereby decree that everyone who was ever mean to me shall now be executed” “Well this place just got a lot more interesting” I know, right?
* “But I gotta say, the best part of my day… is when I get thrown off the roof. Because when the Nicelanders lift me up.. I get a perfect view of Sugar Rush. And I can see Vanellope racing. The kid’s a natural! And the players love her, glitch and all! Just like I knew they would. Turns out I don’t need a medal to tell me I’m a good guy. Cause, if that little kid likes me… how bad can I be?”
- Nostalgia Critic; Animatedkid; The Animation Commendation; Roger Ebert; Silver Petticoat; Katejohns619; Taestful Reviews; Jaysen Headley Writes; Tor; Tor (2); A Year Of A Million Disney Dreams; A Year With Walt; All The Disney Movies; B Plus Movie Blog, Parts I, II, And III; A113 Animation; A113 Animation (2); Coco Hits NY; Healed1337; Critically Touched; Projected Realities; Drew’s Movie Reviews; Home Schooled Point Of View; Best Films Of Our Lives; Never Felt Better; Autism And Oughtisms; Boston Without The Accent; Victor Lovecraft Anderson; Ian’s Movie Reviews; Consult The Couple; Aambar’s Reviews; The Andy Gaduion Blog; The Harvard Crimson; Celjaded; Little White Lies; The Guardian; The Geek Spot; J And J Productions; Paul’s Trip To The Movies; The Mad Prophet; Patrick Satters; DrogeMeister’s Lair; Big Homind; Frisch’s Big Blog; Gaf Blog; Darren’s World Of Entertainment; Curiosity Of A Social Misfit; Geek Brothers; Stupid Blue Planet; Film Babble; Animation Unplugged.
- Bad Guy Baking by UpperStories.