Monday, March 4, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph
seen @ Cinemark Cinemas, Forest Hills, NY


I had almost given up on seeing Wreck-It Ralph before I remembered that it was still playing at the Cinemark. I would've had the entire auditorium to myself were it not for a mother and child who arrived about fifteen minutes or so late. Thankfully, they were not a problem. The Oscar-winning short Paperman played in front. It was cute. I liked that it was in black and white.

Okay, so I walked out of the theater liking, but not loving, Wreck-It Ralph. It wasn't as much of a nostalgia-fest as I thought (I've written before about the arcades of my youth and the games I played there), and the premise, let's face it. wasn't anything terribly new. Still, it was enjoyable for what it was... until I started thinking about it.

Ralph's tired of being the bad guy in his video game world, so he decides he wants to know what it's like to be a hero - and he does, by saving Vanellope's game world and helping to restore her lost memories. Great... but then he just goes back to his prescribed bad-guy role in Fix-It Felix Jr. like a good little drone. Sure, Felix and the other characters are a little nicer to him now, but I can't understand how he can return to this life just like that after all he's seen and done.

It comes back to the free-will question again: how much of it does Ralph have? He has enough to be able to conceive of a different life (and if that bad-guy support group in the beginning is any indication, he's not the only one with doubts about his role), and to even take steps to try and achieve that goal, but in the end, he remains a slave to his original programming. The game is all that matters.

Sure, we see him in the closing credits hanging out in other games with Felix and Vanellope and Calhoun and having fun, but weren't we told, in no uncertain terms, that "going Turbo" - i.e., interfering with the play of other games - jeopardizes the life of those games? These characters live for nothing but the games; you'd think that would count for something.

Here's where it gets effed up, though. Once Vanellope's memories are restored to her, she remembers her original, true identity: she's princess of Sugar Rush, her video game world. Now, her memories were tampered with, along with those of everyone else in Sugar Rush, by an outside agent - in this case, Turbo. As a result, she becomes a glitch, with a different look and identity.

However, when she becomes the princess again, she rejects that identity and that look in favor of the one she had as a glitch and decided that this is who she really wants to be. She even goes so far as to declare herself "president" instead of princess, fundamentally changing the structure of Sugar Rush. 

In other words, she does what Ralph is unable to do: change her role within her game to something that better suits her desires. The key words there are "within her game." Ralph got to be a hero, sure, but he had to go outside his game to do so, something that we're told time and again is dangerous. And he changes essentially nothing within his own game - which, as we saw within his brief dream sequence, is what he wanted all along. As happy endings go, I find this one pretty dubious.

I mean, what are we supposed to take away from this film? The message here seems to be that no matter how much one tries to change one's life for the better, sooner or later you'll have to return to your place in the world, so you'd better find a way to be satisfied with it, even if others are able to succeed where you failed... and that the most you can hope for, within your world, is small change that only makes your life marginally more comfortable.

I don't think that's too broad an interpretation, but maybe I'm wrong. What do you think?


  1. I haven't seen this yet so I can't tell you what the message is. I'm looking forward to seeing it though, as soon as iTunes has it available to rent.

  2. Hope I didn't spoil it for you! I did post a warning...

  3. Just throwing my two cents in here for maybe some clarity, not an attempt to love the film more.

    Think about someone like say me for instance...
    I've gone on tons of amazing experiences, traveled to other worlds, gotten away from my day to day and yet I always return to it.

    Think of anyone else like that. The accountant who on vacation goes crazy, loses his mind, has crazy sex, drugs, whatever... then he comes home and back to the boring suit. How does he go back? How does he live with himself? Why not figure a way to just get away forever? Because something inside makes you realize... that where you go, there you are. Ralph now knows he doesn't have to get out of his quaint, fun, cute town with people who actually appreciate him to have a fun life. He can still escape when the "games" go off.

    Going "Turbo" is only dangerous the way things are "dangerous" in our world. Don't do drugs, don't break arbitrary laws, don't go here, don't go there, it'll "ruin" the world.

    If it would.. then Marvel vs. Capcom would never happen.

  4. Somehow, it would not surprise me one bit to know that you've actually been to "other worlds"... :-p

    You make a good point, though I still think Vanellope is better off in the end than Ralph is.


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