I’ve liked video games since I first played Duck Hunt on my grandparents’ Nintendo, but I don’t consider myself a gamer. Once in a very long while, I might play the odd Halo match with my sister and get pelted with grenades. When I can find batteries for the controller, I might jam out a few riffs in Guitar Hero. Sometimes I play a little Mario Kart on Sunday nights when my brother and sister-in-law come over for dinner, and I get absolutely schooled. I played Sims 2 pretty frequently until I lost the disc and never bothered to replace it. And yeah, I was basically addicted to World of Warcraft my entire first year of university, and my grades may have tanked as a result of traipsing around Azeroth with my level 85 human warrior, but I was a dirty, filthy keyboard turner, so it doesn’t count.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not a gamer, at least not compared to the other people I know. I don’t wait in line at midnight game releases. I don’t own the entire Final Fantasy series, nor do I play Kingdom Hearts, Mass Effect, Diablo, Left 4 Dead, Assassin’s Creed (because my game is stuck on the training level) or anything that might remotely qualify me as anything other than a casual hobbyist.
And yet I absolutely loved Pixar’s love letter to gaming, Wreck-It Ralph.
I’d been looking forward to seeing the film since I first saw this trailer for it:
Basically I just loved Wreck-It Ralph because I felt like fun.’s “Some Nights” somehow perfectly sums up the tone of the film (even though “fun.” is a ridiculous name for a band), and because of that bit at the end where the characters are scrolling. I can’t even explain it. The trailer was clumsy and clunky, I think, but because of just those two little things, I was willing to see the movie. I actually went to the theatre to watch it, but now that it’s out on DVD, I rented it off the iTunes store and remembered that it’s basically the nerdiest thing ever so I thought I should write a review about it, and plus there was the Oscar nomination to consider, even though it didn’t win, and I’ve completely lost control of this sentence so I’m just going to end it and give you a plot breakdown instead to distract you.
After thirty years of getting thrown off a multi-story building and landing in the mud, Ralph, the bad guy in the vintage arcade game Felix Fix-It Jr., decides he doesn’t want to be a bad guy any more. He leaves his game and tries his luck in Hero’s Duty, a brand-new first-person shooter with shiny graphics, a barking sergeant, and doomsday robots called Cy-Bugs. Ralph skips ahead to the last stage of the game, grabbing the reward—a gold medal—to prove he’s just as good as Fix-It Felix, his in-game opposition. A mishap involving Cy-Bug eggs and a spaceship launches him into a racing game, Sugar Rush, and he meets a “glitch” named Vanellope von Schweetz, who is basically the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen ever. Adventures ensue, mostly revolving around friendship, racing, and the escaped Cy-Bug laying eggs all over Sugar Rush and laying waste to it when the eggs hatch. So good times are had by all.
As far as plot goes, it’s a fairly standard kids’ story. Man meets spunky sidekick, has adventures with said sidekick, destroys relationship, mends it in time to battle a terrifying beastie, and lives happily ever after with a side of morals. So in that respect, it’s not exactly a standout movie.
The characters, on the other hand, are fantastic. Sergeant Calhoun in particular was my favourite, but that’s probably just because she was voiced by Jane Lynch, who brought some of her tamer Glee-isms with her. I’m also super envious of her hair, because I would look devastating as a blonde (and not in a good way). She’s “programmed with the most tragic backstory ever,” which means her fiancee was killed on their wedding day by Cy-Bugs due to her negligence, and she’s got her fears, but they’re buried under a layer of sheer kick-ass.
Ralph has bad breath, big hands, and a surprisingly tender heart beneath his ratty old coveralls. He’s sick of the way things are (“It becomes kinda hard to love your job when no one else seems to like you for doing it”) and wants to be treated with some respect, which isn’t surprising, given that he was forcibly evicted from his home by apartment developers, which explains his propensity for wrecking sh*t up. Ralph really grows as a character, and since I’m a writer, I always love to see some good character development (it’s like crack to me).
Felix is just a sweetie. He’s got a Southern accent, a magic hammer that fixes anything, and a squeaky-clean vocabulary (he apologizes for his potty mouth after using the word “boo”). He views it as his personal responsibility to fix whatever Ralph wrecks, and while he’s the hero of his game, he hasn’t let his status go to his head. (Felix also gets the “honey-glow somethin’ awful” from Calhoun, which is adorable and a half.)
Vanellope von Schweetz is a horrible name to spell, but she’s the sweetest thing in a land made out of sugar, and oh God I just got a cavity from this sentence. She’s feisty and clever and a little ADD, and she’s been fending for herself since her society kicked her out for being a “glitch,” which means she shorts out every so often with occasional near-disastrous results.
King Candy is pretty great, too. I didn’t realize until I watched it the other night that he was voiced by Alan Tudyk, who, in my opinion, is tied with Nathan Fillion for the position of Top Whedon Actor. (I am ashamed of myself for not realizing that sooner.) He’s got that top, sugary-sweet layer; the layer beneath made of the weight of responsibility; and the last layer, a deep, bitter chocolate that no one ever wants to eat. He reminds me of Alpha from Dollhouse (Alan Tudyk played him, too), because he’s got that duality that you don’t see coming until it’s too late for the other characters.
But even though these are really great characters for a children’s film, Wreck-It Ralph is still nothing particularly special, is it? And no, it probably wouldn’t be, if not for the finesse with which the creators peppered the entire film with video game cameos and references. Sonic does PSAs. Tapper is the bar that everyone goes to after the arcade closes. The orange ghost in “Pac-Man” hosts Bad Guys Anon, which is exactly what it sounds like and includes such members as Zangief from Street Fighter, Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog, and Bowser from Super Mario Bros. And in true Pixar style, all this is happening in periphery to children’s lives: in an arcade.
Pixar does that a lot, and they do it well. Whatever the film, there’s always the sense that this could really happen. When I was a kid, I honestly believed my stuffed animals got up to mischief when I was out of the room, and I fully expected to find them in different places when I returned. I believed that monsters lived under my bed (and still do on some occasions), that superheroes were real, and I am insanely gratified to know that I’m not the only one who sees faces in the grilles on cars’ front ends (which is why I don’t want to buy one of the new Mazdas, because of those creepy-ass grins). Pixar has a strong understanding of who people are, what they believe, and what they want, and for an hour and a half, that’s exactly what we’re given.
Wreck-It Ralph is what happens when video game fans get together and make a movie, and it’s both hilarious and touching to see. When I was watching in the theatre, I could hear little kids and adults laughing together, which doesn’t often happen with kids’ movies. But that’s the nice thing about Pixar: their movies are also made for adults. We spend our entire childhoods wishing we were grown-ups, and when we are grown-ups, we spend all our time wishing we were children again. Pixar understands that, and whether it’s Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Up, Finding Nemo, or Wreck-It Ralph, we are reminded what it was like to be a child by immersing ourselves in a world of make-believe.
Playing video games has become socially acceptable; it’s not just for kids any more, not even close. Every day we’re told to be adults, to be mature, to do the responsible thing. So it’s nice when someone comes along to tell you, “It’s okay to be a kid for a little while. Sit down. Enjoy yourself. The real world can wait.”
Unless you’re playing Slender. That sh*t’s messed up.
Final Grade: A
- Paperman was the short for this movie! OH MY GOSH TOO ADORABLE FOR ME TO CONTAIN ALL MY FEELS.
- You can actually play Fix-It Felix Jr. here.
- It literally just occurred to me that Vanellope is (spoiler alert!) a Disney princess. My mind, she is blown.
- A volcano made out of diet cola and Mentos! I’ve always wanted to try that, but the mature part of me says, “That’ll suck to clean up.” After seeing this movie, I’ve concluded that she’s probably right. (I’m still gonna try it, though. Don’t tell her.)
- Skrillex made a cameo in a party scene. That was the one false note in the entire film. (I would say “no pun intended,” but that’s not a pun, because he doesn’t use notes. He doesn’t make music. He makes noise. I have no respect for dubstep. I shan’t apologize.)
- The little apartment people from Fix-It Felix Jr. are so cute! They have kind of a bobby, jerky way of moving that perfectly mimics the way they do in the game.
- Ralph: “When did video games become so violent and scary?!”
- The Bad Guys’ Creed: “I’m bad, and that’s good. I’ll never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”
- Ralph: “Turns out I don’t need a medal to tell me I’m a good guy. ’cause it that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?” I STILL CANNOT CONTAIN MY FEELS. That is all.