November 06, 2012
Family Film Blogging: Wreck-It Ralph
Posted by Christine Hurt

So, today I was teaching Torts, and the topic is "Duty."  Because I had seen Wreck-It Ralph over the weekend, I kept cracking up every time I said "duty."  If you've seen the movie, you'll understand.

So, there are rare movies that keep all 5 Hurtcils entertained and carry us all the way home laughing.  Wreck-It Ralph is one of the few.  Produced by Pixar's John Lasseter, it is a non-Pixar Disney movie, but it definitely has that Pixar feel.  What Toy Story was for forgotten 1980s toys, Wreck-It Ralph is for forgotten 1980s video games.  More importantly, it has the warmth and camaraderie of the Toy Story trilogy as well as a similarly interesting and thoughtful and plot.

 The basic plot of the movie involves Ralph, a character in a classic video arcade game, Fix-It Felix, Jr., which features Wreck-It Ralph wrecking an apartment building and Fix-It Felix, Jr. fixing it.  If the gamer is successful, Felix saves the building with his magic hammer, and the tenants not only give him a medal, they throw Ralph from the top of the building, leaving him to sleep on a heap of bricks and garbage.  After 30 years of this, Ralph is tired of being the bad guys and wants to be a hero.  He comes up with a bold plan -- to leave his video game and get a gold medal from a different game, after which the building tenants will have to love him and let him live in the apartment with them. 

Logically, the plot only makes sense because the arcade is a closed system, and this is the only system known to the characters.  All the arcade games are connected through their power cords, and characters from each game can travel to other games down the cords and through "game central station."  This is only a good idea after hours, however, because if a gamer turns on the game and a character is missing, the arcade owner will hang an "Out of Order' sign on the game, and it will probably be unplugged after a day or two of that.  According to the rules set out in exposition, once a game is unplugged, its characters will die unless they have evacuated prior to the unplugging  Game Central Station has various "abandoned" characters, such as Q*Bert, one of my 1983 faves.  Characters in the arcade never consider what happens if a game is turned on somewhere else.  To them, the only world is this one arcade.  And, if your character dies outside its game (i.e., in a different game), then it cannot be regenerated.  So, most characters only venture outside their game, if at all, after hours.

Except for Ralph (John C. Reilly), who enters the first-person shooting game "Hero's Duty" (akin to "Call of Duty") to earn a gold medal.  He meets up with squad leader Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), interrupts a mission, and gets accidentally flown into a different game, Sugar Rush.  Meanwhile, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) comes to find him because their game is now "Out of Order" with Ralph missing.  If Felix doesn't get Ralph back to the game, the game will be unplugged and all the apartment tenants abandoned.  (If you shut your eyes here, you can imagine 30 Rock's Kenneth going to save Jack from some ill-conceived journey.)  Sugar Rush is a Candy Land equivalent of Mario Kart, part of the Super Mario series, probably one of the more popular video games ever.  Ralph walks into a conspiracy that is only revealed at the end, after he befriends Vanellope Van Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), probably the least dainty racer in Sugar Rush.  If you like video games, you will be pretty much in heaven here with all the in-jokes (mini-games, cheats, etc.).

The end moral here seems to be "you are what you are, for a reason," but that message is muddled somewhat.  If Ralph had stayed in his game, wrecking things, then he wouldn't have helped Vanellope, the apartment tenants wouldn't have learned to appreciate him, and Felix wouldn't have fallen in love.  Everyone is happy and content now at Fix-It Felix, Jr. with Ralph wrecking and Felix fixing, but only because Ralph went off the reservation.  Calhoun moves beyond her backstory, and Vanellope seems to be restored to her original self while keeping some of her inserted code.  But it all seems to work out for everyone. 

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