Sunday, February 3, 2013

When Bad Guys are Good Guys

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Disney movies so when I started seeing previews for their latest offering, Wreck-It Ralph, I knew I'd want to see it. Originally I was fine with waiting until it was released on video, but then came along Superstorm Sandy. I had days without lights or heat and was feeling pretty down. Some of my other family members had power the whole time but were sick of being confided to their home. So we joined hordes of other people at the movie theater for the opening weekend of Wreck-It Ralph.

Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of the titular character, an arcade video game villain in the game Fix-It Felix, Jr. The thing is, Ralph doesn't like being a "bad guy" who does nothing but destroy things all day. When the arcade closes for the evening, all the other characters in his video game hang out together, congratulating Felix and making him pies, while Ralph goes to sleep in the city dump alone. Ralph becomes fixated on the idea of earning a medal, which he is convinced will make everyone like him. So one day he leaves the safety and security of Fix-It Felix, Jr. for the chaos of Hero's Duty in order to win himself a shiny gold medal. Unfortunately, a wild series of coincidences later means his medal ends up in the game Sugar Rush, where a go-kart racer hopeful named Vanellope has need of the medal also, and Ralph finds himself becoming involved in trying to sort out the problems found in this video game. Meanwhile, back in Fix-It Felix, Jr. everyone is worried because without Ralph, the game is meaningless. The arcade owner has placed an out-of-order sign on the game and the characters are worried that he'll soon unplug it - and them - if Ralph doesn't return soon. This leads to Felix venturing out after Ralph and embarking on adventures of his own, including falling in love with Sergeant Calhoun of Hero's Duty.

This movie has a little bit of everything for everyone - there's lots of action and adventures, tons of humor, a little bit of romance, and some great morals. At times, the action might be a little too much for the youngest members in the audience who might get a bit frightened, but the movie is otherwise up to family-friendly expectations. As is typical of Disney movies, the humor works on two levels to appeal to both the children and adults in the audience. For instance, when Ralph is in Hero’s Duty seeking that shiny medal to bring home to his life in Fix-It Felix, Jr., children will probably find his slapstick mistakes of falling and whatnot in the game humorous while adults will get a chuckle out his plaintive cry of “When did video games become so violent??” There are tons of references to games both classic and new so gamers of all ages will get a chuckle out of these. Like with the movie Brave (and some others), I'm glad that Disney movies seem to be moving away from romances (after all, what child is really all that interested in adult relationships?) with this movie. But there is still an element of the romantic in this film with Felix, Jr. smitten by Sergeant Calhoun, and I'm happy to see that the lovelorn one is Felix while Calhoun is all business and only concerned about romance when she has finished the task at hand. In fact, the thing that seems to appeal to Felix the most about Sergeant Calhoun is that she is a no-nonsense, tough character who has what it takes to be a leader. But the relationship we see more of in Wreck-It Ralph is the begrudging friendship that grows between Ralph and Vanellope. Despite differences of age, gender, and background, these two become close friends by the end of the movie who are willing to make sacrifices for each other's happiness. That they both ultimately end up happy is no small testament to the power of friendship (and the fairy tale like nature of Disney movies). The friendship plot is not the only moral that can be derived from the movie though. Much of the movie is also about Ralph's quest to become a "good guy" instead of his role as the villain of Fix-It Felix, Jr. He initially thinks that merely having the trappings of a good guy (i.e., the gold medal) will be enough to make him a hero, but as the movie progresses he learns that more is involved in becoming a hero and he steps up to the place. Not only is there the great lesson about what being a hero really means, it's also a good reflection on the idea not being confined to a script. Just because people grow up with certain expectations for them (not amounting to anything or following a traditional path or what-have-you), we are each responsible for our own path in life - and defying expectations and/or stereotypes may very well be a part of that. Ralph and his goal of becoming a good guy is a clarion call for anyone feeling stuck in an unfulfilling role. Take a chance at something new and you might find the right place for you after all.

Featuring the voice talents of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer and the artistic talents of doubtless numerous animators, Wreck-It Ralph is executed perfectly. There's tons of fun details everywhere, even the credits, that tie into the video game world. While the film arguably doesn't pass the Bechdel test, it does feature two very interesting and intrepid main female characters, which is a lot more than Disney has given in the past to the little girls in the audience. I'd definitely recommend this movie for young kids - or for those who are just young at heart!

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