“Are there medals for wrecking stuff really well?”
For a good chunk of Wreck-It Ralph I really wondered and worried exactly what it was trying to say. The Toy Story like story (“in a world where games come to life when the arcade is closed…”) has Ralph, the bad guy in an old 8-bit game, decide he doesn’t want to be the bad guy anymore and set out into the wider world of gaming (from 8-bit all the way to modern) to find a gold medal. The trouble is that without a bad guy, Ralph’s game (“Fix-It Felix”) will be reported as broken and be put out of service; and his forays into other games threaten to cause similar problems to those games too. In one game, “Sugar Rush”, he meets Vanellope, a “glitch” with a similar desire – she wants to be a part of her game. But if she becomes a part of the game (she is told) her glitch will be seen, be reported, and the game will be over. It’s a hell of a dilemma, and it’s presented in a way at times that truly suggests that the moral might be to “know your place”. Thankfully, as always, Disney know better.
Somewhere towards the beginning, an animated sign in “Game Central Station” (there’s a lot of these puns – Nesquik-sand, “I’m not a glitch, I’m just pixlexic!”, “Are you hurt, sire?” “No he just glazed me!” and for me they did get slightly irritating and Aardman-ish – there’s an hilarious Wizard of Oz reference involving Oreo cookies, however) has Sonic the Hedgehog for some reason informing passers-by, “If you die outside your game you don’t regenerate, ever.” The intention may have been for this to merely add a note of peril to the seemingly harmless environment but my problem, which might make sense if you read my Frankenweenie and ParaNorman reviews, is I took it a little further. When a big sacrificial moment is suggested towards the end, I really braced myself for something profoundly emotional – even more than a heartbreaking moment earlier when Ralph “wrecks” something very precious to Vanellope – and it never came.
This moment is followed by something that threatened to make me give up on Disney entirely as I almost did after Enchanted. I’ve never liked movies where a hero or heroine (usually heroine) has to essentially integrate into society to be accepted by it – it’s the reason I will take any opportunity to tell people Grease 2 is better than Grease, and, closer to Disney, why my heart always sinks a little when Violet seems relatively “normal” at the end of The Incredibles. The way Vanellope the glitch’s story plays out here, then, is kind of wonderful. What actually happens when she becomes part of her game is, the game “resets” and her glitch disappears. She literally becomes a princess, complete with puffy pink dress – at which point my face must have been a picture – which (yay!) she promptly glitches out of, because that’s who she is.
I guess what I’m saying is, I really didn’t know what Wreck-It Ralph was doing half the time, which is probably a good thing. For now I really don’t know where it sits for me as far as Disney are concerned. It’s almost simultaneously a step forwards, backwards, and sideways for them, feeling more at times like a (albeit good) Dreamworks animation – perhaps because of the more recognisable voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch – and with a much more complex message than even their most recent work. It’s certainly one I’ll revisit – it’s possible my experience a second time could be wildly different if I know what’s coming.