The first time I saw Wreck-It Ralph (2012), it was during my time working as a lifeguard for the city of St. Pete Beach. By the way, I worked at a pool, not the beach. During the summers, our facility hosted a movie night. For a film buff like me, you would think these evenings would be exciting. Several factors mitigated my enjoyment, not the least of which is that I had to actually work. This meant that I could not just sit and watch the movie because, you know, we are supposed to be preventing people from drowning. Believe it or not, this takes attention. And I do mean real attention because the army of little ones that would descend on the pool for these nights acted like a pack of wild animals. Ostensibly, they were there to see whatever cartoon flick we showed, and that is another thing that subtracted from my pleasure. Instead, all sense of decorum would disappear as they ran amuck around the facility, causing frequent whistle blasts from the beleaguered staff. With all this going on, I never got much of a chance to see the film then, though I have watched it since. While I will take viewing it now over then, I cannot say that the experience is any different outside of the pool’s confines on a Friday night in the summer.
Ever wonder what video game characters do at arcades when the lights are shut off for the night? This is what Wreck-It Ralph attempts to answer, at least at first. Our title avatar, henceforth Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), is the villain in an arcade game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. Everybody loves Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer), even Ralph to a certain degree. Ralph, though, is not too popular with the inhabitants of the building he is forced to smash whenever the game is played. This is brought to the forefront when they put on a celebration for the game’s thirtieth anniversary party, to which he is not invited. This causes him to seek out recognition in other games. He is particularly inspired by a previous racing character named Turbo, who was able to enter other games and take them over. Thus, Ralph makes it to a modern first-person shooter called Hero’s Duty, where its principal character Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) routinely earns accolades for destroying bugs. When Ralph enters the game and attempts to get one of the medals it awards, he inadvertently ends up escaping with one of the creatures by crashing into another game, a candy themed racer called Sugar Rush. This is a problem because, on a sillier note, the villain for Fix-It Felix is missing and the human users at the arcade cannot play the game. Felix then leaves it, too, learning that Ralph had made it to Hero’s Duty. There, Felix meets (and develops the hots for) Sergeant Calhoun. She reveals that they have a bigger problem. The bugs that they kill in the game adapt to whatever they latch onto, taking on its form and spreading. Not that Ralph is aware of this as he lands in Sugar Rush and meets the hyperactive Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Vanellope is referred to as a “glitch,” meaning that she is not supposed to be part of the game, but her one goal is to be a part of the races. She then takes Ralph’s medal as a token to enter the next race, which leads to Ralph’s capture when he attempts to retrieve it. Later, Ralph makes a deal with Vanellope that, in exchange for help in putting together a racer, she will help him get his medal back. Before the race can happen, despite their preparations, King Candy (voiced by Alan Tudyk), ruler of Sugar Rush, tells Ralph that if he prevents Vanellope from racing, he will give Ralph back the medal. When he does so, Vanellope is devastated. Unfortunately, when he returns to his own game, he finds that almost everyone is leaving it. This is because the supposedly malfunctioning game is leading the staff of the arcade to permanently pull the plug. Ralph then returns to Sugar Rush, where Felix had been imprisoned by King Candy, along with Vanellope. When he frees them both, and reconciles with them, it is also with the knowledge that King Candy has purposely made Vanellope into a glitch. With Felix’s help, they are able to repair Vanellope’s racer, and get her into a race. While going against King Candy, he begins to glitch as well, showing himself to be Turbo. Making matters worse, bugs from Hero’s Duty erupt from elsewhere in the game. Sergeant Calhoun, on hand to try and stop the bugs, gives Ralph the inspiration from her own game of a beam of light that destroys all the bugs in hers at the end of a play through. Ralph then decides to cause an eruption using Mentos dropped into Diet Cola Mountain. Unfortunately, he must also contend with a newly bug-powered King Candy, who wants to use his army to take over all the games in the arcade. After a tussle, Ralph manages to get the Mentos in the right place, with Vanellope saving him before he falls into the pit. She then crosses the finish line, which reveals her true form as the Princess of Sugar Rush, and she takes her rightful place as ruler of the game. Back in his own game, Ralph finally gains the recognition he so eagerly sought as well.
Wreck-It Ralph is a cute movie, there is no denying it. As a Disney property, it hits all the expectant notes. What this Catholic reviewer appreciates more than the pretty colors, or Vanellope’s over-the-top antics, is the theme of redemption. Of course, this is a well-worn topic for this blog to cover. Yet, there is enough of a twist here to make it at least somewhat unique. Most of the time in movies, the hero does not purposely set out on a quest for redemption, or if they do, it ends up working out for them in unexpected ways. Life works that way, often. We have a vision of what we need to do in order to prove ourselves, and yet the choices we make along the way leads us to something else. In the Faith life, if you can submit your will to God’s on that quest, the outcome will be glorious no matter what happens. As for today’s film, I would argue that Ralph got exactly what he wanted. Granted, he probably did not anticipate fighting bugs or befriending an obnoxious little girl, but in the end the citizens of his game recognized his contributions to their lives. Christianity would teach you that recognition is not something we should seek. It is understandable that Ralph would feel jaded after so long of doing what he is programmed to do for little reward. It is equally hard to tell anyone in a similar position that there is an ultimate reward with God, who sees all that we do. Nonetheless, Ralph does behave in an altruistic manner, and learns some crucial lessons along the way.
I do not think I will be watching Wreck-It Ralph again any time soon, despite the fact that it is a good movie to show young people. Still, who knows? Maybe one night I will put in on as I am trying to fall asleep, or while wrapping up my work for an evening, and reminisce about those crazy nights at the pool. Disney is good for nostalgia.