Before you read, just a heads up: This post is a no-holds barred, spoiler-laced discussion about the film. If you haven’t watched the movie yet and you think that spoilers will affect your opinion for it, don’t read this. Otherwise, go right ahead.
I finally got the chance to see Wreck-It Ralph. For those who aren’t in the know, it’s Disney’s not-so-recent movie about the uncanny quest of the titular videogame character to redeem himself, with a (big) handful of destruction as a side dish. The thing is, I watched it under the pretense that it was a videogame geek’s wet dream, that it had a good cast, a good plethora of advertising schemes, and most importantly, a good story that pays homage to the videogame industry.
Boy, I never thought I’d be utterly mistaken.
The Disney Syndrome
As someone who has watched Disney films since childhood, I know this by heart: Disney likes to make adaptations with little to no back story, explanation, or story flow to justify some of the scenes in their animated family films. I’ve seen a lot of such movies; Toy Story, A Goofy Movie, and A Bug’s Life, just to name a few that I could still remember. The point is, you are directly and suddenly immersed in a world where things aren’t usually what they seem to be, and you are left to your own resources trying to understand what’s going on, or how it came to be that way. Any adult would find a decent explanation that would suffice the curiosity, but would you expect that on kids, who would nag their parents to watch cartoons mostly because they think it’s cool, fun, and awesome? Would you even expect parents to answer their children’s questions and not dismiss them by telling their kids to just watch the movie and leave it to their imagination?
The Game is a Workplace
Let’s take on Wreck-It Ralph‘s case using this mindset. We are, creatively speaking, spirited away into the inner workings of Litwak’s Arcade, where videogame characters are actual people. Really, electronic bits of code and information gaining sentience. There can explanations to that, aside from having them just magically come to life at night and make the story progress as planned. Maybe they have gaps of code derived from their programming that formed into their consciousness, or that they developed it after repeating the same program over and over for more than, say, thirty years or so. Plausible to a point, yes?
But then we see the environment that they live in, where videogames are seen not only as worlds, but also as workplaces. As a videogame character, you need to earn your keep in the arcade by doing your “job” in your corresponding game, or risk getting the arcade box that you call home unplugged, which results with you either being homeless, or deleted forever.
Um, okay, give me a minute. I need that part to sink in. Basically, you wake up, finding you’re doomed to do a job that only you can do, be it eating blinking dots to munch on ghosts, or living in a dump and wrecking 8-bit era crap, and that you need to do it for, like, forever, with no compensation other than your reputation and your supposed home? That just stinks.
So our little anti-hero of sorts, Ralph, finally decides that he’s fed up from being treated like total shit. He jumps into another game in order to find a medal, seeing as it’s the only way to convince the folks in his game that he deserves better. This, known as the act of “going turbo”, it wasn’t well-received by the rest of his game’s cast, mainly because he’s needed as the bad guy in their game, that they’ll be considered out of order if he doesn’t come back to do his job, and that they instinctively need a guy they can bully because of his occupation, despite his colossal size.
Let’s highlight the words job and occupation on that last sentence. You have someone who “works” as the villain in your virtual workplace, and he only does it “professionally” because he needs to. End of the movie right there, for me. Why? Because it was emphasized, for more than once, that what Ralph is doing is a job, not an evil whim to pulverize things to itty bitty bits. It should’ve been understandable to most that anything that happens after that revelation is irrelevant. But no, the film goes through the trouble of making him go independently ballistic so he can prove to people his worth and making a big mess out of it, only for everyone to finally realize that the guy they’re scared from is just like anybody else if they took the “Bad Guy” label off.
This beef, I had with the scene about Double Stripes. Double Stripes were introduced when our characters dove into the gameworld of Sugar Rush. A Double Stripe is a striped candy branch/tree/trunk/whathaveyou, only that it has two stripes and vanishes if you touch it. The film has two scenes that have Double Stripes on them. Plenty enough exposure for a plot device to be used and abused on story-relevant scene, yet you watch the rest of the film without seeing it again. Is it even used on the races? It would’ve been relevant if the game’s racers rode on a giant Double Stripe candy cane that suddenly goes poof into a giant pool of chocolate milkshake-ish quicksand, where they would sink, melt, and explode into sugar cubes and cheaply wrapped hard candy. Plain and simple, can work like awesome, totally unnecessary.
Another thing that had me stupefied is how the so-called “safety” of the characters are explained. If you look at the games from Ye Olde Golden Era of gaming such as Ralph’s game, there is little to no room for uncontrolled activity, and videogame characters’ actions are at their own discretion, thanks to their obsolete and strictly limited programming. But then you see Hero’s Duty, who have these monsters they call Cy-Bugs that even the program can’t control. It seemed that the more advanced the game is, the more volatile and exploitable the environment and nature of the characters were. By way of code safety, the Golden Era one-ups the advanced games of today by another point, but that’s a story for another time.
Too much of this. Way too much. You have characters from Street Fighter popping in and out like they have a lot more relevance and character population than any other game, to which in actual realization given their roster of playables, can actually be true. You have Sonic’s face plastered almost everywhere because Ralph stars on the former’s real world kart game. See Metal Gear Solid‘s infamous ! sign, see the growth mushroom from Super Mario, see Zangief’s briefs. Stahp, Disney, reference dropping stahp. Throwing references and putting notable characters on your posters to get film viewership is fine, but you used that card just too much.
In conclusion, this isn’t how you glorify videogaming, people. Wait, what? They’re planning part two, where they plan to explore the world of MMOGs, console games, and portables?