Monday, April 29, 2013

Some thoughts on Wreck-it Ralph

I really enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph and wanted to make a few notes on it.

One: it welcomes video-game illiterates since many of the video game references are made up--the game Fix-It Felix, Jr. resembles in some ways King Kong, the first Mario (Jumpman) game, but is totally it's own thing. (Also Rampage, but no one remembers that.)

Two: but if you do know video games, there's a few little jokes in it, as with the jerky animation style of the Fix-It Felix, Jr. characters.

Three: Ralph's backstory is insanely interesting--but not really examined. He's been thrown out of his rightful home so that some people could build a condo on it. The song over the end credits makes reference to how Ralph was tossed out for eminent domain reasons. So it sounds like he's got a pretty legit reason to be angry. (NB. See note at end.)

Four: the movie has some philosophical incoherences; for instance, Vanellope at the end declares that her real self is the hoodie-wearing rebel, even though the code says that she's a princess (a standard "the system doesn't define me" move)--but elsewhere she talks about how she's really a racer "in her code." This may be less a movie inconsistency than a linguistic/character inconsistency. But this sort of problem seems to bedevil lots of literature; cf. Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, where Hank goes on and on about how the system is what defines people--and then every once in a while notes that the system can't really keep a good guy down.

Five: one of my favorite things about the film is how it gives the four main characters some sort of arc / flaw. First up is Ralph, the displaced angry guy who comes to re-engage with his power to wreck things by using it in different ways. (Although, his sacrificial moment at the end is very reminiscent of The Iron Giant.) Next, and parallel, is Vanellope: displaced like Ralph, outcast like Ralph, has to learn to use her debility (her glitch) as a power like Ralph. Fix-It Felix, Jr., learns there's more to life than just fixing (though this is underdeveloped) and Sergeant Calhoun has to learn there's more to life than just fighting (though this is ditto). Hmm, actually the more I think about this, the more I think they could've added to those two secondary characters, who nicely mirror each other as Ralph and Vanellope do.

Six: a villain is revealed in the last half of the movie, which is fine, but which could have been made to fit more tightly with the main story. After all, Ralph and Vanellope both want to fit in more with their video game or at least be appreciated. And the villain's desire is to be appreciated and to blend in a video game where he doesn't belong. The connections could be clearer.

Final thought: Is Wreck-It Ralph ultimately an anti-protest movie? Look at it this way: Ralph has been moved off his pleasant forest and put in a dump made up of the cast-offs from the rich Nicelanders. So whether you want to put that in First World-Third World or One Percent-99 Percent terms, his desire is pretty recognizable: he wants a slice of the pie (literally in the movie).

Now, when Ralph absents himself from the economy of the game, it breaks down--the same way our economy would break down if, say, certain agricultural states tried to enforce laws against the illegal migrant workers that helped pick their crops. So at the end, the Nicelanders realize Ralph's value and, after throwing him off the roof, give him his own pie--separate but equal, with a nice message and a representation of Frank on top of the building with the Nicelanders.

So, materially, nothing has really changed in Ralph's world: he still gets thrown off the building, still (probably) lives in the dump, still has never been properly compensated for that first removal from his land. Instead, he becomes satisfied in his position because of the symbolic differences: the cake, him on top of it.

Some spoilers here: We could also say that his story of displacement (he lived somewhere till he was kicked off that land) gets displaced onto Vanellope's story: like Ralph, she was displaced from her position, only her displacement is recognized as wrong by everyone and is substantially corrected by the end. She was kicked off the throne by Turbo and she gets it back by the end. All of her "I won't be a princess, I'll be a president" is a sharp joke in this direction since no one actually voted for her. It's still an inherited position (like Felix with his magic hammer from his dad*). So Ralph was on that land first, but that position (inherited, gained, whatever) is forgotten; while Vanellope gains her position back. So why can't Ralph?

*Ever note that Felix's favorite way to refer to Ralph is "brother"? That might just be friendliness (though he doesn't call anyone else brother, iirc), but even so it metaphorically sets up an Esau-Jacob sort of relationship, with the wild brother and the favored brother. No wonder Ralph is so angry to be displaced from his land--and from his family.

1 comment:

  1. I saw Vanellope's dualism in "what defines her" as nature and nurture coming together. Even when she is displaced she knows that she is a racer, but her experiences under persecution have altered her personality. We don't know what she had been like before Turbo took everyone's memories. Maybe she was a big priss? Maybe she was still a tomboy? WHAT she is will be a racer, regardless of her lost memories. WHO she is is shaped by experience.

    This is probably way too much psychoanalysis for this movie.