Oh fellow nerds, this film is adorkable. While Wreck It Ralph, the latest Disney animated feature, is definitely a kids’ movie, it deals with topical moral issues like bullying, depression and learning that you are who you believe you are, not who people say you are. And it does all of that in a vivid, fun and nostalgic way. Everything about this movie will hook you on the story. From the script to the animation to the voice acting you will be wholeheartedly invested in Ralph’s journey and the journey of the side-characters, who all go through changes because of his willingness to challenge the status quo.
The title character of Wreck It Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, is the not-so-villainous video game villain of Fix It Felix, Jr. In the game, Ralph destroys a luxury apartment complex and terrorize it’s residents, while Felix gets to play the hero and fix Ralph’s mess. Problem is, Ralph is actually a fun-loving laid back kind of guy and to him, destroying private property is just a job. Unfortunately, everyone else in the arcade world is unable to separate his game persona from his real personality.
The film is set in the underground world of Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade. When the arcade closes for the day, the characters clock off from the job and live their own lives, traveling to other game worlds via electrical wiring. It’s during one of these ‘off the clock’ moments that we learn Ralph isn’t the only arcade villain suffering from an existential crisis. Clyde, from Pac-Man, runs Bad-Anon, a support group for fellow bad guys who have trouble accepting their lot in life.
But despite all of the affirmations and even some stellar advice from a zombie about how labels should not define who you are, Ralph still craves acceptance and vows to prove he can be a hero, too. He sets off to travel through the arcade world, which is filled with classic games and knock offs of modern ones. Ralph ends up in Hero’s Duty, a first person shooter set in a hard and metallic world infested by giant alien bugs. Here, Ralph does find his hero’s medal but not the selfless heart of a true hero. That he finds that in the candy encrusted world of the racing game Sugar Rush – with the help of fellow outcast Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).
Together Ralph and Vanellope deal with something that everyone who’s reading a site called ‘Nerd Bastards’ has probably experienced – society telling you that you are horribly flawed and will never fit in with the ‘normal’ people. Their journey together is great on two levels. One, it shows kids that even adults can feel like outcasts. They aren’t the only ones who get bullied. There are adults out there who will listen to them and help them. Two, initially, Ralph just wants to experience the glitz and glamor of being a hero. He doesn’t really understand what it means to stand up for what you know is right. He learns that from Vanellope, who is not only willing to risk ridicule to live her dream, but she’s also willing to risk her own life to break out of the role others have cast her in and live authentically. Through her, Ralph learns that true bravery is about love and compassion – not about getting the shiniest medal.
Wreck It Ralph strikes the right balance and keeps its moral message clear but not heavy-handed. There are also a lot of wickedly fun cameos from classic characters that had the adults laughing and the kids looking at us like we were crazy. Namely Q*bert, who has a pretty crucial role in saving the day. It even pokes fun at some of the controversial issues often raised in fandom, like the over the top tragic back stories of female heroes, which is played out with Jane Lynch‘s character Sergeant Calhoun from Hero’s Duty. But again, the message is delivered in a way that manages to stay light and not encroach on the fun of the film.
This film has everything going for it, but the real jewel of this story is the message that no matter what people say about you and what they think you can or cannot do, you can rise above it and be a hero.
(Oh, but there is kind of a scary clown thing at the end. So, if that’s a major fear, I’d duck out of the theater for the last 10 minutes.)