Backlot Bitch: In Defense of “Wreck-It Ralph”

Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope Banner

There are movies you see once and you never want to see again. Other movies require multiple viewings in order to pick up on the subtext and subtitles. And then there are the enjoyable enough movies to leave on the TV over and over again just because they’re fun. Wreck-It Ralph is one of those rare movies that’s fun for a revisit yet is peppered with enough hidden references to make to make the rewatch worthwhile. After a second viewing this weekend, I still walked away impressed. Ralph keeps to the
8-bit world of old-school arcade games and moves flawlessly into the HD gaming experience that was starting to take root when I stopped going to my local arcade.

It’s a colorful nostalgic trip for those of us who still store our NES and Sega Genesis in our attics or basements. The beginning is reminiscent of Toy Story, with an underground world of video games that come to life once the arcade closes for the night and characters who leave their game to explore other worlds. Our main character, Ralph (John C. Reilly), is the antagonist of the game Fix-It Felix Jr., and the narrative follows his quest for acceptance from the fellow inhabitants of his game. He finds a fellow misfit in Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who’s been ostracized from the pastel-colored Sugar Rush game because she’s a glitch who could imperil the game’s very existence. and as we learn, renders the inhabitants of the game homeless, forever stuck at Game Central Station.

Wreck-It Ralph grapples with the question of whether identity is hard-wired or mutable differently in the cases of Ralph and Vanellope. When, at movie’s end, Vanellope is returned to her “rightful” form, she chooses to remain her frumpy self in what looks like the most comfortable sweater even seen in an animated movie. It’s who she “really” is, giving a nod to the idea that identity is something that one develops, not what you’re “programmed” with. Ralph, on the other hand, has to come to terms with his bad-guy role; in what can be read as  forced assimilation, he even visits a support group for villains. Thus, one of our leads gets to change her appearance to suit herself, but the other must accept his lot in life—a mixed message if there ever was one.

Still, considering that the world of gaming, in particular online gaming, tends so notably toward misogynist putdowns and homophobic slurs, Wreck-It Ralph offers a refreshingly gender-balanced look at video-game fandom. There’s a young female arcadegoer who tries her hand at the game Hero’s Duty, a first-person shooter game. She then tries to play a “girl’s game,” the aforementioned Sugar Rush, and is dismissed by two boys that they’re staying on to play each different racer in the game (boys playing a candy-coated racing game? Kind of awesome). She then moves on to our main game, Fix-It Felix Jr., and makes the pivotal discovery that Ralph’s gone AWOL. I know it’s a small thing to notice, but female figures occupy such a contested place in gaming worlds that situating a young girl as a key player feels significant.

That’s also why the Lara-Croft-meets-drill-sergeant character Commander Calhoun (Jane Lynch) is so much fun. She’s a tough military leader who never veers into the ridiculously unrealistic costume department. There’s even a joke about her character getting “programmed with the most tragic backstory” that leads to a flashback of Calhoun seeing her husband eaten by the insect monsters of her game on the day of their wedding. It’s a perfect poke at the conventional video-game writing that starts so many adventures off with a story about redemption or revenge.

I’m not sure how well arcades are faring, but after exiting the theater with my little sister, I asked her what she thought of the movie. She said she loved it, but added that she never played video games on machines in a place like that before. Here’s a rundown of the games that appear in the movie. Note that the credits also serve as an entire homage to old-school games.

Did you see Wreck-It Ralph yet? What did you think?

by Monica Castillo
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Monica Castillo is a freelance film critic. You can usually find her on Twitter talking about the movie she just watched at @mcastimovies.

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7 Comments Have Been Posted

I have to say my favorite

I have to say my favorite moment was when Commander Calhoun and annoying do good Felix were in the pit together and Felix was begging to get his faced slapped so they could be rescued by the laughing vines! Hott!

okay, but wait a sec.

When Ralph sees Vanellope on the side of the Sugar Rush machine, she is dressed in her "regular" clothes, not the "princess" outfit she is put into later. The princess outfit was very confusing to me because of that, though I got, and appreciated, the point the movie was trying to make. But it's clear that Vanellope-as-glitch is the way Vanellope was supposed to look all along, or she wouldn't have been displayed that way on the exterior of the machine. I might be overthinking this, but this post brought it to the forefront of my mind, because of this writer's discussion of Vanellope choosing her final look. There's no question that she chose that casual/comfortable look, rejecting the princessy appearance, but she was merely choosing a different pre-selected appearance, not one she created herself. To me and my teenager, her line about being President was stronger than the rejection of the dress, though the dress thing probably works better for young girls.

I did like that the "gamer" outside the games was a girl, though, as did my teenage daughter. And it was _not_ a small thing, nor even a small thing to notice. Every single person I know who has seen the movie has noticed and commented on the gamer being a girl, which is actually kind of terrible when you think about it, because it struck all of us as unusual.

Ralph's Lot Does Change

I just wanted to mention that I believe that Ralph doesn't just accept his lot in life. He gets what he wanted most - the acceptance of the other characters in his game. They learn that he's not a monster. Yes, his job is still to break stuff so that Felix can be the hero but I doubt that the Nicelanders are kicking him out of their parties now. He learns, and the other characters in his game learn, that his job doesn't have to define him. He's playing the bad guy, but he's not a 'bad' guy. At the end of the movie, he has a real home and friends and he's helped get some of the homeless game characters into a bonus level so that they aren't marooned in Game Central Station anymore.

Gamer Girls

One thing I really appreciated was that the arcade-goer was a younger girl, with glasses I might add. At first she is shunned by the boys club at the arcade, something I could truly relate to. In fact, I kinda looked like her at that age when I went to arcades, long awkward hair, glasses, and a scruffy appearance. Later you notice in the movie she is an expert at the game Fix-it-Felix Jr., as the kids gather around her to put their quarters on the game and she is tearing the game up! I think Pixar knew what they were doing, empowering young girls who like "boys toys" (as dictated by society) and perhaps even challenging gender norms in our culture by having the boys playing Sugar Rush(just a thought?).
As other commenters have said, that is no small thing. And kids will get exactly what they should out of it, self-empowerment and self-actualization, you can be who you want to be, you should continue to try even when others tell you not to. for me it was a good movie with a good message. Now, as for the protagonist being a, I have some qualms, but at least she was a bad ass!

So we're just going to ignore

So we're just going to ignore the use of an anti-gay slur in the movie, then? And the fact that Disney has made yet another film where the villain is effeminate and that's played for cheap laughs?

Backlot Bitch: In Defense of "Wreck-It Ralph" | Bitch Media

Now I am going away to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming over
again to read additional news.

Good Cartoons.. i like them

Good Cartoons.. i like them

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