Make-It Me: A Film Review of Wreck-It Ralph


When I first saw previews for Wreck-It Ralph, I admit that my expectations were not very high. I immediately thought two things: first that the CGI would be an excuse for a poor story-line and that, second, it would be a rip-off of Donkey Kong. I mean: just look at Ralph and Donkey Kong, or even Fix-It Felix Jr. and Jumpman/Mario.

Then after a while, I heard good things about it and there was one commercial that I saw which really got me attracted to it, namely this one:

After that, I couldn’t not see this movie, seeing as I am interested in super-villains and video games and … I admit I imagine having a Boss musical theme. =)

So I saw it and I’m just going to tell you now, that I will be focusing more on how the world of Wreck-It Ralph works more than really going into the story-line: though the two are very neatly together and excellent. As such, I feel obligated to place a Spoilers warning before I continue on.

So the spoiler warning having been said, I do have to go into the plot a little bit. Essentially, there is this video game boss named Wreck-It Ralph whose role it is to destroy a penthouse building while his heroic counterpart Fix-It Felix Jr. (whom their world and game is named for) fixes what he destroys. However, these are just roles. They, and other video game sprite denizens live their lives and even interact in a hub that exists at an internal intersection between their arcade cabinets. Everyone in the world of Fix-It Felix, Jr. loves Felix, but they do not like Wreck-It Ralph: though all he is doing is essentially his job which is just important as the hero’s job. Wreck-It Ralph decides that he wants to become a hero so that he can live somewhere better than his garbage dump home and also gain friendship.

That is essentially how everything begins. Now let me go into how their world works. So each game is its own world and there are borders that need to be crossed in order to get to the central hub where different game sprites can interact. This particular world exists in an arcade: which is now almost an anachronism given that arcades are not as popular (at least in North America) as they once were. Each world continues to exist so long as their game does not malfunction. That means that all heroes, villains, and supporting characters need to maintain their roles and stay in their games when someone from the arcade is playing them. Otherwise they get a dreaded “out of order sign” and their game is shipped away while they either become homeless in the hub or cease to exist entirely.

So far so good right? Well there are also the existence of beings known as “glitches”: characters that “shouldn’t” exist and are somewhat buggy. They can’t even leave their game world and go into the hub: which is something that plays a larger role later on. Then there is one more rule in this world which is very important. Never go Turbo.

I admit, I felt like I knew that I should know what that term meant. I thought it was a reference to a game that didn’t work out or some homage to some really bad character or video game idea from our world. But essentially, Turbo was a character created solely for this film. He was a racer character that was jealous over a new arcade game brought in that was taking attention away from his game. So he essentially left his own game and hijacked the other one. This caused it to malfunction and as a result both his original game and the one he invaded were declared “out of order” and thrown away. Essentially, because of his selfishness and his inability to accept his role he destroyed two worlds. So he is used as a cautionary tale for other sprites that might have similar ideas. It’s actually a really creepy idea and story when you really think about it: but also really cool too.

It also seems like only the really old arcade games were exposed to the “going Turbo” phenomenon while some of the new games with their more graphically-advanced sprites have either never encountered it yet or never thought of it. And some characters, like Sonic Hedgehog, are apparently so important that they have billboards with automated advertisements coming from them. They are “too good” to show up in this world: though I don’t know what that says about the Bowser and Princess Peach cameos. Maybe Mario himself wasn’t even mentioned either because of copyright or because he would take too much attention away from the protagonists. Yes, I am such a world-building nerd. I know.

Aside from said world-building, I think I really liked this movie because–in addition to drawing on the nostalgia and the video game culture my generation grew up with–I could really sympathize with Ralph. It is ironic that while the film is called Wreck-It Ralph, the game he lives in is called Fix-It Felix, Jr. This is essentially a film about a video game super-villain and boss character: made solely for this movie of course. It shows him subversively overcoming his “villain” role to be a real hero while, at the same time, accepting and coming to peace with his true nature and being a villain again: with everyone else accepting that it is just a role and not everything he is.

The character of Vanellope was also excellent. She is essentially a glitch that Ralph grudgingly befriends in another game. What she sees as a liability ultimately becomes a strength of hers. As a glitch, she flickers in and out of existence, or appears from one spot to another. She looks really cool too with glitter in her hair and a no-nonsense but mischievous attitude. She looked like her game’s main character and, well … 😉 She was also made an outcast because she wanted to get into a race with the main characters of that world: showing a caste-system between “sprites” and “glitches”: although I’m not sure if this distinction is only in her game or in the others as well. I relate to her because I knew that her “weakness” was actually a strength if properly applied.

But I think my favourite part of the whole film was that I couldn’t really predict it. I mean, first you have the danger of the Cy-Bug–a creature accidentally taken by Ralph from a first-person shooter Hero’s Duty world to Vannellope’s kart-racing Sugar Rush game–multiplying and spreading throughout all games. You have Ralph trying to get his Hero’s Medal. And then you have King Candy–who looks like a combination of the Mad-Hatter and the Wizard of Oz–tyrannizing Vanellope and keeping her out of his car race.

And then, then you realize that … Turbo is not quite as gone as the video game urban legends around him make you believe and that he has had a lot of time to … hack other games for his benefit. Thus the roles of hero, villain, player character, protagonist, and glitch get subverted and changed in awesome ways while strange new rules are made for strange playable universes.

That is Wreck-It Ralph for me. Aside from what I mentioned, I think one other reason I really like it is because it reminds me so much of ReBoot in concept: a world called Mainframe that takes place in a computer where sprites and binomes live and Guardians (anti-virus programs) from the Net fight against Viruses and other threats as well as Game Cubes (chortles, and the Nintendo Game Cube, not really related to anything here, didn’t exist at the time of this show) that were sent down by mysterious entities known as Users. I always wondered what sprites would be like in console universes: realities totally dedicated to the playing of games. Perhaps they would be something along the lines of “career game sprites.” 😉 Another Hunger Games reference and show parallel aside, the meta-narrative aspects of both ReBoot and Wreck-It Ralph make me very happy inside. I also had to stop myself at one point from saying, “Game over. User wins,” especially when one arcade winner didn’t in fact win. ;P

The fact is, I hope they make more films set in the world of Wreck-It Ralph. I would love to see how they would handle video game consoles and PCs. But I think what really intrigues me is a character like Turbo that can hack into other game-realities, but instead of doing it to gain attention or simply subverting a pre-existing game, they can actually use all existing information and code in that world as part of a pre-made kit in order to create their own game entirely. Think about that: a sprite can use code to rewrite and make their own world where they are the protagonist or the god of their own game. Maybe it is a homage to the Do It Yourself gaming literature I’ve been reading and watching lately. But essentially, what I’m saying is that Turbo was thinking too small and too petty, and with the skills he learned he could do so much more.

I learn the wrong lessons, it seems. This movie was all about accepting a role but also having the flexibility to go beyond and here I am sounding like I want to be a super-villain.

No comment.

But anyway, this movie gets a 5 of out of 5 and I want to see more of them. This is Make-It Matthew continuing on: to the next level, and the sequel that I keep getting promised. And no, I am not going Turbo.

I am going Make-It. 😀

4 thoughts on “Make-It Me: A Film Review of Wreck-It Ralph

  1. Awesome review! I really loved this film, especially the fact that they were willing to stick with, as you said, the anachronism of coin-op gaming as the core premise. (I guess in a sense it wouldn’t work too well with consoles or PCs, since the idea was that the arcade closes and the humans leave, freeing the game characters to come to life).

    It really surprised me that they were willing to stick with such retro elements, because this definitely slants the audience toward adults who have a sense of nostalgia over these games, rather than being more across-the-board accessible . . . but then there’s the side benefit of parents being able to watch this with their kids and then go off and introduce them to these older games, so in a way the effect of the story goes beyond the credit roll. And I liked the commentary that maybe games have gotten a bit too grim as of late.

    By the way, Matthew, got to see the ‘Vs.’ you mentioned, now titled All Superheroes Must Die. Really liked it — rough around the edges and there was some missed potential but that was one of the more unique superhero films I’ve seen. Thanks for the recommendation, I’d have probably just written it off as a cheapo Avengers cash grab had you not pointed me toward the trailer.

  2. Hello Michael. 🙂 I do think that the premise behind the movie could work with consoles or PCs: if only because the players eventually turn the game off or play another one. As such the sprites inside probably get a break: unless it is a marathon gaming night or a PC World of Warcraft 24/7 thing. I also like the fact that it was a film that was accessible to both game groups and it taps into that culture or paradigm I’ve talked about before: about the games and popular culture of our youth has become something to work with and redefine. And there was a bit of commentary that was not commentary about grim and gritty games.

    And I am really glad you enjoyed ‘Vs.’ or ‘All Superheroes Must Die.” Thank you for compliment and reply. Take care. 🙂

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