We’ve been through the Frozen fever and spent a lot of time watching Tangled, but whilst I think these are pretty good films, with better themes and concepts than the earlier Disney princess movies, I am LOVING our latest Disney obsession – Wreck-It Ralph.
Eponymous protagonist Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the 9-ft tall, 600lb “bad guy” from the arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr. Disillusioned with his bad guy status and propensity to wreck everything in sight, whether he means to or not, Ralph sets out to find himself a medal so that he will gain the sort of recognition Felix gets from the other inhabitants of his game.
In a similar way that Toy Story before it showed us the secret life of toys, Wreck-It Ralph shows us what happens to the characters in the arcade games after the arcade has closed. Travelling through a central atrium, the characters can visit different games, although of course they must return to their own game in time for it to be played by the customers, lest they risk their game being perceived as broken and switched off.
In search of a medal, Ralph visits Hero’s Duty, a war game where the player must battle fearsome “cybugs” in order to win. Ralph’s clumsiness sees him end up in an escape pod which then crash lands in another game – Sugar Rush. Sugar Rush is a racing game set in a wondrous candy-land and it is here that Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a glitch in the computer system who wants nothing more than to be able to race but who is shunned by the other racers because she isn’t a real character.
So far, so predictable, I suppose. We know Ralph and Vanellope will become friends, even though they don’t seem to like each other at first. We know that he will help her to race but that there is likely to be some kind of problem, quite possibly a betrayal. We know that both of these rejects will end up being accepted by the people around them and we will all learn an important lesson.
In and of itself, that’s a pretty good storyline for kids and I like it. But it gets better.
What I really like about Wreck-It Ralph is the many ways in which it subverts traditional gender roles, both overtly and subtly.
Firstly, there’s Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the commander of Hero’s Duty. She’s tough, she’s fearless and of course, being voiced by Jane Lynch, she’s freaking hilarious!
Calhoun is also the character who gets the guy at the end, proving not only that strong women like romance too, but also that you can find love in the most surprising of places.
Less overtly, the arcade customers are refreshingly gender non-conforming. We see a girl kick some ass in Hero’s Duty and then when she wants to play Sugar Rush – a game decked out in neon pink, where almost all the avatars are female – she gets sent away by two boys who claim they are going to be playing on it all day.
Best of all, [SPOILER WARNING] when Vanellope discovers that she is actually the princess of Sugar Rush who was transformed into a glitch through an act of sabotage, she rejects her pink dress and her role as ruler of Sugar Rush, suggesting instead that they should have a constitutional democracy and that her green-hoodie-wearing self is the “real” her.
In a world full of “beautiful” princesses with ridiculous waistlines and questionable relationship choices, Wreck-It Ralph is a really refreshing change. For those of us concerned about the “pinkification” of our girls (and of course the inverse “blueification” of boys) there really is a lot worse you could see than Wreck-It Ralph. On top of all this there are the frequent retro gaming references that will go way over your children’s head but will make you chuckle. Wreck-It Ralph is definitely a film we all enjoy.