I’m bad, and that’s good: why Wreck-It Ralph is worth seeing
Wreck-It Ralph introduces the idea that video game characters are like gods, but instead of prayer they require players. Gods disappear when there are no people left who believe in them. Video game characters die when players stop putting quarters into their machines. An “out of order” notice on your arcade cabinet is like being put on death row. To be unplugged and removed from the arcade is to be put down permanently. It takes a while to learn about the central villain of the film, and the reveal is unexpectedly dark. These characters may not necessarily want to hurt anyone; they’re just dealing with the cold challenges of survival. They’re not willing to go gently into that good night. They also deal with recognizably human problems, and many characters meet inside the Tapper machine to drown their sorrows in root beer. Villains meet in the ghosts' area in the middle of the Pac-Man board to discuss the challenges of being the bad guy.You see, these people aren’t their characters. Ralph isn’t a bad guy, it’s just his job to play the bad guy in his particular game. He doesn’t even hate Felix Jr., the hero of their particular game, although he does point out that having a magical hammer given to you by your father makes your job a little easier. Each of these characters merely acts out a pantomime for the benefit of the player, but the other characters of the game Fix-It Felix Jr. dislike Ralph because… well, he’s the bad guy. He breaks things. It never occurs to them that he’s just a person who wouldn’t mind being invited in for a party. During one awkward social encounter Ralph accidentally kills Felix Jr., but that’s okay; as long as you’re in your own game you can come back to life. You only die for real if you venture into someone else’s game and lose your health there, or if your game is powered off. The rules are not unlike the Matrix in this regard. There are many cameos by video game characters, jokes from arcade and gamer culture, and a few clever twists and turns. There are many references to real-world brands. Since the characters move between games by traveling down power cables (in theme park-like trams, no less) they all meet in the middle of this journey in a surge protector. This is Game Central Station, and sometimes characters run to this area to panhandle after their machine is removed. At that point they’re homeless, and have to beg for food. I used to have a Donkey Kong machine in my basement when I was young, and I have no idea what happened to it once we moved out of the house. Wreck-It Ralph made me feel unending waves of guilt for that oversight. The most impressive part of the movie is that it mostly takes place across three fictional games, juggles a large number of characters and plots, and then wraps everything up by the end of the story in a way that makes sense and doesn't seem forced. So many of the characters are just fighting to become a part of their own world in a more meaningful way, and there no bad or good people here. The characters can exclusively be put into two categories: misunderstood or unthinking. Well, one character can arguably be the “bad” guy, but even then I'd argue that we never know what we'd do if backed into that particular corner. While the movie doesn't address the fact that arcades barely exist in the modern world, it was clearly made by people who feel a large amount of affection for video games both new and classic. While some people complain that shows like Big Bang Theory are “nerd black face,” Wreck-It Ralph has much more love for the characters and games it references. The movie is a written in a complete, fulfilling way that you rarely see in children's films, and the voice acting is top-notch. I saw the film with my wife, who knows very little game about games, and my three children aged three through ten. Everyone enjoyed it, which is quite the feat for any entertainment product.