I’m bad, and that’s good.
I will never be good, and that’s not bad.
There is no one I’d rather be than me.
—Bad-Anon Bad Guy Affirmation from Wreck-It Ralph.
I used to do movie reviews on various Internet places more often than I do now. Usually, big commercial Hollywood stuff, because my patience for films that are deliberately arty and/or “eat-your-vegetables” is rather low. However, for the past little while, I’ve been living in a small town in continental Europe [the pic above is strictly for visual trolling purposes] where the local language is, duh, not English, and unfortunately the movies in our little local cinema tend to be dubbed, not subtitled. Now, I understand the local language, but not at “live interpreter quality” level, meaning that I very easily miss puns and subtle word play and srs philosphizing, so I’ve become shy about reviewing in-theatre movies—-for exactly which reason I make it a point to continue watching them in a setting where I can’t just turn the English track on as I can with e.g. a DVD rental.
But I’m going to hesitantly try another one now: Wreck-It Ralph, a recent Disney (yes, I know, I KNOW) animation product. So, in a nutshell, if Valar had thumbs (why would you assume we would when your probably correctly guessed we were telekinetic?), I’d give it two unbearably-brightly-glowing thumbs up. And maybe a leaf or two of lost Telperion.
I won’t for the most part focus on what you already know. As you could tell from the trailers, which were all over the place, even here, it’s chock-full of video game and candy references at pretty much every single shot. And, yes, product placements. Very careful and clever ones. But: they managed not to allow the plot to be strongly affected by it. The references were very much just excellent set dressing for a quantity of simple but well-written plot and dialogue.
And the movie is not complicated, either. It’s very much a family, light-entertainment sort of movie. As is normal in this genre, it has a nice little moral Message. You could even call it trite or cliché. But even a movie with a trite message can be well done, if the trite message is still a good message, and the writing is thoughtful. As it is in Wreck-It Ralph.
As from the trailer, the movie is set in an arcade containing a variety of games from various eras, some classic pixelated games, some new-fangled 3D first person shooters. All of the machines are plugged into a single big power bar at the back of the room. When closing time happens at the arcade, the game characters have a chance to kick back, relax, and interact with their neighbours via the power bar, “Game Central Station”, as long as they’re back on set in the morning for the new customers.
Therein lies the major threat. The characters cannot afford deviation, especially the older games—-deviation signals “malfunction” to the human world, and malfunction even of a beloved game is not worth repairing when the game is 30 years old. Since players expect arcade games and game characters to have specific roles, it means that these characters live under a tyranny of both full and inescapable employment. EVERYONE. MUST. COMPLY. It’s life or death, not only for you, but for all your neighbours.
So it is not at all surprising that the pressure and therefore habit of staying in character “on stage” has a strong effect on life and psychology “off stage”. Ralph, the title character, is the villain of his own game, and although he neither wrecks nor wants to wreck things after work, his neighbours, the side characters and hero Fixit Felix, have made it very clear that he is not really welcome in their company. As his work for their very lives is to traumatize them by day, they remain traumatized by his presence at night.
And we see by the existence of the Bad-Anon support network that this effect holds throughout the arcade. Even more so: playing the villain and never the hero is a dehumanizing weight on the psychology of any person. They may be co-stars of their shows, and they may be in the limelight, but they are not of the limelight. That was what made the wording of the Bad Guy Affirmation so interesting to me. On the surface, it is a surprisingly meek (for villain characters) acceptance of their “essential”/programmed natures and their inescapable plight, but as the movie progresses, Ralph turns it into a true affirmation: that he is under no obligation to define his own identity by how others see him. Yes, he needs the acceptance of others, and yes, the situation is unfair (being imposed by the external world). But to come to this realization, he still needed to revolt.
Ralph is also faced with the contrast between being the villain co-star, and never being permitted to be seen at all. Even Fixit Felix, a character locked mentally into his privilege and advantages, has a moment of growth when he realizes that it is not always good to build and repair things.
Emotionally, I felt quite fulfilled as movies go, when I left the theatre, even though I missed joke or three, judging by the audience laughter of which I could not partake. For a lot of reasons, RL and virtual, Ralph’s character resonated quite deeply with me.
I couldn’t tell you much about whether Sarah Silverman did well here, because I didn’t hear her! The dubbers were OK, actually, but I think that Jane Lynch would have definitely been funnier. Even the locals would prefer English with subtitles for Hollywood movies—-grocery store tabloids have no shortage of American star gossip—-but they ain’t getting it any time soon.
Hopefully, I will not like the next movie I see, so I can do a satisfyingly negative deconstruction, simply to balance out the positivity in this review, heh.