Monday, February 10, 2014

The Exquisite Sadness of "Wreck-It Ralph"

In lieu of a typical review, there's more that I need to say about my experience of watching Wreck-It Ralph, Disney's 2012 Oscar-nominated animated feature about the titular video-game bad guy (voiced by John C. Reilly) who decides to leave his game and become a hero. As creatively directed by Rich Moore (a veteran of The Simpsons and Futurama) and co-written by Moore and Jennifer Lee (Frozen), the film has more than enough wit and loving nostalgia for arcade games to make this film an absolute blast, cleverly developing the characters and worlds in a way that immerse you in the way that only video games can. It's sweet, it's cute, and with the vocal talents of Reilly (who is so good here, he should do this more often), Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer, the whole endeavor really is winning. This film is just further proof to my theory that a second Disney Renaissance is quietly underway.

But what I really want to discuss about this movie is how, while watching it, I noticed how unbelievably sad the core of the film is.

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Sure, we know where the ending is going, but the existential angst that Ralph feels - always the villain, always rejected by the game's other denizens, always watching hero Fix-It Felix, Jr. win the medal - was still powerful. He lives in a world of pre-determined roles, and even if he were to succeed in his quest of being a hero in another game, he could never do so in his own, and being away from his own game would result in it being unplugged, leaving him and everyone else in it homeless. In Game Central Station (aka the arcade's power strip), Sonic the Hedgehog appears in a short memento mori to helpfully remind everyone that if they die outside of their respective games, they will not be able to respawn. When Ralph arrives in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed  cart-racing game, he meets Vanellope Von Schweetz, a character who's glitchy and, thus, is ostracized from the other racers, and doomed to remain in her game forever. Oh, and the real bad guys in this movie are the maniacal King Candy, who's determined to keep Vanellope out of the races, and a species of destructive insects that have the nightmare-inducing ability to become whatever they eat. There's a lot of sadness inside these characters, and their world is an understandably terrifying and uncertain one.

I don't want to make it sound like this is Disney's version of a Michael Haneke film. There is a happy ending, rest assured. But there was something about all this existential despair that really touched me, and it came in a way that I didn't expect an animated Disney movie to deliver, especially not one about video-game characters. I admit, it probably has more to do with my current quarter-life crisis (if that's even a real thing) than anything else: I'm unemployed, blogging certainly isn't paying the bills, I'm approaching 25 while still considering graduate school and wondering if I can actually accomplish the goals I've set for myself in life (goals I'm not even sure of anymore). So the idea of having a pre-determined place in life that there is no escaping from is kind of terrifying to me, and I totally get how Ralph and Vanellope feel. I get feeling like what I do isn't worthwhile and that it goes unnoticed and unappreciated, and that in the end the things that I want to do and be may be permanently out of reach, that my "programming," if you will, won't allow it. It's a terrifying thought.

I also admit that I'm writing this after having seen last night's episode of Girls, which also struck a personal nerve in it's presentation of the struggles of pursuing a writing career. But I just wanted to write about how when I put in the disc for Wreck-It Ralph, I never expected to find a kindred spirit in a big ol' lug with a penchant for wrecking things and a sassy little girl with candy in her hair. I guess that's just the power of cinema: you can see yourself in the most unexpected of places.

Wreck-It Ralph grade: A

And, apropos of nothing other than the fact that it was the final Best Animated Feature nominee from 2012 that I had not seen, I'd rank that category as follows:

1. Wreck-It Ralph
2. ParaNorman
3. Brave
4. Frankenweenie
5. The Pirates! Band of Misfits

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