Film Review – Wreck-It Ralph

Disney's newest animated feature Wreck-It Ralph is a tip of the cap to viewers who have grown up playing video games. Longtime gamers will recognize several of their classic favourites in the opening moments of the film, including Q*bert, Pac-Man, Ryu and Ken of Street Fighter II fame, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

But aside from nostalgic value, does Wreck-It Ralph offer anything worth watching?

What it's about:The film stars John C. Reilly as Ralph, the villain of the (fictional) arcade game, "Fix-It Felix." Day after day, Ralph performs his expected in-game task of "wrecking" the apartment building, only to have Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) come along and fix up the mess, with Ralph getting tossed aside as the "bad-guy." At the end of the day, after the lights in the arcade go off, Ralph feels alone. He gets tired of Felix getting all the recognition, while he remains an outcast—an unwelcome villain in the company of good guys.

Ralph, a nice guy at heart, wants to be a hero. He decides to leave the confines of his video-world and begins venturing into other games in the arcade via Game Central Station (aka the power bar in the arcade that all the games are plugged into). Along the way he meets Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from the fictional shooter game "Hero's Duty" and Vanellope von Schweetz of the also fictional racer title "Sugar Rush." It's a story about wanting to be a hero and finding friends along the way, essentially.

Disclaimers: None worth mentioning. I guess if Sergeant Calhoun's form-fitting body armour offends you, there's that. But in terms of objectionable content, it's pretty tame.

Technical notes: With a decent cast and good-looking visuals from the trailer, Wreck-It Ralph also brings an interesting concept to the theatre, buoyed especially by the legions of video game lovers clamouring for a glimpse of the favourite game characters. However, if you're walking into Wreck-It Ralph expecting the latest Pixar classic, prepare to be greatly disappointed. Not only is the film not produced by Pixar (rather, by Walt Disney Animation Studios), but it fails to live up to the same comedic screenplay successes that moviegoers have come to expect based on films like Toy Story 3, WALL-E and Up in recent years.

There are enough laughs to keep both children and adult viewers entertained, but it does seem second-tier stuff when compared to works of Pixar. Also, the first half is definitely stronger than the second, with the latter feeling somewhat sluggishly-paced at times. But all technical and story-related gripes aside, there's actually some pretty important thematic elements going on.

Deeper meanings and greater gleanings: If you've seen any trailers for Wreck-It Ralph, you've likely seen the part where Ralph sits in on a "Bad-guy support group," where Zangief (also of Street Fighter II) tells him through a thick Russian accent, "Just because you're a bad-guy…this does not make you [a] bad guy."

And in essence, this is the depth of Wreck-It Ralph. Ralph feels alienated by the people he's surrounded by every single day. Why? Because they refuse to see him for the person he really is. Just because he's the "villain" of the arcade game, he's still a really nice guy—his identity is greater than that of the label that he's been given.

Though the movie never goes as deep as we could take it, there's the obvious need for us as Christians to take this type of message seriously. How often do we lose sight of the fact that there are real people behind the labels with which we often brand them? Whether it's Muslims, Mormons, atheists, homosexuals, fundamentalists, or [insert people group with whom you disagree], we're often quite willing to forget that people are people first and foremost.

It's this kind of small-minded thinking, this kind of dismissive labeling that, I would argue, is precisely what causes much of the suffering, bickering and senseless conflict that occurs in the world today. As soon as our labels replace the people to whom they refer, the actual human being becomes expendable—it's easier to hate a "Muslim" than it is to hate "Amir, loving husband and father of three children." It's easier to hate a "gay guy" than it is to hate "Tom, son of John and Jane, with three brothers and sisters."

And treating human beings in such dismissive, "us-against-them" terms is simply unacceptable. Not that we can't stick to our convictions and speak out about the things we think are wrong—but there's got to be a way we can do that without drawing a line in the sand and spitting on those who stand on the other side of it.

Obviously, Wreck-It Ralph is not a movie about how we treat our Muslim or homosexual neighbours—it is Rated-G, after all. But what we see in Wreck-It Ralph speaks volumes about how we can all-too-easily fail to recognize the humanity within the individuals we disagree with, or choose not to associate with. And as self-described "Evangelicals," I think it comes with the territory.

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About the author

Rob Horsley is the former Managing Editor of ChristianWeek.