Synopsis: In an arcade where video game characters are sentient and have lives outside their games, Wreck-It-Ralph is the villain of the game Fix-It-Felix who doesn’t get any respect for doing his job and is treated like an outcast by the NPCs of his game world. Wanting to change his life and become a “good guy” Ralph sets out to become a hero in other game worlds and ends up meeting a “glitch” named Penelope who is also an outcast, and together the two set out change their respective situations.
Disney Animated canon is always interesting to watch and the formula for each of their films usually manages to delight and deliver on solid storytelling and innocent childhood wonder. Of course as with any formula there are times where it gets a bit repetitive and needs to be shaken up every now and then. Wreck-It-Ralph is pretty true to the magic formula but it does enough things differently to leave it’s own mark for better or worse. The film does some pretty neat things with it’s premise as a lot of classic video game characters make cameos and a few classic video game tropes are played with or used in a way that would make sense if used by actual people.
Of course cool premise aside, the real heart and soul of the film lies in it’s protagonist Ralph and his journey as a character. His job as his game world’s villain is a pretty important job but he’s frequently treated like dirt by most of his coworkers (and the fact that the backstory of the game involved part of his home being demolished to make theirs doesn’t help things) and while he gets along with Felix himself fairly well, the latter doesn’t really understand his situation. Thus it’s only natural that he would want to live life on the other side of things as the good guy and he sets out to accomplish that. In doing so he encounters Penelope who much like him is an outcast in her own world and though the two clash at first they soon relate to one another and in a nice subversion of the usual obligatory Disney romance between lead characters, form a sibling like bond (though the age difference is likely what spared us this time around) and the two get a nice dynamic going on between them.
As the film goes on Ralph is eventually presented with the chance to get what he wants but at the expense of Penelope’s dreams, even if he’s convinced it’s for her own good at the time. So when he does finally get his reward he realizes that it wasn’t worth the people he had to let down to get there. As the film head towards its climax he acknowledges that in the end he can only really be himself and even if he has to continue playing the role of the bad guy, so long as there’s someone out there who accepts him he’ll be fine in the end and he does eventually get the respect that he deserves.
The film’s message ultimate message about being yourself even when the world at large won’t acknowledge you is a strong one and is by far its best point. It helps to provide a really nice parallel between Ralph and the main villain Turbo where both want to be acknowledged but where Ralph isn’t willingly to step over the people that matter to him to get there, Turbo will lie, cheat and murder in order to stay in the spotlight which is what ultimately destroys him (and in a surprisingly gruesome manner by Disney film standards). The film also deserves praise for using Fix-It-Felix’s character fairly well by not making him antagonistic as would be typically expected and the movie’s side plot about him trying to track down Ralph on his journey does eventually lead to him getting to see the world from Ralph’s perspective and helping him get the acknowledgement he deserves for his job.
However while the film does many positive subversions and gets its theme down right it does suffer from a few problems. The romance between Felix and another character Callahan while somewhat funny is incredibly forced and it takes away from some of the time that could have been spent further highlighting Felix’s need to see what Ralph’s life is like on a regular basis. Additionally the film is also occasionally bogged down with some toilet bowl humor that feels like it didn’t need to be there and keeps the film from being as adult as it could have been despite having a fairly mature theme. (though the slight jab at Call of Duty was much appreciated).
Wreck-It-Ralph is a solid entry in the Disney animated canon universe and while it doesn’t quite spin the formula in the way it could have it does enough things differently and well enough that it can be easily forgiven. The film reminds us that in the end there’s no one we should rather be than ourselves and even if we may not always get appreciation for that if we can live with who we are, we’ll be okay in the end.