The premise of Wreck-it Ralph is an admirable one: A “bad guy” of a video arcade game is tired of being ostracized and living alone in the dump and wants to be a “good guy.” The problem is that in Rich Moore’s film, the difference between good and bad is not clear and being bad is shown to have its necessary place in the video world. This is stated most clearly when Ralph goes to a twelve-step meeting for video villains and is taught to say: “I am bad and that's good. I will never be good and that's not bad. There is no one I would rather be than me.” This logical conclusion to the self-esteem teaching that affirms every person without reference to a true measure of what is good or what is bad leaves us confused. This confusion lasts throughout the film as Ralph attempts to be a hero worthy of a medal rather than a villain.
The ingenious creation of a world of video characters who can travel down electrical cords to a central station in a power strip and live lives outside of their programing is fascinating. The humor is available for both children and adults and the action is nonstop. The interplay of the variety of games and their unique characters is well developed. Along with Ralph (voice by John C. Reilly) who wrecks the apartment building and Fix-it Felix (Jack McBrayer) who repairs it, we also have the voluptuous soldier Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and the social misfit who has a programming glitch Vanellope (Sarah Silverman).
The philosophical and ethical basis on which Wreck-it Ralph rests is creatively presented but confusing. That there is good in the worst of us and bad in the best of us is something adults can understand. But to affirm that being bad is good is a confusing message for children. This is seen in an obvious way when in the twelve-step meeting Satan rebrands himself with an exotic pronunciation of his name. But as Shakespeare noted, a “rose by any other name would smell as sweet” and a villain by any other name is still destructive. To recognize and reject bad choices and behaviors is a skill all children and adults must learn if we are to survive and live together wisely and ethically in this world.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Do you believe that the philosophical basis on which a cartoon is based is missed by a child viewing it, or does it become a part of their world-view on a subliminal basis? Why do you answer as you do?
2. The conclusion of the film in which it becomes obvious that Ralph is needed to wreck the building so that Felix’s video game players can fix it creates a place for Ralph within the game’s social group. Recognizing that the game does not work without Ralph, he is now appreciated. This solution implies that being bad is somehow good. Do you believe that evil is somehow necessary in the real world? Why or why not?
3. Video games have often been critiqued for the vicarious violence they allow the player to experience. Do you think we should allow children to play violent video games? Are games in which players kill humans acceptable? Why do you answer as you do?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.