17 March 2013

#2LR Too Late Reviews - Wreck-It Ralph

I think that Generation X has finally reached its Forrest Gump stage.  It's not as if this has been immediate, nor can I really say that it happened specifically with Wreck-it Ralph, but I wonder if my parents felt the same way when watching Forrest Gump that I kind of did with Wreck-it Ralph.

As a first disclaimer, I have not seen all of Forrest Gump completely, but I have seen bits and pieces of the movie.  As a second disclaimer, consider the below Spoiler Space for those who have not seen Wreck-it Ralph.

The movie of Wreck-it Ralph begins where a lot of Generation X's most favorite childhood moments reside... in a video-game arcade.  I can remember the joy I had when my parents would drop me and my sister off to our local roller-skating rink that had the eight or nine arcade games along the side... we'd skate ourselves 'til tired, go over and play the video games, grab a pop, skate some more, and as this happened every Friday it was the best way to start a weekend.  We even had our own roller skates so that we wouldn't have to put our feet into skates someone else's yucky feet were in.

Oh, where was I?  Yeah, talking about a movie.  See, Wreck-it Ralph was an "actual" video game in this arcade in the 80s.  However, behind the scenes (Toy Story-like), the video games come to life, and Ralph is sick and tired of always having to wreck it.  So he does a very 90s-like thing about it, which is to go to the support group to not talk about Fight Club.  Zangief is there, as well as Blinky, and a few other villains to tell him that it's not Ralph's fault he's like this, he's just programmed this way.

Ralph semi-accepts it, but then he goes back to his video game to find out that his game's protagonist Felix and all the Weeble-like residents of the building he tries to wreck are throwing an anniversary party.  It's the thirty-year anniversary of their console game (thirty years!  Dang you mean movie for reminding me about the fact that thirty years is in MY rear-view mirror too!), and Ralph was NOT invited.  As Ralph ends up accidentally doing what he does best, one of the Weeble residents starts giving him an earful.  See, this particular Weeble doubles as the Louie DePalma Memorial Jerkwad, and tells Ralph that he'll never win a medal like Felix.

So, Ralph goes out to prove him wrong.  He first gets into a first-person shooter console, but instead of shooting zombies much like "House of the Dead", you shoot bugs instead.  Better yet, this was the mid-00s, where angst was king, so they gave the female protagonist of the video game a cliche-d super-depressing back story.  Ralph goes in, is completely ineffectual in helping the player, and sees the game wind itself down.  Instead of "going back to the start point", he finds out that there's a medal in the top floor and is determined to win it, so he just goes to get it.  In the top floor are a bunch of not-activated enemies, a Dennis Haysbert voice-over general with the victory message, and the medal he so desperately wants.  Instead of having to pump dozen(s) of quarters into the machine like the rest of us had to, he just grabs the medal.

Unfortunately, he botches the escape though.  Just as Felix works out that Ralph went into the FPS game, he shoots right out of it in an escape-pod type thing with a bug in tow, and ends up crash-landing into "Sugar Rush", a racer game that's dripping with soy sauce ('cause it's so clearly based on Japanese, with character designs, palettes, etc.)  It was supposed to be one of those racer games that came out a dime a dozen from the late 90s through the early 00s, but it also managed to include a "mini-game" (which, as I can recall, didn't really get going until a bit later than that, though I also recall that they were present in games such as Crono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII, which were late 90s, and here I go again down memory lane... darn this movie!)  Anyway, Ralph finds a little girl who may as well be feral, who can't seem to get into the racing game.

At this point, Felix fleshes out the risks for all of this.  See, there was a Q-Bert early on in the show, who was very literally out of work, as his arcade game wasn't present anymore.  Since Ralph left, now the "Wreck-It Ralph" console is messed up too, and the owner of the arcade will get rid of non-working games. So, if Ralph doesn't make it back, the whole game and the characters in it will be homeless.  Felix also tells of another game where the main character was jealous of another game taking his place, and he ended up hopping into a different game and fouling it up.  This caused both the main character's game and the new game he hopped into to be scrapped.

As time (and more plot details) go by for Ralph, we find out the bug he kept with him has major repercussions on the game he's in.  We also find out that the little girl is a "bug" who can't actually leave her game like Ralph could leave his, so she's in trouble 'cause the bug can replicate.  And then we find out exactly what has caused this little girl to be feral, and who is behind those reasons.  While this is spoiler space, it was a very delicious progression and I don't want to ruin it.

Spoiler Space over.

Which brings me back to the Forrest Gump discussion.  I am in my mid-30s now, and watching this movie makes me nostalgic for my childhood.  The biggest difference between Wreck-it Ralph's brand of nostalgia and Forrest Gump's nostalgia is that Ralph's nostalgia is one of place and character, while Gump's nostalgia is one of events and movements.  I grew up with many of the characters from Ralph, with the added benefit that I even watched some of the characters grow and change... how many different "Street Fighter" games have come out, and the characters have gone from 8-bit to 16-bit to... well, so many steps now, they're as close to 3-D as they can get without you wearing the glasses.  They're photorealistic.

Gump nostalgia, however, is one of events and movements... there's Vietnam, there's Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.  There's the anti-war movement, the hippies, and ping-pong diplomacy.  There's Watergate.  There's the Run Across America thing.  And there's the theme of connections lost and regained between Gump and Jenny.  Zemeckis crams in as much of the Baby Boomers' shared 60s and 70s experiences in the film, and everyone found a little piece of themselves in the film.

For us Generation X people?  What are we going to point to, Iran-Contra?  Reagan invading Grenada?  The first Iraq War, that "officially" lasted six months and was paid attention to for roughly a month and a half, around Super Bowl time?  You know, you'd have to multiply that short "Desert Storm" by 70 in order to get to the time it took George W. Bush to go into Iraq, "liberate" it, and turn it back over to the Iraqis.

So, as we established, there's a major lack of events going on for us Generation Xers and/or Millennials.  (I'm on the borderline between the two, as I note...).  On the other hand, I'm almost kind of happy that is the case, and that Wreck-It Ralph ends up being one of the movies that sorta kinda in-some-way defines our generation.  In some ways, this is symbolized by the two massive video-game nerds who stake out the "Sugar Rush" machine with a roll of quarters apiece.  See, those events in the 60s and 70s brought together so many people, but also alienated quite a few people too.  Vietnam was a place that more than a few veterans came back from completely changed, and came back to a nation who was intensely unhappy.  The hippy movement did a darned good job of "pissing off the squares".  Watergate broke the trust of an entire nation, who up until that time had never seen illegality used in such a crass manner.

After all, during Forrest Gump itself, Forrest ended up walking across America.  This is important, because Forrest started walking for his own darned reasons.  He attracted followers... who walked for their own darned reasons.  And they never did meet in the middle... no one really started running for Forrest's reasons, which were his disappointment over losing Jenny.  Going back through the rest of those events, it seems that while people were united, it was a unity that could be accomplished even though the people involved did not have to connect with each other.  One hippy could be in the counterculture because he didn't want to go to Vietnam, and the next could be there because he already went to Vietnam, and the next could be there because he or she wanted the drugs, and the next could be there because he or she wanted the sex, and the next could be there because it seemed like the best way to piss off Dad.

Those two videogame nerds, while they could have had different reasons for wanting to play the game, have to come together in order to play the game.  For the next two minutes, or five minutes, or three hours (however long the quarters last!) they're driving around the tracks of "Sugar Rush", intent on beating the other racers and each other.  Through the video game, they've become friends and want to spend time together because of who the other person is, not because the other person happens to share one viewpoint out of dozens with them.

It feels almost as if while video games have alienated some people (not all Xer's / Millennials would identify with Wreck-It Ralph because not all played and enjoyed video games, after all) that the people that would identify with this movie connect in more than just the superficial.  All you needed in order to participate in the Watergate scandal was a television or a newspaper subscription.  On the other hand, Xers and Millennials pretty much were able to choose their own experiences, ranging from video games to 80s/90s television to movies (Star Wars! / Star Trek!) to music to high school and every other niche that wasn't covered.  Whatever you were interested in, if you found like-minded people also interested you were more likely than not to connect with them more deeply than the general events that the Baby Boomers shared as a complete group.

I certainly couldn't go as far as to say that this movie is as culturally significant as Forrest Gump because of the fragmentation of the Xers/Millennials not having as many shared cultural touchstones as the Baby Boomers had.  I can at least say though that Wreck-It Ralph fills one of the many nostalgia niches for the kids of the 80s and 90s, and I do believe that the nostalgia does not hurt the overall movie.

Even on what little watching I did of Forrest Gump, I found it tedious yet exclusionary... the movie almost seemed targeted to an audience that lived through the milestones that it bumped as it ran past.  I do not know if Wreck-It Ralph has the same sort of exclusionary vibe to other generations, but I do know that my children were absolutely enthralled in it, and I loved sharing stories of the video games I played when I was younger to them.  It also seemed that they were interested in those stories... and as I think about the difference between the two movies, I come to this conclusion.  It's so much more interesting to a ten-year-old to tell him or her about video games of the past rather than to have to describe exactly why Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, or why the United States was fighting a war in Vietnam, or even why hippies did what they did.  Ultimately, the Baby Boomers' shared history was one that they didn't exactly ask for.  While Xers/Millennials do have our own moments that resonate when we start telling our children our first-hand history accounts (9/11), it's so much different to be able to show them this movie and describe the fun that we had as children, feeding quarters into a machine and meeting like-minded people at the arcade.

All of this and no analysis about the characters!  I will save that topic for another day, depending on my rewatching it and seeing if there's enough to tease another blog post from this.  Suffice it to say that this movie is so very tied into the nostalgia that it profits off of, and fans of the video game genre would absolutely think rather highly of this game for all the reasons listed above.  If you're not a fan of video games... that's okay, there's still good characters embroiled in a terrific plot that has a good payoff, and there's even an "intermission" where some video game dude explains all the injokes that is actually kind of interesting.  All you have to do is pause the movie, wait five seconds, and the intermission is off and running.

My final rating would be 3.8 on my four-point scale.  I would absolutely watch this again, and I was fully prepared to do so shortly after watching it the first time.  With all the talk of nostalgia and characters, I would say that the best part about this movie is that it feels like an amazing ride, just like the Indiana Jones movies of old.  My only complaint would be that the Louie DePalma Weeble never learned that Ralph was as integral to his existence as Felix is.  There's a few too many people in this world that don't understand this concept, that we're interconnected to everyone including people we may not "like".  Even if only one person learned from the Weeble, it would have been a greater success.


Dan O. said...

Good review Scott. Definitely an original piece of work from Disney animations, even if it does get a bit conventional by the end. However, I still had a great time with this movie and look forward to sequels.

Scott Jamison said...

Quite admittedly, on a rewatching, they managed to fit the pieces of the plot very precisely... I'd be interested to see if the plot of the next movie ends up being tied into such a neat bow.