Sunday, November 4, 2012
Wreck-It Ralph: Immigration, Eminent Domain & True Democracy
Kind of funny to consider that the last time I went on about a Disney-produced film taking on prescient socio-political issues by way of childhood playthings, it was at the hands of animation stalwarts, PIXAR whose films have continued to break box office records, conventions, and deliver on multiple fronts. And to add this to how 2012 has played itself out, it's also amusing to see these guys, and the more traditional Disney studios seemingly switch roles as Brave seemed more comfortable in continuing the ever changing Princess narrative. So in comes 's irresistibly charming Wreck-It Ralph, a film that not only makes a near-perfect play for this generation's Toy Story, but also carries within it, a bold set of statements regarding a changing, more aware American narrative. This couldn't be more clear from the opening scenes in which we learn of our title "bad guy", and the circumstances surrounding nearly thirty years of living in the shadow of video game hero, Fix-It Felix.
As the voice of John C. Reilly's Ralph, his hulking brute physique, and tendency toward violence toward the buildings within the game world he lives in is based on the limited programming of the era, but it wasn't without reason. The narration and flashbacks establish immediately that before Felix and the clean-cut, seemingly well-to-do citizenry of this world came about, Ralph was living on the land where this building now stands. Bullied off, and doomed to live in a literal dump, and understandably upset Ralph then took it upon himself to rebel, thereby wrecking this structure on a regular basis. And this ensuing battle between the estranged Ralph, and the ever persistent "fixing" of Felix, to the rejoicing of the diminutive citizenry continued on for decades, leading to an upcoming 30th anniversary of the game's existence. No small feat for a game largely surrounded by newer, flashier machines. ( A point which we'll get back to shortly)
So when the time comes, and Ralph wishes to be at the very least acknowledged for his role in the game's history, he is practically ignored at an anniversary party--even as Felix himself basks in the limelight, he too cannot help but hope Ralph remains in his "predestined" place. Cake metaphor goes even further to display his own tiny shred of hope that what he does serves a greater purpose. The game's mayor, and party attendees seem content in knowing that he live forever as an outsider, even as they neglect that without him, there is no game. So when Ralph takes it upon himself to break protocol, and escape the confines of his machine in hopes of seeking another way of attaining adulation and respect amongst the elite, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to begin putting the pieces together as his first attempt toward his goal, is to enter a hyper-violent first person shooter in the hopes of winning a medal. Proof that he himself is capable of respect in his home, he attempts to brave the horrors of realistic combat in a futuristic alien environment. Which is where he acquaints himself with Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, a rough and ready soldier, a hardened warrior with a hidden past. Mere moments in, Ralph finds himself beyond over his head, but still figuring a shortcut toward his goal.
It isn't long after this, when Ralph finds himself within the colorful realm of the chibi-racer Sugar Rush, where he meets his match in Vanellope von Schweetz, a perky underdog with the distinction of being dubbed a "glitch". (an outsider feared for what she could mean to the game as a whole) Within the kingdom of Sugar Rush, the local monarch in the form of King Candy is seen as a befuddled, happy old chap with a seemingly benevolent nature, save for his concern over Vanellope, who is seen as something that could mean certain doom for a game's existence in the arcade. Sequestered to an unknown section of the game, Vanellope intends to race no matter what which perfectly mirrors the dilemma of Ralph, making them perfectly unlikely foils to a seemingly rigged pyramid.
This is made all the more explicit after Ralph's disappearance from his game renders his once-dismissive compatriots useless, forcing the game to be deemed "out of order".--[IE- Irrelevant]
So what does this all add up to in the end? I don't find it out of the realm of possibility that Wreck-It Ralph joins Cloud Atlas in this season's stories regarding the changing face of class, and the ever-present reality of eminent domain, meaning the role of a society's unseen, often those native to developing nations who are often politicized in a negative light in hopes of maintaining a currently popular reality. Ralph and Vanellope, natives to their respective worlds, find themselves displaced, and often ignored by those in power. Both eager to prove their mettle and value to the group, their mutual arcs reflect an idle worship of a system they themselves have surrendered to. Ralph moreso than Vanellope, who stands proudly alongside many of her own imperfections. So when he finds himself in his greatest inner conflict, it is within the faith of another with similar problems does Ralph find redemption beyond what the current paradigm could possibly reward. While so many in the worlds of these games adhere to an invisible order that resembles a top-down monarchy, it is Ralph and Vanellope's divergence that offers up a more realistic vision of the societies they inhabit.
So when we look at the clean-cut, blue eyed representation of infrastructure in Fix-It Felix, we are given a peek into privilege at a loss to understand a larger world view. His story, while endlessly perky, and helpful, is only so, like Ralph, due to his programmed fate. He is merely following protocol without question, to the adulation of the mayor, and clearly rich citizenry. Never considering that without Ralph, he is essentially useless. And as a bonus, his schoolboy yen for Calhoun is particularly suspect when considering the American narrative in regards to the privileged throughout history. Tying this back to Ralph's frightening tour within Hero's Duty, and the immigration ( and perhaps even the gentrification of so-called "lower" classes) issue, everything makes pointed, brutal sense.
When one considers the wacky, pixel-heavy world of Wreck-It Ralph, one may be able to see past the gloss to find themselves thinking a little more about where we as a nation are today, and perhaps once and for all consider how we all arrived at this point. And hopefully, those who do may consider a greater narrative that is perhaps more human than any play at generational familiarity a movie can be.