Wreck-It Ralph’s nifty shades of grey

Apologies for the title but the opportunity to make puns linking worldwide-craze erotica and children’s animations comes along far too rarely. What it actually refers to though are the various shades of grey separating good and evil in the characters of Wreck-It Ralph. This is important in any film, but to blur the boundaries so well in one which is targeted towards a young audience audience is particularly pertinent, and gives us hope that the tides might be changing.

It’s good to write this knowing that this isn’t the only film to pose such a dilemma for its audience either. Skyfall – Javier Bardem’s captivating performance aside – didn’t give us too much reason to root for the villain, though what it certainly did do was to encourage questions of the protagonists, M in particular. The Dark Knight Rises, too, put Bane at an extreme end of the political spectrum, with Catwoman also providing the warning to Batman that he and his friends would ‘wonder how they could live so rich and leave so little for the rest of us’. And even J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek allowed us to feel some sort of empathy with Spock-hating baddie Nero by drawing strong parallels in the unfortunate history of the two.

Considering the grand scale of these three examples – which might be said to fall into a new kind of ‘intellectual blockbuster’ sub-genre – it’s encouraging. After all, the little, independent films will take care of themselves, and are often the front-runners on many new ideas in film, and so characterisation beyond a two-dimensional hero or villain is pretty much guaranteed for these releases, and therefore give us much less reason to worry about them.

The issue is first presented during the support group meeting at the beginning of Wreck-It Ralph, and the recited motto only serves to bring it home. It’s the idea – which is the premise of the film itself of course – that a character branded as “bad” can either become good, or provide service which is ultimately positive to the balance of the world. Therefore the film, from this point onwards, cleverly plays with the idea of “baddies” versus “goodies” (as found in traditional Disney films or computer games) as well as enhancing and enriching this experience with a deeper layer of good-versus-bad analysis via the motives of its characters.

Funnily enough, it’s not just Ralph who struggles with this internal dilemma, as the majority of the main characters appear to suffer from the same issue. And not only that, but what’s even better is that they’re presented to the audience in such a confused and contrasting way – particularly when they are each introduced to us – as to render it difficult to judge which in fact they actually are. Ralph, Vanellope, King Candy, Calhoun and Felix all have their archetypal influences but still appear to be conflicted throughout with various matters; their character, their position in the gaming world and with their future.

Though the genre and target audience does necessitate a clear enough distinction as to who is “on Ralph’s side” and who is against him by the end, so to speak, the arguments presented beforehand don’t leave an obvious conclusion as to the goodness or badness of any one character. Even once particular evil plots are revealed, the parallels – just as in Star Trek – to the desires and ambitions of our good bad-guy Ralph become staggeringly similar.

And so even once all is said and done, this is a lot more than simply a game of lies and reveals. Once the truth comes out, the mystery remains. And that’s one of the features that helps make Wreck-It Ralph such an excellent film for all ages. It borrows heavily from Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Shrek and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but at the same time it’s very much its own creation. The biggest compliment to give it is to say that it feels like a Pixar film (despite being more Disney), and belongs alongside the others.

As Ralph restates as he plummets through the sky later on: “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no-one I’d rather be than me.”

As it happens, Ralph is perhaps the one character who is undeniably good. He understands duty and sacrifice as much as any other person. And he grows to accept who he is, which incidentally is not a bad message for any young child watching to take away. With references to Alice in Wonderland, The Incredible Hulk, Alien and a whole load of gaming nods too, this is as much of a film for adults as it is for kids – and that simply can’t be a bad thing.

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