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Sunday, 4 November 2012

"I Can Fix It!": Or, the Magpie's Continuing Kudos to Disney

Hello hello!

Well, I wasn't going to suck up to Disney on purpose. I have an ambivalent attitude towards the company. Sometimes they do things that are very, very right. At other times, they screw up and make 'Latina' characters look white. This time, though, they mostly did things right. Here is my fairly glowing review of "Wreck It Ralph."

Let's start with a couple of caveats.

First, this isn't going to be a plot-based review, it's going to be analytical. I know plenty of people are already flooding the internets with their opinions on this one, so I'll be contributing mine in the most unbiased fashion I can muster.

Second, there will probably be spoilers.

All right. Feel forwarned enough yet? Without further ado, get your geek on, and let's talk about Wreck It Ralph.

Part 1: Geek Wankage Supreme With Pac-Man's Cherries On Top (Literally)

This is pretty self-explanatory. An inherent strength and weakness of Wreck It Ralph is that it is unabashedly targeted to geeks and nerds. With its arcade-game theme, Disney is making no bones about its target audience. This one is for 'us', the geeks, and if you're not at least somewhat familiar with classic arcade games or arcade-style games, you're not going to enjoy this nearly as much. Thankfully, since most people have heard of Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man, Mortal Combat, and the various kill-the-aliens/zombies games, even international audiences are probably going to have something of an idea of what's being referenced. Still, this movie is firmly rooted in pop culture to an extent I'm not sure I've seen before, travelling the line between fan-fiction and homage in a tap-dancing sort of way. I really can't decide whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that it flagrantly played to geek knowledge bases. It exists as a sort of shrine to the place these games have in our consciousness, and I'm going to let the professionals and history weigh in on whether this is a good or bad thing. Keep in mind that the film was in development starting in the nineties, and was only released now. Clearly, times have changed enough for it to be really marketable, and that says something. What, I'm still working on.

Source. I live for Wiki, seriously.

Part 2: Equality Epic Win Time

Okay. Now that I've gotten my first reservation out of the way, let's talk about geek culture a bit. It's fairly egalitarian, but still pretty ethnocentric to 'white' North American culture (though this is definitely improving). The cast for this one is definitely lacking visible diversity, which annoyed me. (That said, the short before the film, "Paperman", actually had not-entirely-whitewashed design elements for the characters, which was a nice little detail.) Most of the classic characters--when they were human at all--tended to be white, which you can't do much about, but the 'amorphous blob' and background characters should have had it mixed up a bit more.

Okay. I've mentioned that, and now I can glow and gush about the feminism epic wins. I don't think I need to mention that Jane Lynch is amazing in this, and an absolute scene stealer. The cast is fairly equal in female/male casting proportions, it passes the Beschdel (two named women must talk to each other about something other than a man) very easily, and best of all, the 'external' character, the gamer who sees some of the action going on--is a little girl. The little red-headed girl wears pink and is equally comfortable playing Hero's Duty, Wreck It Ralph, and Sugar Rush. It's so satisfying to see a tiny change like that, something that reflects the world accurately. There was a tiny bit in which two fat male geeks were rude to her and excluded her from 'Sugar Rush', too, which made me wonder if it was an intentional stab at the sexism in gaming.

Part 3: We Can Has Moral Complexity

I just mentioned the Sgt. Calhoun character, and I will again. She bears a second look just to emphasize that she's an ass-kicking woman who isn't made into either a man (her metaphors are hilariously feminine, and she still has a heart) or a mom by the end of the movie. I can't even tell you how happy that made me. Like Vanillope, Calhoun is sassy, and we lose nothing by two witty women in our main cast. Throw in an unexpected romantic path, and you have yet another proof that yes, there is hope for Hollywood after all.

Vanellope von Schweetz is an equal triumph; Sarah Silverman is very Sarah Silverman-y, though, and it's hard to get past. Even without that, the fact remains that this movie has a character with a 'disability', who is almost explicitly treated as a 'special needs' person, and referred to as a 'glitch'. Sure, the glitch turns out to be a superpower, and we have to deduct a half-point for that. Still, the fact that Vanellope is bullied and excluded by the other girls in a very realistic way was actually surprisingly moving.

Finally, I'm going to mention that the eponymous character, Ralph, is the one and only character I've seen in an 'accepting your place in the world' movie who didn't make me want to stab my eyeballs out with forks. I can't really compliment John C. Reilly's performance enough, but the way he stays true to the character's hopefulness while giving Ralph both bitter anger and darkness is brilliant. As well, the candy-car smashing scene that makes Vanellope cry might be one of the saddest fucking things I've seen in a while. I admit it, I teared up in the theatre.

Source. This is actually less sad than what happens when Ralph lies to Vanellope and disappoints her. LESS SAD.

Conclusion: Prognosis is Positive

I said I was going to be balanced, but I have to admit, for its flaws, this movie really swept me up. Sure, it speaks to 'my' subculture, but it also has a really solid story. The Candy Rush set is delightfully rich and well-imagined, to the extent that I was craving candy for the rest of the night. The blended elements are strange and creative enough to make things work. They managed to make unusual, original characters work in a strangely fused world. It's somewhat bogged down by referentials, but it's such a love song to video games that the references really make the movie. I can nitpick further on the equality issues and the feminism, frankly, but the rest of the implementation was very solid. The pacing is excellent, and designs and lighting really fit. There is a lot of love in the small details of this movie. It's a solid 9 out of 10 stars/rings/coins/mushrooms in my book. Stop reading my blog and go buy a lizard-loving ticket, you electric donkey-bottomed fools. Seriously. This is not a film you want to miss.


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