Tag: Wreck-It Ralph

From the Vault: Stubborn Stinkbrain

I’m working on overcoming a severe bout of depression. Thank you for being patient. While I keep making steps forward, I continue putting effort into being less of a “selfish diaper-baby” as Ralph would put it. And with a bunch of new Enforcers joining the fold, I have to remind myself that quitting what I love is not the answer to anything. So it’s time this post came back.


Courtesy Disney

I used to be really, really good at quitting.

I can think of several instances in my past where I would be attempting something, run into the first real obstacle, and just give up. I would avoid putting myself in positions where I would have to deal with any major difficulties or consequences. I hate to admit it, but I was something of a coward. While I still remain afraid of screwing up, letting people down, or hurting the feelings of those I care about, I’ve learned that giving up before all alternatives are exhausted yields only more doubt, disappointment, and is generally less favorable than making legitimate efforts.

It feels a bit odd for me to talk about hardships and difficulties when I’m a white cis male in the first world, which is about as privileged as you can get. I’m not really wanting for food, shelter, clothing, or any of the essentials a human being needs. It should be an easy life for me. I’m choosing to make it more difficult by involving myself in the things I choose to be involved in, and in that I am engineering my own defeats. And yet, I know if I simply enjoy my privileges and do not take steps to share what I can with the world around me, I am no better than a day-trader on Wall Street or a corrupt corporate executive. So I try to make the world a better place, and sometimes, the world seems determined to remain terrible.

Case in point: I’ve made the choice to be an Enforcer, part of the PAX volunteer staff, and by extension, I am tangentially connected to Penny Arcade and its creators. Mike (“Gabe”) has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth when it comes to sensitive issues, and this was the case yesterday. He made a comment that was offensive to the transgender community, and the resulting exchange has caused people to call for PAX boycotts and, if I understand the situation correctly, several of my fellow Enforcers have quit in a show of solidarity with those offended by Mike’s comment. They more than likely see Mike’s apology and exchange with Sophie Prell as half-hearted or perfunctory or some other word for insincere.

I for one am willing to give Mike the benefit of the doubt. As I see it, the possibilities are that he makes comments that he thinks are funny and only occasionally gets it right; he puts his foot in his mouth more often than not by tweeting before he thinks; or he’s a deplorable human being through and through. What I have seen and heard of the man leads me to believe that the first two cases are the most likely. Considering his brand is one that is mostly comedic, the first is the logical conclusion for me to draw. Penny Arcade has done a lot for the gaming community, children’s charities, and a more inclusive Internet in general; why would I want to disassociate from that?

Don’t get me wrong. Anybody who feels strongly enough to quit or boycott has my understanding. Not everybody is wired the way I am. And, to be frank, I could be wired completely wrong. I’m willing to consider and even accept that, if presented with sufficient evidence.

But I refuse, to the core of my being, to quit now. Not when I can try to change things for the better.

I know that I can’t change people who don’t want to change. And I know that my words and actions may have zero effect on the people or world around me in general. I accept that. What I will not accept is the idea that I cannot change anything at all on an individual level. I don’t want to muck around with people’s brains to make them what I would consider “better” – each individual is entitled to be and think and feel however they want to be and think and feel. I have no claim to change things within another person’s being by force. That isn’t right.

All I can do, all I want to do, is be the best human individual I can be, engage as often as possible in what I consider to be better behavior, exemplify compassion and understanding for my fellow human beings, and do what I can, small as it may be, to make the world around me a better place. Every person deserves to be treated with respect, and the best way for me to get that idea into the heads of others is to be as respectful as I can with everyone around me, especially strangers. As an Enforcer, I meet thousands of strangers. This, to me, is an excellent way to ensure that I am doing as much as possible to be the change I want to see in the world. I may affect even more if I can get more writing off the ground; time will tell on that score.

But I’m not going to quit either, I’m not going to quit giving people the benefit of the doubt, I’m not going to quit being me, even if I can be overly optimistic and occasionally gullible and something of a stubborn, tactless, somewhat arrogant stinkbrain from time to time.

This is who I am. This is who I choose to be.

Take it or leave it.

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Courtesy Disney

It’s only recently that video games have come into their own in terms of storytelling. Certainly there have been some diamonds in the rough, but back when that form of entertainment was just getting started, story would at times extend only as far as the mechanics of the game. “Shoot the invaders.” “Defend the cities from annihilation.” “Eat pills, avoid ghosts.” “Save the girl from the ape.” That sort of thing. And in the fictional game Fix-It Felix, Jr., the designated villain, the Wreck-It Ralph for whom this film is named, sums up the story in one sentence: “I’M GONNA WRECK IT!”

Courtesy Disney

‘It’, in the context of the game, is the apartments built by the people of Niceland on what was once Ralph’s home. He wrecks the building, and the player of the game, controlling Fix-It Felix, Jr., fixes it. This has been going on for around 30 years, Ralph figures, every time a kid drops a quarter into the game. And now, Ralph wants to wreck something else: the way things are. Tired of being the bad guy all the time (despite the admonition of his support group that being bad is, in a way, good), he sets off through the arcade’s surge protectors and electrical cords to the shooter Hero’s Duty, to earn the sort of medal never given to bad guys like him. But what becomes of his game without its villain? What effect does he have on Hero’s Duty and, later, the saccharine kart racer Sugar Rush? And if your very nature, your very programming is to wreck things, can you really be heroic?

Parallels can be drawn between this movie and the seminal Pixar entry Toy Story: both involve playthings that are self-aware and define their worlds around the world outside inhabited by us human beings. Wreck-It Ralph goes a step further as it becomes clear that these characters have programming that they cannot escape. Ralph is a chaotic, destructive force by nature; Felix is a stand-up, white-bread, do-gooder no matter what; Sergeant Calhoun kicks ass and takes no prisoners; Vanellope von Schweetz can’t help but be a mix of annoying and endearing. Given this knowledge, it may seem on the surface that Ralph’s quest is doomed to fail, but the complexity of the character means that he’s just stubborn enough to go through with it despite the warnings and cautionary tales all around him.

Courtesy Disney

One of the things you may not expect about Wreck-It Ralph is that, for all of its surprise cameos and wonderful send-up moments, it is ultimately about not just identity, but truth. The truth, for example, is that there is no Fix-It Felix, Jr without Wreck-It Ralph, no matter how much the Nicelanders may fear or despise him. I can think of more examples, but I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory, so I will say that just as much as Toy Story is about the inevitability of time, Wall-E examines the lengths to which we go when we love each other, and Up deals with the human capacity for ongoing adventure, Wreck-It Ralph tackles the pursuit of personal truth in each of us. The video game setting is perfect for this: just like Ralph feels he can’t escape his programming, we often feel we can’t escape our own circumstances.

This is, of course, all relevant in hindsight, but don’t let the deeper or broader meanings of the film put you off from taking your kids to see it, or seeing it yourself. Wreck-It Ralph moves very well without sparing story points, even if at times some of the dialog can get a bit expository. The fact that it’s being delivered by a talented and well-chosen cast really helps in this regard. John C. Reilly is no stranger to hapless guys who get in over their heads (Chicago, among others) and gives Ralph enough charm to make him likable without detracting from the inherent streak of destructiveness that’s right there in his name, while Jack McBrayer conveys the goodness of heart necessary for a tireless fixer like Felix while betraying some hidden depths of his own (“Why do I fix everything I touch??”). Sergeant Calhoun is uncompromising, even when it comes to herself, and as much as she might be representational or a parody of characters from Gears of War or something, Jane Lynch makes her come to life as far more than just an armored pin-up. And as much as some may not like Sarah Silverman, her normal attitude disappears into Vanellope, and all we see is a glitchy little girl with big dreams.

Courtesy Disney
“I’m bad, and that’s good.
“I will never be good, and that’s not bad.
“There’s nobody I’d rather be than me.”

We are talking about a Disney movie, so while it takes off from an interesting premise and has plenty of depth and jokes to pull in the grown-ups, there is a through-line of identity and independence that’s pretty much the hallmark of Disney. However, the message it conveys is still relevant, and having Ralph be the main vehicle for it instead of a princess is an interesting change. That said, Calhoun and Vanellope are both solid female characters, ensuring there is literally something for everyone. With top-notch animation, fantastic set pieces, and yes, a slew of great send-ups for both my generation and those coming into gaming recently, Wreck-It Ralph is easily on par with the aforementioned Pixar entries.

Stuff I Liked: Plenty of cameos and shout-outs for fans of video games old and new. The consistency of characters’ animations, based mostly on their games. The use of the surge protector as “Game Central Station” complete with discernible sockets in the place of platforms & tunnels.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: As necessary as it was, the frequency with which the story had to stop to explain another aspect of the rules by which these characters exist bothered me a bit. It’s a minor nitpick, as the world-building worked and the story was still quite effective, but it’s the only one that really sticks out in my head.
Stuff I Loved: All four leads are fantastic, well-rounded, strong, and brilliantly voiced characters. The story works on multiple levels without any of the aforementioned expository dialog weighing it down. And is it odd that I want to play all of the games we saw in the film now?

Bottom Line: Wreck-It Ralph is a very well-balanced story that has just enough positive message conveyance for kids as well as jokes and moments of contemplation for adults, all wrapped up in an appealing retro arcade aesthetic that remains consistent and charming throughout. It’s worth your time to check out, even if you don’t have kids, and especially if you’re a kid at heart.

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