This weekend for movie night, we watched Wreck-It Ralph. the kids and I had seen the movie several times, but this was the first time my wife had seen it. The kids and I really liked the movie. My wife said it wasn’t bad, but that it didn’t seem to be about anything.
That got me thinking, what was it really about? Was there really a message and what could that be? Now understand that we had this conversation late at night, and that we were already in bed when I started thinking about this. I say this because I am going to propose something that I don’t think was intentional, but it would be pretty interesting if that is what they meant.
Warning Spoilers Ahead
The story of Wreck-It Ralph is the story of “A video game villain who wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.” (Note that is right from IMDB.) he wreaks havoc in the arcade around him. There is a historical precedence within this world for not doing exactly what he is trying to do, and represented by the question, “Your not going Turbo are you?”
I think the story was intended to convey the message, happiness is about what you make of what you have, and not what you don’t have. However, what also comes across sounds more like, “You will stay in your place and be happy about it. Because if you don’t you will ruin it for all of us.” Turbo is set up as the example and (here are the spoilers that I was talking about) and in the end, it is him who is causing the unhappiness and problems in yet another world.
Turbo is portrayed as the bad guy here, but he had been the hero of his own game. When he was replaced, and wanted to better himself (not be replaced) he screwed it up for another game world as well.
So yes, he made a mistake. His mistake, in the most basic sense, was trying to better himself. It was seen as dangerous. It was seen as harmful. And so rules were made and a taboo was created that had neighbor spying on neighbor so that no one would ever try something like that again. And so when he tried to do it again, the only way that he could make it work was to silence everyone around him. He had to make sure that no one knew who he was.
Yes, he did go too far. Because the society around him said that if he tried to better himself, to remain relevant that he would destroy everything. The character had to go so far just to “stay in the game,” that he became obsessed with his own delusion, that he was willing to sacrifice others to “stay in the game.”
Ralph’s purpose is much the same, he wants a better station in life, and yet he is treated with the same contempt and mistrust as Turbo. Even in the end, he tells the support group, I am back where I started, but that is ok, because that is where I belong.
So what is the message here? “This is your place, you stay in it and don’t try to better yourself or you will ruin it for everyone.”
Let’s take this one step further. If that is the message that the entertainment industry is sending out, what is that saying about our society? Is it telling us that we should stay where we are, that our stations in life is all there is? That if you are poor, you should just stay poor and just be happy with it? That if you try to change your station in life, that you will wreck the status-quo? Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what the American dream says? That anyone from any background can rise up to become anything they want to be. That we are no longer held in place by class and social systems?
Look at the two main characters. They are both portrayed as poor, but not just poor but homeless poor.
“I live in a dump,” -Ralph.
“Like a little bag lady,” -Penelope.
Furthermore Penelope is portrayed as not only being poor but someone with a disability.
“She is a glitch.”
“It is the Glitch.”
The message from the leadership, and the fear of everyone else is that, this person should not be allowed in normal society because she will ruin it for everyone else. She will “Wreck-It.” It is not until she is shown to have power over them that they even “allow” her to be part of regular society. Let me say that again. Only when she gains enough power that they can no longer protest, she even has the power of life and death over them, that she is allowed to be part of, “the game.”
I want to make it clear. I really don’t think this is the message that the writers intended. I suspect, like I said before, that their message was much more about being happy with what you have and not being unhappy because you don’t have what others have. Which is really a pretty good message. I really hope that is the case. But that message is still there, and it kind of makes you wonder what other kids movies have these unintended, or maybe intended messages. And better yet, if they are intended who is it that is saying them?