Even though Brave ended up taking the 2012 Best Animated Feature Oscar, I think I’m not alone in thinking Wreck-It-Ralph (WIR) was actually the superior movie. In fact, it’s one of my favorite animated films of the last few years. The characters are great, the concept is ingenious, and it has an incredibly good script with a very strong ending. So without further ado, let’s dig into what makes Wreck-It-Ralph such a fantastic Disney movie.
Concept & Characters
Just last week, I had to correct someone who claimed this was a Pixar movie. It’s a common mistake, since it’s so different to the traditional Disney films and much closer to Pixar’s “what if” type of storytelling. I’m so glad the filmmakers decided to focus on original characters and games instead of trying to create a story around existing video-game characters, an idea that was briefly discussed during the development stage. This allowed them to be creative and show us an amazing world full of remarkable characters, such a Sergeant Calhoun, King Candy, and Felix—an excellent and hilarious supporting cast.
But the anchor of the story is the relationship between Wreck-It-Ralph, a bad guy tired of being under appreciated and rejected, and Vanellope von Schweetz, an ostracized racer who nevertheless is a force of nature. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman voice the characters to perfection and their budding friendship is the core of everything that happens. I’m always amazed by how much I care about these characters.
This was Jennifer Lee’s first script for Disney, which she co-wrote with Phil Johnston. She would then go on to write and co-direct Frozen and get a story credit for Zootopia. As a screenwriter myself, I can’t help but wonder at WIR’s wonderful screenplay. It is a masterclass of Storytelling 101. Absolutely everything of importance is quickly established (like the concept of “going Turbo”, introduced after a mere 6 minutes) and every single line, joke, and scene advances the story forward of setting up something that will come back later. I remember seeing the movie for the first time and being amazed the Diet Cola mountain wasn’t a throwaway gag but an integral part of the story, for example.
It also has one of the best fake victories I’ve ever seen. For most of the movie, Ralph’s goal is to get a medal. This, he thinks, will give him access to the life he wants. A medal means being accepted and admired, and it means companionship. But even after Vanellope gives him a homemade medal that means all those things and more, Ralph chooses to destroy her kart in a heart-breaking sequence that never fails to make me tear up and then goes back home with his Hero’s Duty medal, where he sees that it’s completely useless. He got what he wanted but not what he needed. He betrayed the one friend he had.
This of course makes him go back and try to fix things and he ends up sacrificing himself to save Vanellope in another scene that breaks my recently healed heart. In fact, I can’t think of any other Disney movie with such a fantastic ending. Simba roaring at Pride’s Rock and all of China kneeling in front of Mulan come to mind, but Wreck-It-Ralph has 40 straight minutes, from the time Ralph destroys the kart ’til we see him looking at Vanellope and smiling, that are just the perfect mix of action, humor, and emotion. I love it.
I also love that the movie is about friendship. After Big Hero 6, Zootopia,and even Frozen, to some degree, we’ve become used to the idea of movies focusing on friendship rather than romance, but I remember walking out of the theater back in 2012 feeling like it was so refreshing. It’s another reason why people confuse it with a Pixar movie, I guess.
I love princess musicals as much as all Rotoscopers readers (one week until Moana’s soundtrack is available!!!) but I also love Disney is branching out and telling other types of stories. This, Zootopia,and Tangled are the epitome of what modern Disney can give us, and I absolutely love it. In less than two weeks, we’ll know if they’ll joined by Moana.
What do you think of Wreck-It-Ralph? What’s your favorite Disney movie ending? Should Vanellope be a Disney Princess? Do you really think I don’t know they’re called Rapunzel and Remy?
Pablo Ruiz is a Colombian filmmaker. Movies like Toy Story, The Lion King and Aladdin made him fall in love with the art form and now he hopes to dedicate his life to telling stories, hopefully for Pixar (if they go back to doing original films).
Some of his ambitions are making a movie as emotionally impacting as Toy Story 3, meeting JK Rowling, and petting a million dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@PabloRV7).