Monthly Archives: November 2013

November 22, 2013

Disney Canon #52: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)


ADAM It seems appropriate that on the day of the New York Marathon, we’ve completed our own marathon. I think we may be the only people we know who can say that we’ve seen all of the Disney Animated Canon films in chronological order.

BROOM I think that’s correct. You have several times said “We must be the only people in the world…!” which I don’t think is true. “Only people we know” I do think is true.

BETH Only people in the world who have recorded conversations after each viewing.

BROOM I’m the only person in the world who does a lot of the things I do. It’s a good way to be.

BETH I agree.

BROOM I think this was a good thing to do.

ADAM So what does this say about 2012?

BETH It was hard not to keep thinking about Snow White and how different the world was when that came out.

BROOM I’m going to request that we not make this the valedictory conversation, because we’re going to do that as its own event.

ADAM Do we have to rewatch everything first?

BROOM I’m preparing a retrospective post that we can read to refresh our memories, and then we’ll all discuss. But let’s talk about Wreck-It Ralph (2012).

ADAM I was delighted by this movie when I saw it in the theater, and I continue to be delighted by it. Even if it is Pixar-ified.

BETH Overall I really liked it. I have kind of mixed feelings and I’m trying to work those out quickly in order to discuss.

BROOM I don’t have mixed feelings, I just have unenthusiastic positive feelings. It was good enough. There were things that I was disappointed weren’t in it because they would have made for a better movie.

ADAM Such as?

BROOM It was formulaic and not in a gratifying way. It reminded me of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: “We’ve already exhausted all actual interest in the premise. What’s left is to work out these technicalities of plot.” In this movie, I really don’t care about who wins the race, or whether the girl is a glitch. I care about what it’s like in the world of video games. That’s the main appeal of this premise. But they just handled that in the style of, guess what! Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story. The secret world of video games is… a big bustling workplace with a tramcar, just like in Monsters, Inc. (and a lot of other things). “Yup, that’s what video games are like too. And now that you know that, you have to watch a story. And we made up this story.” They could have focused on charm, but it seemed like they were focused on other things sort of out of plot-necessity. Which is how I felt about Harry Potter toward the end of the series.

ADAM I thought there was plenty of charm here. Did you play Mario Kart?

BROOM Not much. I recognize the style of game.

ADAM You might have enjoyed it more if you’d played Mario Kart. It had all of the characters who play Mario Kart, but it was also clever…

BROOM I enjoyed when they played the actual games; I enjoyed when he was in his game, and then the shooter game, and then when they were racing at the end. But most of the movie consisted of him and Sarah Silverman trading quote-unquote banter, and it was neither here nor there. To me. In my heart.

BETH Did you like the making-the-car scene?

BROOM I just felt a little bit outside of the sense of investment that would have made any given thing that they did actually fun. I mean, it looked the part. For a kid watching, it looks fantastical. It’s certainly one of their craziest movies.

BETH Yes, but not really, because it falls in with the culture of the time. It’s not crazy, it’s how things are.

BROOM Another thing that came to mind was the second Lord of the Rings book (and movie) where I was invested in the real story, of the ring and the quest, and then suddenly the narration goes: “In the kingdom of Rohan, the king is under a spell and his daughter doesn’t know what to do.” And I would feel this sinking feeling, because who cares? The story becomes about how your story bumped into this other story. And that’s how this was constructed too. Wreck-It Ralph, the title character, is going to go in search of his medal!… but what’s it really about? Sarah Silverman vs. the King of Cartoons in some other place. Oh, okay…

ADAM I don’t know. What did I like about it? I felt generally warm towards the characters — maybe not so much towards Sarah Silverman, but towards John C. Reilly. I thought their borrowings from the real world, their Shrekisms, were actually clever and amusing. And I thought it looked visually pleasurable to watch. “Sugar Rush” was over-the-top in a way that was satisfying; it was a mix of Mario Kart and Candyland that felt instinctively right to me.

BETH Yeah, it felt like a real game.

ADAM And I thought Jane Lynch was wonderful. And I thought whatsisname from 30 Rock was also pretty wonderful.

BETH Jack McBrayer. He was, but he was just being Kenneth.

BROOM That’s what he’s got.

ADAM That was pretty wonderful! It was amusing!

BROOM I would rather have seen a movie about him and Ralph relating. More than what we ended up seeing which was mostly about “Sugar Rush.”

BETH I was distracted by thinking about who voiced each character, more than I have been in previous movies.

ADAM Because they didn’t just sound like themselves, they were playing themselves.

BROOM And they all looked like them, too. Except for Jane Lynch, but close enough.

BETH She kinda did.

ADAM They weren’t playing themselves, they were sort of playing their own most famous characters.

BETH Yeah, exaggerations of themselves.

ADAM Did you know that [spoiler] was [spoiler]? Did you care?

BETH I didn’t know. I should have known.

BROOM I guess that was my favorite payoff in the plot. I should have seen it coming.

BETH It’s formulaic.

ADAM There were a lot of funny little quips that made me smile. Like that the police crullers were named Wynnchel and Duncan.

BROOM I liked the way that the donuts were animated.

ADAM I liked the way that the king involuntarily giggled, even when he was being menacing.

BROOM Well!…

ADAM Oh right, this is where the homophobia comes in. Go on.

BETH So. According to [guy who is the source of this objection, not present], apparently — this went over my head while watching the movie — apparently Ralph grabs the king and calls him a “Nelly wafer.”

ADAM That’s true, I noticed that. That was right after the “I see you’re very fond of pink.” “It’s salmon!

BROOM Right. So that’s [this guy’s] objection.

ADAM Well, he’s not wrong! I mean, those things did happen.

BROOM But the king character, who, I believe [this guy] described as having gay-stereotype effeminate mannerisms… he was explicitly Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter or the guy on the ceiling in Mary Poppins. He was doing an Ed Wynn impression and so they animated him that way. I thought the idea of such a character being the king of candyland was a stock way of signifying that you’re in a [Ed Wynn lisp:] “crazy plathe where everything ith funny!” And while that may for all I know be in some extent derived from gay stereotypes…

ADAM Then why did they have to have the pink joke?

BROOM You could say that some of those jokes were tasteless, but the gist of [this guy]’s objection was “Disney is supposed to be a gay-friendly company and this is deeply shocking; it’s like having a racial slur in your movie…”

ADAM Well let’s be clear: it’s only a little bit, but it’s unmistakable. I definitely noticed it. Now I’m not saying the whole way they did the character was a gay stereotype. The character seemed equally as much like James Woods as Hades in Hercules.

BROOM You keep saying he seemed so “Jewish,” which I’m not sure I agree with.

BETH He seemed, you know, New York-y.

ADAM Well, that’s what that means!

BROOM I remembered that [this guy] had complained about the king character and how he was handled. So when he appeared, I thought, “Is there a real type of person who acts like this?” “Sure, to a point.” “So was it offensive when the Mad Hatter was like this?”

ADAM It’s not the same thing. I don’t think [this guy] is wrong. I don’t think it overwhelms the movie, but it’s clearly there. And it is true that Disney has this habit of having effeminate — or gender-non-conformist — villains. Ursula was like that, and Uncle Scar was like that.

BROOM But if we’re going to discuss this not on archetypal principle but on the terms of the movie, let’s acknowledge that in the movie it turns out [spoiler alert?] that his inner nature is not really like this, that it is a mask being worn to fit in with the candyland environment. The environment is the explanation for why he acts like that. It’s not that he’s carrying around some sexual identity that makes him act that way; it’s part and parcel of the world he’s a part of…

ADAM But we don’t know that until the very end. A child walking away from this movie is not going to think “oh, he was actually [spoiler].” He’s the king of candy!

BROOM We immediately understand things about him upon seeing this character, and they don’t have to do with his inner life. We know the Mad Hatter is mad, we know he belongs in Wonderland [Ed Wynn voice:] “becauthe he’th a crathy perthon and crathy people talk like thith!” Historically, is there a gay stereotype somewhere under that? There might be, but we’re going layers deeper than what I am ready to be offended at.

ADAM If they hadn’t had those two jokes in there I could agree with you.

BETH Those jokes flew over my head! I mean, I did hear the salmon thing.

BROOM I certainly didn’t hear him say “Nelly wafer.” Did he really say “Nelly” and not “Nilla”?

ADAM It wouldn’t make sense if he said “Nilla Wafer”. And that’s only a pun on “Nelly.” [ed: The script says “Nillie Wafer” and I can confirm that John C. Reilly does in fact pronounce it this way, though the vowel goes by very quickly and it could easily be misheard as “Nelly.” ADAM’s point about its function being the same holds.]


ADAM I thought it was funny when he said “he only glazed me!” and then he giggled.

BROOM I think part of the joke about the pink is [spoiler discussed at length]. Now, if he had said “pink ith fabulouth!” that would have been one thing. But what he says is, “It’s salmon, it’s salmon!”

ADAM I’m not endorsing the view, but neither am I dismissing it.

BROOM The joke about him not wanting to identify with pink is only offensive if you assume that he’s not just talking funny but is secretly gay, that this funny talking is a clue to something deeper.

ADAM That’s not true. If a straight male character has to come out in a dress for some reason in the plot, and somebody else says, “Nice dress, bro”…

BROOM Mm-hm, like in Mulan.

ADAM … the character doesn’t have to be gay for it to be a gay joke.

BROOM What I mean is that to make jokes about people being uncomfortable going outside their gender boundaries is not necessarily homophobic.

ADAM I declare a truce on this subject.

BROOM Good. None of us actually cares about this.

ADAM What do you think about this candyland being this noir underworld?

BROOM When was that?

ADAM Just that it’s this place with a dark secret in its underbelly.

BROOM I would have liked more of that, what you’re describing.

ADAM I thought that was funny.

BROOM I liked the aliens infesting candyland under the surface. I wish there had been more mash-ups like that! That was the whole promise of the movie.

BETH But that would have been overwhelming. There were so many possibilities.

BROOM I really expected that this movie was going to build up to a frantic jumping-from-one-game-to-another climax.

ADAM You mean Roger Rabbit style. As a child, the experience of seeing Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny in the same frame was so overwhelming.

BROOM I thought that at least Mario was going to show up! I thought, like, he would have to go to the bathroom and the plumber would be there…

ADAM Yeah, for some reason Mario didn’t actually appear in the movie, he was just mentioned.

BROOM It was like bragging, “we are allowed to mention him!”

ADAM Bowser was in it. And they had a Nintendo right-right left-left B-A…

BROOM That’s Konami.

BETH That’s right, all Konami games have that, but it was on a Nintendo controller.

BROOM But let me go back to my big disappointment. I want you guys to speak to this. I was looking to experience the new fantasy of “what kind of world do video games live in”? That’s what Tron was trying to do 30 years ago. And then I just got — it glazed me right at the beginning when it became clear that it wasn’t going to be anything I hadn’t seen before. It was just gonna be more Monsters, Inc. Part of the magic of video games is that they already do suggest a strange world with a quality all its own — which in no way reminds me of some massive industrial train-station mega-workplace. That just seemed so done and lame to me.

ADAM Well, I’ve never seen Monsters, Inc., so…

BETH Yeah, me neither.

BROOM Well, well! It’s just like that! All right, then maybe you can’t speak to this.

ADAM It’s interesting to think about it in terms of Roger Rabbit, because none of these are games that children in this demographic would have played. So it’s got a sort of nostalgia flavor to it. When I watch Roger Rabbit I think “it’s all my friends!” But these games — what 8-year-old has played Rampage?

BROOM Well, Rampage is not in this movie. They just borrowed the look, sort of, for Fix-It Felix.

BETH Well, maybe they are playing it because their dad has a console that plays old games, like the Wii…

BROOM On their phones! I thought this movie was maybe going to end on an iPhone. “They unplugged the machine but guess what! We live again! For $2.99!”

BETH I think old games are alive and well in the homes of young children because of our generation.

ADAM Maybe. It did seem like this was more for parents of our generation than for children.

BETH It did.

BROOM I mean… there’s a lot of problems with this. The ending they actually had was, “seems like we’re ‘retro’ now!” That was tacked on and hard to believe. Arcades like that are going out of business. “And I can see Sugar Rush from here…” The whole thing seems so thin. That’s the emotional ending? That he can see Sugar Rush, this made-up game? I’m not moved by that. The script was weak.

BETH I thought the script was kind of weak. I thought that ‘getting a medal’ was very flimsy as an excuse for pretty much everything that happened. But I just went with it. It was fast-paced, for one of the longest movies that we’ve watched.

ADAM You didn’t experience pleasure watching this?

BROOM I did experience pleasure on a mild level. It did feel long to me, in the middle. I didn’t enjoy Sarah Silverman’s character. The wise-crackingness, which I guess was supposed to be the ‘attitude’ of her game, wasn’t worth anything to me.

ADAM The attitude of our time!

BETH It was the pluckiness that she was required to have in order to live.

ADAM Why are you so insensitive?

BROOM And the resolution of her story that she’s not really a glitch, she’s the star of the game, but she likes being a glitch so she continues to glitch… and players love it after all? I don’t know what that is. There’s no moral. It’s every possible ending smooshed together.

BETH No. The moral is: be yourself.

BROOM Be yourself, even if that’s not who you are and someone made you into that by abusing you, when you’re actually a wizard Harry.

BETH Accept who you’ve become.

ADAM I thought it was super-scary at the end, when he turns into the hybrid bug.

BROOM That was overly scary.

BETH And when Ralph was about to commit suicide on Sarah’s behalf.

BROOM Eh. His revelation that he’s a bad guy and that’s good didn’t really fit. He was doing a heroic thing in some other universe. It has nothing to do with accepting yourself as a bad guy.

ADAM Do you think little kids know what happens if you put a Mentos in a Diet Coke?

BETH Well, they’re gonna try.

ADAM For that matter, do I know what happens if you put a Mentos in a Diet Coke?

BETH I think some fizzing.

ADAM It fizzes, probably.

BROOM If you told me the premise of the movie, that we’re following the bad guy from a video game on his quest of self-discovery, I would expect a more interesting story. About really coming to terms with who you are. Not a story where you happen to clean up the mess in someone else’s world and then you’re happy at the end. They missed the boat. It should have been about his relationship with Jack McBrayer.

ADAM But that would have been so boring.

BETH No, I think they could have made it interesting. I’m with you. I think they were struggling about what stuff to put in.

ADAM I think it should have been them sitting across a table in a therapy room talking about “what does it even mean to be a hero?

BROOM To be really accurate, nothing should have changed because video games don’t change. They should have showed us the same game over and over and we should have heard his thoughts.

ADAM And it should have been just sort of an exploration of ennui.

BROOM But really, I think it should have worked like The Emperor’s New Groove, where the good guy and the bad guy have to go on adventure together, and their relationship, which is the source of the problem, gets worked out through the adventure. That would have been more meaningful to me. And skipping around from game to game is the joy of this concept, so putting most of it 20 minutes in and then being done with it was a mistake.

ADAM Did you watch that horror movie with John Ritter?

BROOM Was that a horror movie? I was thinking of that!

BETH I don’t know it.

BROOM The parents end up stuck in TV.

ADAM They’re being pursued by some malevolent force through every TV show. And he ends up in Three’s Company and it’s a big joke. I’ve only seen the trailer.

BROOM Me too.

ADAM It’s called… um… like Change the Channel or something like that.

BROOM Right, Remote Control (1990) or something like that.

BETH Poor John Ritter.

BROOM Wreck-It Ralph. It is what it is.

BETH I think as children’s entertainment in 2012 it was perfectly benign.

BROOM But as with Two Boys [per a prior discussion], I feel like the price of picking something “hot” is that you have to really have legitimate insight into that thing. Video games have this mixed reputation: on the one hand they’re big business and kids love them, and on the other hand there’s a soullessness to them and their culture. Like the Jane Lynch character: is that a good role model for anyone? why does she have to be wearing this breast-tight metal suit? Etcetera. All of the issues with what’s a little skeevy and weird about video games — the obsessive quality they have — these are things people think about when they think about video games. And the Disney humanist finding-yourself thing doesn’t immediately seem like it will fit with that. And instead of addressing it and making a case, they glossed over it. They glossed over any interest there could have been in making video games the subject matter.

ADAM It should have been a Platoon-style meditation on war set in Call of Duty. In an army hospital in a first-person shooter game.

BETH It’s easy to think of sequels to this, though. There’s a lot to plumb.

BROOM The fact that he’s from an innocent time and now things are less innocent: yes, he gets threatened by all the bugs, but it could have been a real thematic element…

ADAM And then he has bug flashbacks in his game.

BROOM I just thought it would have been interesting if something about the innocence of the old game was held up as a good thing. I guess at the end they go “they like us now.”

ADAM I mean, Felix marries Jane Lynch.

BROOM There’s something strange about that, is there not?

ADAM It’s just because she’s three times his size.

BETH And a lesbian in real life and he’s gay. That’s the stuff that was distracting me.

ADAM And they’re friends with Q*bert.

BROOM It was strange. When Ralph is torturing the sucking candy by sucking on him, if you think about the saliva eating away at him, that’s a horrible torture. It’s really horrific.

ADAM I don’t have much else. Eddie enjoyed it!

BROOM I’ll bet. It’s very lively.

ADAM Kinetic.

BETH Colorful. It does contain worlds that you experience fully. Like “Sugar Rush” was its own thing, and the tower was its own thing. And I as a kid would have kept thinking about it that way. “I want to go back to that apartment building and see it again.” I just want to see the crowds in the stands yelling. I feel like it was fully realized in its setpieces.

ADAM And is Snow White that great a story? Honestly.

BROOM It’s a better story than this.

ADAM It just has this aura of timelessness that makes it seem better. I mean, talk about formulaic!

BROOM I don’t know which direction the satire goes here. Are you saying that no-one should complain about anything? Or do you mean what you’re saying?

ADAM I don’t know.

BETH Let’s go to dinner.

BROOM Where do you want to go?

BETH I don’t know. Yay we did it!

ADAM No, we have to read the review.

BROOM Oh right.

ADAM I can’t believe we almost forgot that. Then we would have had to start from the beginning!

[we read it]

ADAM Well! I guess A.O. agrees with me!

BROOM The number one reader reviewer agrees with me. So we have nothing to say to that? So this will end with the transcript saying “we read the New York Times review and have nothing to add”?

ADAM That’s all, folks!

BROOM That really is all. So what’s gonna happen next is…

ADAM Are we gonna make a dialogue about Frozen after we see it?

BROOM Sure. But I think before that we do a wrap-up. That’s not out for three or four weeks, right?

ADAM Yeah. But that’s cutting it pretty close.

BETH Maybe we should. Maybe we should wait to see Frozen.

ADAM And then finally we’re in real time. I mean, we’re in real time now, but…

BROOM Okay, fine.

BETH And then after that we’ll discuss the entire series.