With several studios participating in the animated-feature category, it’s getting harder and harder to find something original and wow-worthy. Recently I’ve seen some (mostly princess) movies that just left me thinking, “That was good.”
But in 2012, three movies left me feeling like I had been hit by a Prep & Landing glitter bomb: Brave, Rise of the Guardians, and Wreck-it Ralph. Each one impressed me most by how thought-out and well-developed the plot was. So this post will have
The character of Vanellope von Shweetz was brilliant and reminded me of the frustrated problem-child Lilo. When we first meet Vanellope, we are well into the movie and established with our grumpy, attention-hungry hero, Ralph. We sympathize more with him and want him to be a true hero (maybe with a Herculean montage). So, when his hero’s medal is lost in the saccharine-saturated Sugar Rush Game, her snarky mischief sets him, and the viewers, against her, even though she’s SO CUTE!
Then we discover that she is being kept back from the big event of the game, the kart-race, because of a disability. She spazzes out sometimes uncontrollably, making her a glitch, an unwanted and dangerous fragment of the game. Her Pixlexia is like the weird lost patches of data on your hard drive. Then, King Candy tell Ralph that if Vanellope was allowed to race and win, her glitch would scare children away from the game. It would eventually be shut down and, though everyone else could leave, her glitch would keep Vanellope trapped in a dead world. This intention seems to justify the status-quo, as cruel as it is. She hides her loneliness and disappointment a little better than Ralph, but they’re both straining against the way that society sees them.
Sure, we’re used to non-conformist heroines, but they usually want normal things like no arranged marriages, or travelling, or self-sufficiency. What does “different” mean in real life, though? What are the labels we put on kids who don’t function well in our classroom settings? Who are the parents that we look down our noses at, thinking they must be doing something wrong? What’s the Pixlexia of our sanitary fantasy-world suburban neighborhoods?
It’s sad that Vanellope internalizes what others say about her. She does believe that her glitch is a problem; she freaks out when it appears, and that’s what causes her to crash each time. Thankfully, she also knows deep down that she is more than a mistake, and that there is something glorious and true inside her. She keeps fighting to be recognized and earn her place. Even though she uses the hero’s medal to get into the preliminaries, once Ralph understands her, he sees how much more she needs it than he does. He helps her build the (sweetest!) kart to show everyone that they are both more than anyone believes. When King Candy tricks Ralph into “saving” Vanellope by keeping her from racing, it’s heartbreaking on so many levels. He’s betraying her by not trusting in what she knows is the best part of herself. And he betrays himself by buying into the rules of the game-makers.
Vanellope shows that she was right; Ralph sees her picture on the outside of the arcade game and realizes she has always been an important part of it. King Candy’s lies are exposed and the viewers initial assumptions are all over-turned when the people who were supposed to know what was going on are undermined.
Although I had a niggling feeling throughout the Sugar Rush sequence that something was off, I was stunned when I realized that Vanellope had been usurped out of the game. I’m not used to Disney playing a loop-de-loo on us like that, even when the signs were already there. But that exposes my own biases, too, because I didn’t realize that Vanellope’s glitch was the most powerful racing trick of all. She was able to triumph and redeem the game not by overcoming her disability, but by being herself, which is very easy to say, but much harder to realize on screen.
I saw a beautiful commercial for the Special Olympics today and it got me thinking about Wreck-it Ralph again. If you’ve ever worked with a special needs child, you will understand that they aren’t special in spite of the differences but because of them. Each of those kids has a unique experience that can enrich their communities. I’m a proponent of integrated classrooms because it benefits mainstream kids, too. We’ve got to break down barriers in our minds, find the hacks that people have built into our society, and start thinking about what these “different” people might have to teach us.
Does Vanellope von Shweetz deserve a place on the Princess Pantheon? She’s turned down the offer, preferring the title President instead. She, Queen Kida, and God-Consort Meg are probably having a blast down at the beach while the other princesses are “enjoying” their afternoon tea.
Oh, and Vanellope is voiced by Sarah Silverman. Just to make her even cooler.