I was privileged to see an advanced screening of Wreck-It Ralph this year, and can confirm that it is the kids' movie targeted to adult geeks this year. The script is full of fast-paced puns and clever wordplay, including a bit of jargon that turns out to be an important plot point. It was movie that brought me to tears (tell no one: the 3-D glasses hid them from the crowd), laughs, joy, and a sense of pride in being a gamer and caring about games. The plot veers off from a straight path and goes through twists and turns that leave it muddled but ultimately rewarding.
Also, I walked into that theatre 99% prepared to love Sergeant Calhoun.
I did love Sergeant Calhoun, for all that she represented and also mocked. As a Mass Effect and Halo player, she and her game were pretty much the whole reason I wanted to see the movie. The rampancy of PTSD among the space marines was perhaps designed with me as its target audience: the image of one flinching away from a cockroach was hilarious. If you can derive any sort of happiness from two heavily armored people having a romantic picnic at sunset, this movie is for you.
After the special screening the audience had a chance to give feedback, and I drifted over to the rep’s table. A middle-aged woman praised the movie for its strong female characters. I repeated that and added that the conventional romantic ending wasn’t necessary: the other woman enthusiastically agreed.
The central gamer character is a young blonde girl in pink glasses whose femaleness is never remarked upon: an incidental moment where some older kids hog a game works well to humanize her. You can see why she would want to follow Calhoun into battle but she’s just as happy playing as Fix-It Felix Jr., and two boys are playing the Candyland-meets-Mario Kart game Sugar Rush. (One thing I unashamedly enjoyed about this movie was that it has characters who look like me.)
The third female character and perhaps most important is Vanellope, the least annoying character who’s supposed to be annoying whom I’ve ever seen. I really liked her zany, snarky voice acting. The Ralph-Vanellope relationship was by far the best in the movie, although Ralph and Felix had a camaraderie that worked well without falling into schmaltz.
Vanellope’s personal success is a big part of the plot, although Ralph ultimately saves the day and Calhoun is a supporting gun. I could talk about the social justice issues in her first adventure with Felix (a relationship based on abuse and pity?) but honestly prefer not to: the characters are all to an extent meant as good-hearted jokes. The characters were aware of their places as characters, switching to meta-awareness without any sense of devaluing their games.
The story is reminiscent of Toy Story and Monsters Inc., less wholesome (including a character who may be named “Satan” and a conversation mocking the word “duty”) but just as engaging. I’m not sure it’ll have as much lasting value as Toy Story or Tron (which it seemed to try not to emulate), but Wreck-It Ralph was thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying, and I expect to see plenty of Calhoun cosplays in next year’s con season.