Like the Flixist review alludes to, there's an inherent disparity between the primary audience Wreck-it Ralph is intended for and the secondary audience who went to see it. Disney is the best company in the world when it comes to curating its property so that he older generation can appreciate their memories. At the same time, we all know Disney is all about grabbing the new child demographic. So what eight-year-old is going to appreciate the subtle Joust reference that literally flew by? Or the Contra code that was just punched in?
In the beginning, maybe you assumed that by primary audience, I meant children and secondary audience was nostalgic adults? What if those were actually flipped around and adults were the primary and children were the secondary?
If we're going to be real for a moment here, we have to admit that this movie isn't revolutionary, or gamechanging, or even top shelf. It has a predictable character arc and a simple point A to point B storytelling direction. It's not here to make us think like the big hooplah surrounding Cloud Atlas. It certainly does however, make you feel. The titular Ralph is the villain in an 80's Donkey Kong-style arcade game. He's a normal guy really (as normal as a guy with arms the size oak trees can get), but he's tired of being treated as some one-dimensional bad guy. He goes through that familiar journey of self-discovery and along the way he'll stumble across a plethora of video game references. Those feels I talked about comes when he meets Vanellope in the second half. When Ralph learns Vanellope is treated as a mistake, like something that shouldn't even exist due to a programmer's mistake, it should get you right in the gut. Here's a guy who's tired of the lot he's been given in life, and he wants something better because he feels he deserves it. Now he meets someone who doesn't even have a lot in life. At least Ralph has someplace he can call a home with a position people depend on him for. Vanellope is a total outcast. A social pariah with no home besides whatever she can scrounge together, viewed as something that's worse than criminal. How can you not shed a tear about that.
It's no spoiler to say that Ralph goes back to his game and learns a new way to view life. The Flixist review for example, leaves wondering what was the point of Ralph's journey if he was meant to live his role as a bad guy in the first place and deal with it? I say, we put it into context against Vanellope. Even if we feel that Ralph was dealt a bum deal in life, at least he has a place where he is genuinely important. His game can't work without him after all, we know that much. Fix It Felix Jr. can't fix anything if nothing is broken in the first place. It's a message to appreciate what you have because some people have it worse. I know I sometimes complain about my life, but hey, I have a roof over my head and food three times a day. For some, like Vanellope or even Qubert, they don't have a place to call home.
Speaking of Ralph's inevitable return to his game, I think that the image of Ralph's cabinet working properly again, attracting newfound attention from the arcade goers of Litwak's Arcade, says something about the disparity between nostalgic adult gamers and younger children that was brought up before. People like Litwak, who have been around games for a long time, are happy to know that a nostalgic memory like Fix-It Felix Jr. still works. For the cabinet to return to working order after Ralph's return is a friendly shout out to all our favorite gaming memories as kids. But those aren't adults crowding around a 30-year-old arcade cabinet; those are kids!
Think about a 10-year-old walking into a surviving contemporary arcade. Are they going to the retro, old Donkey Kong machine or are they going to the flashy new Time Crisis 5 cabinet? But in the case of Fix-It Felix Jr. within the movie, these youngsters discovered the lost joy of playing a game from a by gone era. I'd like to think that today's 10-year-olds aren't dumb. That the kids today who grew up on games are recent as Wind Waker or Halo 3, don't just think these awesome games just started like they are now. I'd like to think that they have tertiary awareness that these games have a legacy that goes way back to a time when games used the same number of colors as a small crayon box. There was a time when shooters didn't need to aim on a Y-axis. I'd like to think that the secondary audience of Wreck-It Ralph should appreciate it like us, the older generation, but for a different reason. That reason being the same as that dumb motto from a certain Nintendo t-shirt that every gaming hipster will inevitably wear at least once in their lifetime: know your roots. I'd like to think that one 10-year-old out there watched Wreck-it Ralph, saw a certain image or symbol that was beyond their time, and made them think, "What a weird/cool thing! I want to know more about this weird/cool thing."
I'd like to think a young kid out there, who grew up playing Halo 3 online amongst his jaded peers, noticed for a split second the Paperboy reference in Game Central Station. Or maybe the Dig Dug digger walking by. But he most likely doesn't know Paperboy or Dig Dug. He just saw a random boy riding his bicycle or a funny little man in an astronaut costume. But this kid knows he's watching a movie about video games. I'd like to think he'd want to do some backtrack work and find out about these legacy games that make us so nostalgic. Maybe he'd come to understand why we (and I mean we) love these old games from our time and appreciate those roots. Maybe he'd even try them on an emulator or something!
It's asking a lot from a lot of what ifs, but we're talking about people who play video games. I'm not asking whether or not this movie will be beloved by the mainstream public. I'm wholly convinced most people will forget about Wreck-it Ralph in a year or sooner. But for us gamers, all of us, young and old, it's about appreciating our games from older and newer generations. It's a movie where the older generation reaffirms their favorite memories and where the younger generation finds find a new historical appreciation of their games.
So when I'm old and have my own kids who are playing their newest online capable consoles with 3D displays, I know my old games might not hold up with what they're playing. But I still want to at least show them what I played and what I enjoyed and show them where they're games have come from. Maybe if I'm lucky they'll give them a try. Ralph has been doing it for 30 years after all. But that doesn't mean it's not fun. That's the key, because age doesn't matter, whether your thirteen or thirty. As long as it's fun.
Wreck-it Ralph was fun and so were my old games. If Disney's about one things, it's about curating cherished memories. So if there's one thing I hope from Wreck-it Ralph, it's that this movie does what the rest of Disney has done to each new generation of kids: introduce them to what was special to me.