Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why "Wreck-It Ralph" Will Probably Be Awesome

So if you haven't seen it already, here's a trailer for the upcoming Disney movie, "Wreck-It Ralph":

Looks awesome, right? But the problem with a lot of trailers is that they can sometimes be significantly better or worse than the actual film they are marketing. For example, I'd say that the trailer for "Prometheus" was way better than the actual film, and I'd say the trailer for "Shrek" was way worse than the actual film. Just because this trailer is great doesn't mean the actual film will be.

However, I am reasonably confident that this movie will be awesome. I will discuss why I feel this way after the jump, but be warned, this may be construed as SPOILERS to the sort of people who like to go see movies knowing as little as possible, and if I turn out to be correct, I'll more or less have outlined the entire plot of the story.

Here's the gist of the story. Ralph is a character in a game called "Fix-It Felix, Jr." Supposedly, the character's back-story within the game is that his home was paved over in order to build an apartment building. Infuriated, he decides to "Wreck It". The eponymous Fix-It Felix must repair the damage done by Ralph and eventually drive him off the roof of the building at the end of the game.

In the "Toy Story" sense, it seems that Ralph (and all of the other characters within this film) is self-aware. It is unclear whether or not he considers his in-game backstory to be "real" to him, but I suspect as much. Even so, he seems to refer to the conflict within the game as his job. Something he has to do in order for the game to function. So while he may actually feel like his home was destroyed and replaced by this building, he's transcended that in a way. I would imagine that even if he succeeds in destroying the building and Felix, it is a hollow victory because no one is happy for him and it will all just happen again anyway, so nothing is gained. Either he is defeated for avenging his pride, or he is reviled by the characters and the player.

Basically, Ralph can't win.

It seems like he's not so much interested in not being the "Bad Guy" and mostly just interested in actually achieving something. Being praised or liked or appreciated. He wants to "win".

Anyway, this inspires him to break out of his own game and travel "Kingdom Hearts"-style to the other worlds within the arcade.

Quick side-note. Speaking of "Kingdom Hearts", how meta would it be if a future "Kingdom Hearts" game incorporated this movie? Even better, what if one of the games within this movie is "Tron". Then in "Kingdom Hearts" you could visit Tron World and then visit Wreck-It Ralph World and go to the Tron World within that. Just don't include a "Kingdom Hearts" game inside "Wreck-It Ralph" or we'll create an infinite loop. Anyway...

Ralph's mission (according to the description on the YouTube video) is rather straight-forward. He winds up in a space marines-type game called "Hero's Duty", and his very simple goal is to get a medal. I'll get back to this point later. At some point, he somehow winds up in another game that's more "Mario Kart"-inspired and he meets a game glitch named Vanellope.

Supposedly because of Ralph's unprecedented move to jump into a different game, he's released some sort of horror upon the arcade. It's not really clear how or what threatens them, but we do know that Ralph is responsible for it.

So after recapping the general plot and premise, why is it that I'm so confident that this film is going to be excellent?

Well, if you follow the podcast "Writing Excuses", you may be familiar with what they refer to as the "Hollywood Formula". It is essentially a formula commonly (though not exclusively) used in screenplays to develop an effective structure for the plot of a movie. When used effectively, it can result in a memorable and remarkable work of fiction. The term "formula" tends to get a bad wrap, but the fact is that formulas exist for a reason. Some formulas exist to make tons of money without needing much creativity, but others exist because they are effective tools.

Essentially, the Hollywood Formula breaks down the essential aspects of a story into their core components to help build a story's structure. If you want a full explanation, listen to the podcast linked above, but I'm going to bastardize it to make my point. The primary component is the protagonist, the main character. In this case, that's Ralph. He starts out the story feeling one way, has a very specific goal in mind, and in the climax of the film has some sort of realization that underlines the theme of the movie and represents the change the character undergoes as they reach or fail to reach their ultimate goal. The secondary component of the story in this formula is the antagonist. The antagonist exists to prevent the protagonist from reaching his goal and will at some point have a confrontation with the protagonist in a way that helps the protagonist reach or fail to reach his goal. In this film, I'm not 100% who the antagonist is, but I can guarantee that it's not whatever horror Ralph unleashes to serve as the climax toward the end of the film, but more on that later. The final component is the relationship character or deuteragonist (yes, that's a word) who serves as a foil for the protagonist to help him pinpoint his motivation, goals, and philosophy. At some point, the protagonist and the deuteragonist will have some sort of dramatic conflict and will resolve that conflict in such a way that outlines the previously defined motivation, goals, and philosophy. The overall idea is that the three conflicts (the protagonist confronting the deuteragonist, the protagonist confronting the antagonist, and the protagonist reaching or failing to reach his goal) must be resolved during the story and the closer the resolutions are to one another and the closer they are to the end of the story, the greater the emotional impact will be.

The example they use in the podcast is "The Dark Knight", which I shall shamelessly recap. In TDK, the protagonist is clearly Batman/Bruce Wayne. His goal is to be able to shed the mantle of Batman and get back together with Rachel. His antagonist is (and this is what surprises most people) Two-Face/Harvey Dent. This is because Harvey is who Bruce wants to take up the mantle as Gotham's savior and who is also the person currently dating Rachel. Bruce needs to turn Harvey Dent into Gotham's White Knight in order to give up being Batman and to get with Rachel, but Harvey's imperfections seem to get in his way. The deuteragonist in the film is the Joker. He highlights Batman's duality and need to give up the madness that he's given himself up to, they obviously conflict with one another over the nature of humanity and the ability to believe in good nature. In the final act of the movie, Batman confronts the Joker, stating his belief that people are better than Joker believes. Directly after that, Batman confronts Harvey, who has become the opposite of what Batman wanted him to be. Harvey is killed and Batman gives up on his hope for a normal life, thus failing to achieve his goal, but hoping to at least achieve in making Harvey seem to be a hero to the public.

So now that we understand the Hollywood Formula, how does it apply to "Wreck-It Ralph"? Well, I've already made it clear that Ralph is obviously the protagonist and his goal is to get a medal. This goal is excellent because it is very simple, easy to communicate, and it embodies the center of his struggle. Either he'll get it or he won't, but either way he'll learn something from it that will speak to the core of the story and his character. What's less clear is who the antagonist and the deuteragonist are, but my best guess is that they are Felix and Vanellope, though possibly not in that order. Felix could be the antagonist because he will likely be doing his best to get Ralph to return to the way things used to be, however, since it's unlikely that he'll have much direct conflict with Ralph after the first act since it seems like he'll be spending most of the movie looking for Ralph, it may be that he'll be the deuteragonist instead, offering a counter-point to Ralph's perspective and ultimately resolving their differences once Ralph learns what heroism truly means. Vanellope seems more like the deuteragonist, but we don't really know much about her character beyond the fact that she's a glitch. I'm going to speculate that her existence somehow highlights Ralph's big mistake. Like, the fact that she's a glitch is directly related to Ralph's game-jumping and she represents Ralph's biggest obstacle, which is his tendency to wreck things and be the "Bad Guy". If that is the case, then she most likely serves as the antagonist. Either that, or as a glitch, she represents an unintended aspect of the game that has no inherent purpose, who would act as a foil to Ralph who is trying to escape his inherent purpose, making her the deuteragonist. It could go either way.

OK, so I've gone on and on for a while to ultimately say that this movie seems to be following the Hollywood Formula. So why do I think that this means the movie will be awesome? Well, for one thing, this means that the movie will probably have a good sense of pacing and structure. Failing in those things can really sabotage an otherwise clever movie (see "Prometheus"). Beyond that, if the film DOES follow this structure, it means we can extrapolate the underlying themes and struggles of the movie.

From where I'm standing, the movie aims to talk about what it means to be a hero, what it means to be a bad guy, the nature of futility, not being appreciated for your work, finding your own purpose, the consequences of rejecting the purposes assigned to you by society, etc. These are all fascinating questions that are being raised by the movie and will likely be resolved in some sort of third act climax and the best part is that I'm not entirely sure how the movie intends to resolve Ralph's situation. Perhaps he'll do what Donkey Kong did and become allied with Felix, allowing them to both be "the Hero". Perhaps there's something more unexpected in store. There's a lot of potential in the way this story is configured, and while it's plausible that it will do something generic and predictable, I'm going to hold out hope that the movie will end in a satisfying way.

To sum up, "Wreck-It Ralph" will probably be awesome because the writers don't appear to be approaching the subject matter in a boring and derivative fashion, and they appear to know what they're doing in terms of building a solid story structure, which implies that they know how to make the most of their rather inspired premise and will deliver something memorable and unique.

Oh, and also because it's about video games. Duh.