Monday, November 5, 2012

The Hero's Journey: Wreck-It Ralph

When I first saw the trailer for Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, I was excited to see all the video game references. The story of a Bad Guy desiring to be the Good Guy was an interesting approach, especially since it was done through referencing classic video games. Ralph goes on a true Hero's Journey in the story; it demonstrates that beneath the computer animation and funny jokes, there is a deeper story breaking through. If you have seen the film, read on to see how his Journey unfolds. But remember, there are SPOILERS AHEAD. See the film first and experience the Journey with him.


1. Ordinary World: Ralph's Ordinary World is inside his game, Fix-It Felix, Jr. For the past 30 years, he's been carrying on the same role of the Bad Guy. He smashes the building, Felix fixes it with the help of the players, and Ralph is tossed from the top of the building into the mud below. Felix receives a medal and the admiration of the building's residents while Ralph goes to live in the outskirts of the game's environment.

Later, Ralph is at a meeting with a bunch of other Bad Guys, including gaming icons such as Bowser, Dr. Robotnik, M. Bison, Zangief, and others. It is here that he reveals his frustrations and struggles with always having to be the Bad Guy in the game. He wants to belong, to be someone different from who he is. He wants to be the Hero for once. But as the other Bad Guys tell him, they can't change who they are; they can't mess with the program. They admonish Ralph not to "game-jump," as it can have devastating consequences for his own game. Defeated, Ralph goes back to his own game.

2. Call To Adventure: When Ralph arrives back in his own 8-Bit game, he is surprised that there's a party going on in the apartment building's penthouse. They're celebrating the game's 30th anniversary. Ralph invites himself in, only to be treated poorly because he's simply the Bad Guy. Felix is the one who wins the medals; Bad Guys don't win medals. One of the apartment-dwellers tells Ralph that if he can win a medal, he can join them in the penthouse.

3. Refusal of the Call: Of course, Ralph knows full well that this is impossible. He's the Bad Guy. He can't possibly win a medal. The only way he can get one is if he finds one somewhere. It is this desire to find an elusive medal that will guide his Journey. He heads to Tapper's to drown his sorrows.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: Ralph doesn't really meet a Mentor who will train and guide him. In a sense, the bartender at Tappers serves as a sort of Mentor as he gives Ralph advice, but a better fit for Mentor is an even more unlikely one; a soldier from the game Hero's Duty passes Ralph, nervously repeating his mission to destroy the cy-bugs in the game. When Ralph questions him about it, he learns that in this game, a Hero can get a medal. This is the prompting that Ralph needs to take the next step. He takes the soldier's suit and gets ready to go into Hero's Duty.

5. Crossing the Threshold: Deciding to game-jump, Ralph Crosses the Threshold by going into the game Hero's Duty. By taking this step into a new game to become a participant, he is stepping into the Special World, an upside-down world that is foreign from the one he knows back in his comfortable game. However, by crossing over, he is also putting his Ordinary World at risk. When players find out Ralph is missing from his own game, the arcade owner realizes it might be time to pull the plug from the old arcade game.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies:Ralph's first test is an antithesis from what he originally knows. Hero's Duty is completely different from simply climbing buildings and breaking things. He is led into battle against the cy-bugs by Sgt. Calhoun, and he quickly panics. Being inside a violent, first-person shooter is not what he had in mind when he enthusiastically dreamed of earning a medal. When the cy-bugs return to their beacon, Ralph follows them to their lair to obtain the medal inside. He gets it, but he inadvertently stirs the entire nest of cy-bugs. He escapes in a ship, entering the racing game Sugar Rush. However, he has also brought a cy-bug with him. This spells disaster, because cy-bugs are viruses that can spread through the entire arcade, destroying every game.

While in Sugar Rush, Ralph also meets Vanellope von Schweetz, who takes his medal and tries to use it to enter the race she has been banned from. Ralph explores this new land, learning what it and its citizens are like. In his search for the medal, Ralph finds Vanellope. He wants to give her a piece of his mind, but when he sees that she is being bullied for being a "glitch," he has compassion for her and befriends her.

7. Approach: Ralph follows Vanellope to her home and learns more about her. She is a "glitch" and therefore cannot leave her game if she wanted to. She is an outcast much like him, and she is denied the ability to participate in the races. He decides to help her; they sneak into a mini-game and build a vehicle for her, and he teaches her how to drive and race. Things are looking up; Ralph thinks Vanellope will have a chance at winning.

8. Ordeal: The Ordeal for Ralph comes at a most difficult decision. King Candy comes to Ralph with the medal and says that Ralph must prevent Vanellope from racing. If she races and wins, she will become a playable character. This might sound good, but when players see her "glitch," they will think the game is broken. The plug will be pulled, and while other characters can escape the game, Vanellope will be trapped forever, gone when the power goes out.

Here, Ralph faces death on several levels. It is the possible death of the game itself, of Vanellope's dreams, and the death of Vanellope if the game's plug is pulled. Ralph makes the tough decision to wreck her vehicle so that she can never race. She does not understand, and it also results in the death of their friendship. She yells at Ralph, telling him he really is a Bad Guy.

9. Reward: Ralph's reward is the fact that he gets his medal. He has saved Vanellope, and he heads back to his own game, ready to celebrate with the others in the penthouse. But it is not to be. Everyone else has left, afraid that the game's plug will be pulled. Ralph has his Reward, but it's bittersweet. He feels like he was better off in the Special World.

10. The Road Back: Ralph looks out of his own game and sees the cabinet of the arcade game Sugar Rush. On it, Vanellope is prominently featured as a key player; this gets Ralph to questions everything King Candy has told him. He returns back to Sugar Rush and questions one of the king's servants about Vanellope, learning the truth. He finds Felix, who helps him fix Vanellope's car, and they enter the race. Vanellope begins showing her abilities and seems destined to win, but suddenly, an army of cy-bugs appear, having multiplied and mutated from the one Ralph brought into the game with him. If they spread throughout the arcade, all hope is lost, and the games will be corrupted with the viruses. The characters attempt to escape Sugar Rush, but Vanellope is unable to leave because she is a "glitch."

11. Resurrection:Ralph knows what he must do. He stays behind, desiring to sacrifice himself in an attempt to lure and destroy the cy-bugs. At the start of the story, he was told that he could not change who he was; he would always be the "Bad Guy." Now, he is proving that mantra wrong.

12. Return with the Elixir: Ralph saves the game and is, in turn, saved by Vanellope. She crosses the finish line, and the game is rebuilt with the help of Fix-It Felix. The game resets, showing Vanellope's true nature. Through the Journey, Ralph discovered who he truly is as well, and he gained a friend. Returning back to his old game, he now sees his duty as being the "Bad Guy" merely a role to play, but he does not let it define who he is deep down inside.

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