Discussion and Discourse in ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

I’m a wee bit too late to blog about the new Wreck-it Ralph movie as I write this. The movie’s been out for almost a month and it’s hard enough to compete with vlog movie reviews when you write blogs. So I’ll avoid reviewing it for now until maybe the movie comes out for blu-ray and download. But in the two times I went and saw the movie, something truly significant caught my attention that no one seems to be talking about.

Early in the second act, Ralph and Vanellope find themselves in Slaughter Race, a GTA-style MMORPG that is almost comically treacherous, because what’s a smoggy, decrepit city with crumbling infrastructure without sharks popping out of the sewers? Anyway, they’re on the search for a highly valuable street racing car, owned by Shank, played by Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot. The pair watch two gaming avatars find the car, only to be killed off by Shank’s gang. Then…a kind of remarkable scene happens. The game stops, they drop their façades, and they have an intellectual disagreement about the players they killed.

First of all, this bit is played for comedy. These are street-level thugs with scant mercy, and we expect them to act like dumb brutes. It’s the same joke that was in Tangled, with the ruffians all turning out to be domesticated sweethearts. But that was an exaggeration to the point of absurdity. Collecting ceramic unicorns? Miming? Finding love? It was comedy, clearly. Almost parody, running such clear contrast to the brutishness of Hook Hand, Ulf, Big Nose, and Vladimir. But Shank and the gang discuss moral ethics, emotions, and even a TED talk.

Second, they are openly and maturely discussing moral ethics. Pyro is the first to question the intensity of killing off players, who worked so hard to get so far. Shank herself agrees, and explains the necessity of difficult gameplay to become rewarding for players. She expresses condolences, (while saying their handles with a straight face, no less), and stands firm, yet open to the input from her companions. No one yells, becomes angry, or even tenses up. It’s a shockingly casual and reasonable discussion that could have easily, easily gone as goofy as Tangled‘s, but it didn’t.

Really take a moment to think about that. When was the last time you were in such a conversation where you disagreed with someone, and no one was trying to be ‘right’? It’s almost impossible, isn’t it? And bear in mind, this is at a time when such discussions are needed more than ever. As we engage in discussions on politics, we are constantly stuck in black-and-white perspectives that lead to just more fighting, yelling, name-calling, and other primal discourse. Heck, we have a president who made a name for himself and won the White House on this principle. So much like Zootopia almost three years ago, we have a Disney cartoon that illustrates a mature lesson that many adults could stand to learn.

And best yet, it’s not a one-shot gag, either. As the film progresses, we see Shank and crew stay calm, reasonable, and mature, even when things go sideways. When Butcher Boy (played by Timothy Simons) wipes out, he takes a breath, and says quietly, “You still have value”. Funny, yes, but further indicative of his enlightened attitude in retaining positive self-esteem. How easy would it have been to show him have a minor tantrum, slamming his fist or something? But instead, it’s actually kind of inspiring. Later on, when Ralph is trying to beg Shank about why they stole the car, he breaks down into sobs. In any other movie, this would have been an easy punchline to emphasize the awkwardness, but instead, Shank thanks Ralph for his emotional vulnerability! Again, really think about that. She doesn’t budge on letting them take the car, she actually helps them in another way. She doesn’t snap, scold, yell, or anything. She quells the situation with rational discussion and emotional compassion…and it’s not cheesy! Throughout the movie, Shank is the embodiment of cool, being thoughtful, perceptive, and collected, running in complete and total contrast to many in today’s society, despite that we are more connected than ever.

The last scene with this kind of surprising discussion on emotion is the mid-credits scene, which is again, played for laughs. When a mother asks her baby Mo (The toddler who is basically Baby Moana’s character model reused) what she liked about the movie. The toddler replied:

“Well, there was a scene in the trailer that wasn’t in the movie. And that makes me sad.”

Now, obviously, the rest of it is the infamous bunny-pancake scene, which was in the trailer and not the movie. But baby Mo was not throwing a tantrum or sobbing. She articulated and clearly explained why she felt an emotion. Have you ever had that kind of discussion where you explained a feeling rationally and allowed input from others to make you feel better? Think about that kind of emotional vulnerability. Most people, especially adults, would rather vent or insist upon staying in a bad mood, but this toddler is essentially teaching a mature, healthy way to address our emotions.

But lest we forget, it was a movie about Ralph learning how to emotionally deal with his insecurities.

It’s easy enough to write the narrative that Ralph learns to let go of his neediness as the film progresses, but with these scenes taken into account, I think the directors and writers had this planned from the start, wanting to teach healthy ways to express disagreement and discourse without vilifying emotional vulnerability. In a world where it’s easier, and just more common to just berate your opponent, this is refreshing, especially considering how few movies and TV shows tackle this issue. They like to hinge the story on a flawed character and their arc, but we just saw a movie on how to write a good character who has a healthy means of communication!

This editorial got kinda rambly, and for that I apologize. But it was something I thought was worth noting in the movie. Make all of this what you will. Because for me, it added an extra layer of depth in an already really, really good movie.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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