Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Room for Improvement:
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 4.5 Stars
Vanellope is a quirky kid who wants nothing more than a sugary go-cart and a chance to race with the other kids in Sugar Rush. She even builds her own slapdash cart out of odds and ends, content to pedal along without an engine if she has to. Vanellope holds onto her dreams, even when the others kids are mean to her - constantly telling her that she’s nothing more than a glitch that was never meant to be part of the game. But Vanellope never truly accepts that there’s anything wrong with her, and by the end, she finds a way to control her erratic hiccups and even make them work to her advantage.
Gender Roles - Men: 4 Stars
Wreck-It Ralph is large and powerful, but we see as much of his softer side as we do his destructive side. Ralph not only talks to the audience about feeling lonely and unappreciated, but also attends support groups with other villains, all struggling with the same issues. His brute strength alone isn’t enough to make him a hero. Nor is the shiny medal that the rest of the heroes wear. In the end, it is his compassion for a lonely girl that transforms him into the sort of person he wants to be.
Fix-It Felix is another unusual example of a “hero.” He’s not strong and built like Ralph and doesn’t do battle with notorious villains, but simply fixes things with the help of his magic hammer. Despite being labeled a hero, however, Felix has his own noticeable faults. He excludes Ralph from parties and fails to appreciate how important Ralph is to their shared video game. Felix has to go on his own journey to learn something about how to treat others, and how to work together as a team.
Plot: 4.5 Stars
Vanellope doesn’t save Sugar Rush or the rest of the arcade from the onslaught of cyber bugs, but she does save Ralph from loneliness and teaches him that he doesn’t need to win medals or be anything other than himself - he’s already good enough to be her hero. Vanellope also saves herself from exile and her own insecurities by finally finishing the race and taking control of her “imperfections.” She finds a way to embrace the uniqueness she’s been given and to show the others that it doesn’t make her less worthy of anything. And before the movie ends, she’s even given an opportunity to save Ralph’s life.
Another impressive female character, Sergeant Calhoun, picks up where Vanellope leaves off. She may not have the nurturing side necessary to heal broken hearts, but she has the skills and bravery to take on the cyber bugs that have taken over Sugar Rush. When she realizes that the arcade is in danger she immediately sets off to destroy the threat, taking charge of a full-scale evacuation of Sugar Rush and preparing to destroy the entire game if necessary in order to save the arcade.
Character Development: 4 Stars
Over the course of the film Vanellope transitions from an annoying little girl to someone that earns our sympathy and respect. Her relationship with Ralph begins as a simple agreement to get her into the race, but turns into a deeper friendship based on their similar experiences as social outcasts. At times it seems as though Vanellope hasn’t fully accepted the fact that she is a glitch in the system and that she doesn’t truly understand what might become of her if she ever does cross the finish line. But, there is also some evidence that she’d rather take the risk than continue living in isolation. In either case, she has more than enough heart and dimension for audiences to love her.
Sergeant Calhoun is also given a short back story that makes her character a bit warmer and more human. The pain from her past relationship is over-simplified and easily glossed over, but it’s enough to transform her from an empty woman with a gun into someone with just a bit more substance.
Friendship: 4 Stars
The friendship that forms between Ralph and Vanellope is genuine and heartwarming. Although he only agrees to help her win the race in order to get his medal back, he soon finds that he’s encouraging her because he wants her to succeed. Ralph cares about Vanellope enough to bluntly tell her what could happen if she joins in the race and crosses the finish line, even though he knows that it will break her heart. He may not trust her enough to make her own decision on the matter - but he also recognizes that she’s a child who still needs some guidance.
Vanellope’s “friendships” with the other girls in Sugar Rush are a bit more complicated. It’s refreshing to see that the girls are more wrapped up in racing than petty conversations over clothes and boys - but they’re still competitive and cruel. They do have a brief reconciliation at the end, but it’s difficult to say if anyone’s truly learned their lesson or if there is any real caring involved in these relationships.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3 Stars
Wreck-It Ralph sends some mixed signals when it comes to body image. Vanellope is a short and sassy kid who would rather race go-carts than parade around like a princess. She shows young girls that not all dreams end with a crown and a pretty dress. Her dream is all about crossing the finish line and proving that she’s not a glitch or a malfunction.
Sergeant Calhoun on the other hand is the epitome of unrealistic expectations for female anatomy. She has abnormally large breasts and hips, with an incredibly thin waist. She’s rough enough and smart enough to take some of the attention off her body, but it’s hard to ignore her dimensions through her form fitting armor. Clearly Wreck-It Ralph is mimicking the sexy, hard core women of today’s video games. And although these new digital heroines may be a step up from the kidnapped princesses of yesterday, they still have some work to do in terms of realism and practicality.
Love: 2.5 Stars
An amusing attraction develops between Fix-It Felix and Sergeant Calhoun as they venture through Sugar Rush. Perhaps it’s amusing because it goes against the grain of so many stereotypes we hold about love and romance. Sergeant Calhoun is far more brutal and intense than Felix is. She’s also taller and more attractive. For so many reasons, we don’t expect Calhoun to fall for someone like Felix, and yet he finds his way into her heart through his simple charm. Although the relationship is more comical than realistic, it’s still entertaining to find these characters forming such an unexpected bond. Their simple romance is still somewhat routine for supporting characters, and could have been improved with just one or two more mature conversations.