**SPOILER WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS for Wreck-It Ralph**
Though I was never an arcade aficionado, Mario, Sonic, Link, and the like were a part of my childhood. So when Disney Animation Studios announced a movie that promised to be packed with classic gaming nostalgia, I was in. However, Wreck-It Ralph delivered well beyond my expectations. Its tight plotting, clever world, lovable characters, and strong emotional journey have made it one of my favorite movies of all time.
Though there are many things I loved about the movie on that first viewing, I can clearly remember my delight at how neatly the writers closed the circle of their story. Discussions of the Campbellian monomyth emphasize the need for the hero to return home at the end of their journey and find that they no longer fit into their old world. It is equally effective for them to find that their actions have changed their world for the better. Either way, the characters need to have grown as part of their journey and this technique is often discussed as the best mechanism for showing that change.
However, the return home isn’t always literal — it can be an emotional or metaphoric return as well. Though Ralph does make a physical return home, I think that the circle is closed before that. In the opening scene of the movie, Ralph goes to BAD-ANON and spills his woes and aspirations to his fellow bad guys. Several important threads are initiated in that scene, but the one I didn’t see coming was the Bad Guy’s Affirmation.
On first viewing, I thought that the affirmation was just a throw-away joke. It was funny, but it didn’t stand out as particularly significant.
However, during the climactic scene of the movie Ralph is faced with a horrible choice. He can either sacrifice himself to defeat the Big Bad, or he can give in to despair and watch his new found friend die as the first casualty of Turbo’s bid to destroy the whole arcade. He makes his choice, and in the time it takes for him to fall to his “death,” the writers surprised me.
The writers had essentially told the entire story in the first few minutes of the film and then spent the rest of the movie making their point. Ralph’s journey explored what it meant to be a friend and a hero. He never thought he was either, but in the end he proved that he was both. After all, selfless sacrifice isn’t in the evil portfolio. Though the movie goes on to see through a fully realized denouement, that moment was the end of the story, the drop-the-mike moment. By having Ralph repeat the affirmation, and MEAN IT, they closed the circle beautifully and showed that Ralph wasn’t such a bad guy after all.