Or Why I think “Wreck it Ralph” is a great movie
Saturday night has become Family Movie night. Some might imagine a wonderful affair of shared enjoyment, laughter and love abounding amidst snack foods and good entertainment.
Well, no. We’re a family of five, and the Weasels are each three years apart, so getting a consensus on a film to watch is nigh-on impossible. Lots of deals get made, trading a vote on this week’s movie for a veto on the next one etc etc. It was by this system that we settled on Wreck it Ralph for this last Saturday. Mrs Dim heaved a dramatic sigh and recited her mantra about computer animation being ubiquitous and having run its course. The younger Weasels squealed that they had been waiting AGES to see this movie, and Eldest shrugged in resignation and said “As long as it isn’t Twilight, then, whatever.”
Me? I like animated movies. There are some clunkers out there, but Pixar raised the bar pretty high and everyone seems to be trying to beat them at their own game. I was interested in seeing Wreck it Ralph because I’d begun a screenplay many years ago called “Twist Stiffly goes to Gamesworld” about a bunch of computer game characters abandoning a pc that had been infected with a virus and escaping to an online gameshub that was always on. I never got beyond the preliminary planning, but was pleased to see someone had taken up a variant of the idea and run with it.*
Not everyone will love this movie. Some people won’t like the characters, or the environment, or the silliness of the story. Some people won’t like the stars chosen to voice the characters, and some people will object because their favourite video game character has not ben given a guest spot. These are all valid reasons for not liking the movie.
But I contend that it’s a beautifully CRAFTED story.
There’s an old saying that if there’s a gun on the mantelpiece in the first act, it has to go off in the third act. Ralph does this with style. Tiny snippets of information come back again and again to be screamingly relevant. For example, when Ralph first expresses his dissatisfaction with his lot in life, other characters say “You’re not going Turbo, are you?” We have to wait a few scenes for this reference to be explained, but it turns out Turbo was a character who jumped into another arcade game, causing such problems that both his game and the new one were scrapped – the ultimate horror for characters. This seemed sufficient for the plot, because we now knew there could be serious consequences for all the characters in Ralph’s game if he didn’t return to the right machine in time. We also knew that one rogue character could wreck another game. But in a startling coup-de-grace, that little story of Turbo comes in very important to the plot in the final act.
In another example, we’re told in the game “Hero’s Duty” that the Psybugs become what they eat. This is used as a gag when a bug eats Ralph’s gun and becomes a gunbug, blazing away with two gun arms while chasing Ralph. Later we’re reminded of this fact when the escaped Psybug eats some candy in “Sugar Rush” and becomes a candybug. Once more, we think the idea is done, when it becomes a terrifying twist in the final act.
This resonance of themes and props throughout a story is something JK Rowling did particularly well in Harry Potter. Remember “The Chamber of Secrets”? Harry goes astray when using Floo powder for the first time and ends up in Bourgin and Burke’s shop. He hides in a cabinet. Four books later, that same cabinet is used by another character to deadly effect. In the fifth book, the main characters are sorting out items that are left in Sirius’ house and amongst them is a locket no one can open. That turns out to be the Horcrux Harry and Dumbledore go looking for in the next book. The fact that the Sword of Gryffindor can be pulled from the Sorting Hat (first shown in book 2) is used again in book 7 when Neville draws out the sword to kill Nagini.
This all underlines the importance of two factors: First, plan your story. Write it out, then look for areas than can be linked, for parts of the story that resonate together.
Second, KNOW your story. The main character is a carpenter? Why? If the answer is a shrug, then LOOK AT THE STORY AGAIN! In “Inkheart”, the main character is a bookbinder, and the story is all about books and words. Would the story have worked if the character were a sheet metal worker who just liked to read stories to his daughter at night? Maybe, but something would have been lost. Think of “Liar Liar”: Jim Carrey’s character has to tell the truth BUT HE’S A LAWYER! If he was just a man who didn’t keep his promises, that would be significant, and perhaps his son would have made the same wish, but would it have complicated things so much? A lawyer is a trade associated (rightly or wrongly) with lies.
When they’re done well, these moments make us gasp. We say “Oh, OF COURSE! THAT’S why that was there! Why didn’t I see it?”
Writers live for those moments.
What revelatory moments have stayed with you from books and movies?
*Note: I’m not going to sue “them” for “stealing my idea”. You can’t copyright ideas, nor should you be able to. Had I written the entire thing and submitted it to the producers of Ralph, and they had turned it down and THEN written Ralph…Well, even then I’d be hard pressed to prove it was MY idea that lead to the movie. There are millions of writers in the world, and many of them will be struck by similar ideas at the same time. Stealing ideas almost never happens. It doesn’t need to. Most writers don’t have time to write down all their own ideas, let alone start writing down other people’s stories….