Disney cemented its role as the king of video-game movies with the debut of Wreck-It Ralph in 2012. It might be a coincidence, but Wreck-It Ralph debuted 30 years after another famous Disney movie, Tron, and the characters celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fictional game “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” in the film.
I suspect this wasn’t an accident, but a direct callback to Tron because Wreck-It Ralph has so many things in common with that classic film.
So pull out your magic hammer and glowing Frisbee as we compare Wreck-It Ralph and Tron.
First, I’ll list all of the similarities between these two films. Then I’ll explain each point in greater depth.
- The film is named after one character, but it focuses at least as much attention on another main character.
- The film begins inside an arcade game.
- A usurper takes what rightfully belongs to the hero.
- The hero sneaks into a secure location to retrieve something he needs to improve his situation in life.
- Programs are unable to remember certain things.
- Programs don’t regenerate if they die.
- The film follows two parallel stories that converge at the end.
- The hero has a special power no one else possesses.
- The big bad guy literally transforms into a big version of himself after he dies the first time.
- The hero throws himself into a beam of light to save his friends.
- Everything is restored to the way it was after a malignant program is destroyed.
- Two programs find true love.
- The rightful ruler is reinstated as president.
What’s in a Name?
Though one character has his name as the title, each film is arguably even more about another character. Wreck-It Ralph is a video-game character who accidentally stumbles onto a serious situation in another game outside his own. Even though he instigates the plot, the movie is just as much about Vanellope von Schweetz and her attempt to find her place in her game.
Tron may be the titular character of his own movie, but he’s in the movie far less than Kevin Flynn. Flynn is a human who gets thrown into a digital world controlled by an evil computer program called the Master Control Program. His whole goal is to vindicate himself by finding a hidden file. Tron is an important program who helps Flynn in his quest.
Inside the Game
Both films open in an arcade game and spend a lot of time inside a digital world. Wreck-It Ralph shows us an arcade game from the outside and then takes us through the screen so we see the 3D digital world the video-game characters inhabit. Tron also shows someone put a coin into an arcade game and then we see what is going on inside the game, not just on the viewer’s screen.
A sneaky upstart steals someone else’s place of authority. Turbo, a jealous video-game character, leaves his game for a new racing game called “Sugar Rush.” He takes over that game by becoming King Candy, and he turns the rightful ruler, Princess Vanellope, into an outcast. Ed Dillinger steals Flynn’s ideas for several new video games and he gets promoted to senior executive while Flynn gets fired.
Testing the Hero’s Mettle
A character breaks into a place he’s not supposed to go to retrieve something important to him. Wreck-It Ralph disguises himself as a warrior and goes into “Hero’s Duty” to win a medal because that will make him a hero, and he’s tired of just being thought of as a bad guy. Flynn does this twice, actually. He has a program break into a secure digital location to search for a file proving Dillinger is a fraud, and then he breaks into Dillinger’s company building to personally search for the file.
Programs have lost certain parts of their memory. King Candy locked up the “Sugar Rush” characters’ memory so they wouldn’t realize he’s not a part of their game and overthrow his dictatorship. Programs like Tron who believe in users are outcasts in the digital world, even though it should be obvious that they couldn’t exist without being written by humans.
The Most Dangerous Game
Programs stay dead if they die in games. In Wreck-It Ralph, video-game characters can die for good only if they’re not in their own game. This creates suspense when Wreck-It Ralph, Fix-It Felix, and Sergeant Calhoun enter “Sugar Rush” because they can all die at any moment and never regenerate. In Tron, programs can be “derezzed” in games or any other location. This means that Flynn, Tron, and their allies are in peril at every turn as they oppose the MCP. There are no extra lives in these films.
Each film follows the events of two groups of characters. Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope try to rid “Sugar Rush” of King Candy while Fix-It Felix and Sergeant Calhoun from “Hero’s Duty” attempt to track down the deadly Cy-Bugs infesting “Sugar Rush.” It turns out that both of their quests are about the same thing in the end.
Flynn and Ram break off from Tron and Yori early in their quest to destroy the MCP. Their paths intersect a few times along the way and they team up to fight the MCP in the end.
A hero has powers no one else possesses. As a consequence of King Candy’s interference in the game code, Vanellope frequently glitches and winds up in a location she wasn’t expecting. She learns to hone this ability and use it to her advantage. As a user, Flynn can manipulate the code of the digital world in godlike ways. He uses his powers to help him on his journey.
Big Bad Guy
Like any good video-game bad guy, the villain has a fake-out death and then becomes a giant-size version of himself. King Candy gets eaten by a Cy-Bug, and the Cy-Bug incorporates the diminutive villain into its body, turning him into a large insect. Dillinger’s program, Sark, gets killed by Tron, but the MCP gives him extra power and he suddenly becomes many times taller and stronger than Tron.
The hero sacrifices himself by jumping into a shaft of light. Wreck-It Ralph smashes the top of Mentos Mountain, knowing that when the Mentos hit the boiling Cola at the bottom, he will die in a brilliant beam of light. But it will save his friends from being killed. Vanellope saves him at the last second. Flynn knows Tron can’t beat the supersized Sark, so he throws himself into the center of the MCP, even though he will probably die in the process. But it’s the only way he can think of to disorient it and allow Tron to destroy it once and for all. His plan works. Tron defeats the MCP and saves Flynn at the same time.
The digital world is restored to the way it should be when the bad guy is defeated. After King Candy and the other Cy-Bugs are destroyed, Vanellope finishes a race and the game resets so that the characters’ memory is restored and the world is fixed from all the damage that occurred. Once Tron destroys the MCP, the digital world is freed from its grip and it becomes bright and beautiful again.
A male and a female program find love in the end. Fix-It Felix and Sergeant Calhoun share a passionate kiss after falling in love during their adventure together. They even get married. Tron and Yori kiss to celebrate their victory and it’s implied that they and their user counterparts will share long lives together.
All Hail the New President
The rightful president returns to power. When “Sugar Rush” resets, Vanellope returns to her role as princess. But she quickly decides she doesn’t want to be a monarch so she instead proclaims herself to be her people’s president. Of course, proclaiming herself to be president without waiting for a popular vote is the same as a monarchy, but whatever.
Flynn makes it out of the digital world alive and finds the file he was looking for waiting for him on the other side. He quickly proves Dillinger to be a fraud and takes his well-deserved place as company president.
So Wreck-It Ralph is basically a loving tribute to Tron. That doesn’t make it any less of a wonderful movie. In fact, these two films are in an elite class of good video-game movies, along with 1983’s WarGames and 1995’s Mortal Kombat. Hopefully the MCP won’t get mad at me for writing this and blast me into the digital world as punishment.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again… hopefully.
All images are the copyright of Walt Disney Pictures.
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