So I watched Wreck-It Ralph. It was a good movie, well-edited and funny. There were a couple plot twists thrown in that I did not see coming, and the whole thing is overall enjoyable. Ralph is a great character and his story was well told, but I found myself drawn more toward the character of Vanellope von Schweetz.
Vanellope is a character in the game Sugar Rush who is forbidden to race because of her “glitch,” which is a pretty obvious metaphor for a mental disability, specifically Tourrette’s spectrum disorders, which often involve an uncontrollable “twitch”. I have OCD (which most people don’t realize is on the Tourrette’s spectrum), and the scene where the other racers destroy her go-kart while mocking her glitch felt frighteningly similar to some of the bullying I experienced as a child. In that moment, I identified with her because I had been through something similar (so all those sexist critics who say men can’t identify with female characters can suck it).
But the thing that’s incredibly powerful about Vanellope is that she doesn’t let it get her down. As soon as they leave, she gets right back to annoying Ralph. She’s learned to live with her disability, and doesn’t let it control her or limit her options no matter what other people say. As long as she believes she can be a racer, she has the drive to get there. What she doesn’t have is the go kart, but that’s where Ralph comes in. He helps her out in one of the movie’s most heartwarming sequences, which is then followed by the saddest.
Ralph is confronted by King Candy, who says that he keeps Vanellope from racing because he fears that players will see the glitch and think that the game is broken, thus leading to her death (glitches can’t leave their games, so if it gets unplugged, goodbye Vanellope). His language in this scene echoes that of concerned adults who try and place limits on children with disabilities in the name of their safety, which really hit close to home for me. Ralph, tragically, listens to him and destroys the go kart “for her own good,” which shows that while he may identify with her because he’s also an outcast, he doesn’t completely understand her or the unique challenges she faces.
This scene is absolutely heartwrenching because it’s been established that although Vanellope doesn’t care about the opinions of the other racers, she does care about his, going so far as to make a medal that says, “You’re my hero.” He then takes that trust and completely breaks it, as is his wont.
King Candy is, of course, lying, and it turns out he is a rogue character from another game who tried to take over the game and erase Vanellope, causing her “glitch.” She wins the race and the game resets, restoring her to her original role as a princess.
Some movies would have ended her character arc there, which would have been incredibly insulting to viewers with actual disabilities, to say the least. Instead, her glitch doesn’t just magically go away, and in fact she chooses to keep it, saying, “This is me.” And guess what? The players love her.
Vanellope is an important character because she sends the message that you can learn to live with a disability, and the goal is not to get rid of it, but get it under control and use it to your advantage. It ties right into the movie’s unique take on the “be yourself” message, and communicates it even better than Ralph’s own arc does.
Also, I never thought I’d like any character voiced by Sarah Silverman, but she really does a good job in the role and the annoying voice grew on me after a while. She brings her to life and makes her absolutely adorable, and it’s worth seeing the movie just for her.
Oh, and for Ralph too, I guess.