(NOTE: Before I get too far, this post is going to contain information about the plot of the new Disney animated feature, Wreck It Ralph. Now, I’m not sure how sensitive you are to this kind of thing; we are talking about Wreck It Ralph here, after all. It’s not like I’m giving away secrets from The Usual Suspects or The Crying Game. But in the interest of keeping my in box wrath-free this morning, please consider this to be a big old SPOILER ALERT for Wreck It Ralph.)
As parents of kids with disabilities, sometimes teachable moments sneak up on us. We take our kids to the movies, or we turn on the television, and we’re not expecting anything notable to happen. As Howard Beale says in Network, television isn’t about truth. “We’re in the boredom-killing business,” he says. The same is pretty much true of most entertainment geared towards kids.
That’s what I thought when I took Schuyler to see Wreck It Ralph over the weekend. But I wasn’t counting on Vanellope von Schweetz.
The movie takes place in the inner world of arcade video games. Think of Toy Story meets Tron, with a splash of The Iron Giant. Ralph is a great hulking video game villain who is tired of his bad guy lot, and sets out to find heroic redemption within the worlds of other arcade games. One of the worlds he visits (and largely wrecks, because, well, he’s Wreck It Ralph) is a racing game called Sugar Rush. (Imagine Mariocarts as realized by seven year-old girls.) It is in this game world that he meets Vanellope von Schweetz.
Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) is a precocious little girl who dreams of joining the racers in the game, but there’s a problem. She’s not actually a legitimate character in the game, but rather a “glitch”, like a errant piece of code. A “ghost in the machine”, perhaps. As such, she occasionally pixelates and disappears, often reappearing moments later in a slightly different spot. As a glitch, Vanellope is considered by the other game characters as inherently flawed, and is shunned accordingly. (Mean girls are apparently a universal phenomenon.) She dreams of joining their society by successfully racing in the game, but the odds are stacked wildly against her.
As her character developed, I snuck a peek over at Schuyler from time to time. I could tell from her expression that her wheels were turning. This was reaching her, in the same way that The Little Mermaid spoke to her (well, you know what I mean) the first time she saw it. I remember when Ariel lost her voice, and Schuyler turned and pointed to the screen, and then to her own throat. She was having the same kind of thought process while watching Wreck It Ralph.
I was worried when the story revealed that Vanellope wasn’t always a glitch. Turns out, she was once a central character in Sugar Rush, until another character messed with her code in an attempt to eliminate her from the game. The plot was clearly going to turn around an ending in which Vanellope and Ralph successfully reboot the game, thereby restoring everything to its original settings. I remembered at the end of The Little Mermaid, when Ariel got her voice back. Schuyler turned and looked at us somberly, and even at her young age, it was clear that she was calling bullshit on this turn of events. I braced myself for the same thing to happen when Vanellope was “fixed”.
Then a funny thing happened. At the end of Wreck It Ralph, Vanellope was indeed restored to her former place within the realm of Sugar Rush. She was even revealed to be the princess and rightful ruler of the game world.
But here’s the thing. Vanellope still had her glitch.
When the movie ended, the little girl who was broken and put upon by the world was victorious, and she was still broken. She became a beloved character in the game, but it was pointed out that she achieved popularity with players while retaining her glitch.
On the way to the car, Schuyler asked me a question. I have to be honest, it took a few tries before I understood what she was saying, although I really should have caught it from the very beginning.
“Daddy-O, do I have a glitch?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I answered. “I guess you really do, don’t you?”
Thus began an afternoon of productive conversation with Schuyler, who would now like for her “little monster” to be referred to as her “glitch”.
I can do that.
Photo credits: Disney
Please visit Build-A-Bear Workshop’s blog, where co-founder Julia Roberts shares her daughter’s special needs journey. We’re grateful to Build-A-Bear Workshop for supporting this community over the past year.