The Gospel According to ‘Ralph’

As the parent of one young child, I think there is probably an unwritten law that says I am “obligated” somehow to shell out both the bucks and the time to take my kid to every new Disney release while it is still playing in the movie theaters. For all I know, this parental directive has, in fact, actually been written down somewhere; it certainly feels like a crime I would need to confess should I refuse to succumb to the lure of family-friendly fare upon which this particular studio has built its vast empire.

Personally, I can’t help but think of the many things I believe are wrong with the way movie theaters operate these days, what with the paid commercials, crazy matinee ticket prices and more, but that’s a topic for a different blog, perhaps. My point in mentioning it is simply to say that where I previously delighted to go to the movies, I no longer relish “the moviegoing experience.” So, it is always with some degree of trepidation that I suggest our family check out a newly released film; better, in my mind, to simply wait a few months and rent the title when it shows up in the Redbox kiosks.

Not so with Wreck-It Ralph, the amazing love sonnet to video arcade games which just opened this past Friday.

My wife and I took in this latest Disney offering with two of our kids over the weekend, and I would gladly pay to see it again on the big screen. In fact, I even said as much to my six-year-old as we made our way back to the family van, virtually assuring that this too-hastily-offered promise would be cashed in at some point. So if, like me, you have any amount of dread associated with queueing up to pay way too much for a movie (and the requisite punch bowl of popcorn), I would strongly encourage you to blow past those feelings and catch Ralph and his buddies on the big screen as soon as possible.

It’s a timeworn truism that the best family movies offer something for both the young and the old to laugh at, and Ralph does not disappoint on that count. But in addition to supplying gags that appeal to modern gamers as well as guys like me who were playing Pac-Man back in the 1980s, the film also has a lot to say on the big-ticket themes of redemption, determinism vs. initiative, what it means to live a good life, and how we come to find meaning in the roles we have been given, or in this instance “coded” by the Great Game Makers who live “out there” on the other side of the video screens that encase our bright, color-drenched worlds.

If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, then you already know its basic premise. Ralph is the requisite “bad guy” in his particular video game narrative, an unpleasant and foul-smelling brute who for 30 years has been wrecking buildings inhabited by the nice folks who live in Niceland. Fix-It Felix, the avatar controlled by the arcade gamers, follows the trail of destruction left behind by Ralph and restores order to the folks who have lost their homes to his impressively-destructive, freakishly-huge hands. But as he hits his 30th anniversary of gaming, Ralph has grown tired of being the bad guy over and over and over again, and he yearns for at least a small degree of acceptance in his community. But alas, there is no communal acceptance to be found. Even the fellow villains who attend “Bad-Anon” meetings with Ralph insist that he simply accept his role and learn to live “one game at a time.” Ralph is not convinced.

There are all sorts of reasons to recommend this film to just about anyone, but as someone who is keenly interested in the redemptive mission of Christ in our present world, I found myself simply delighted to immerse myself (suspending all cynicism) in Ralph’s quest to become a hero in the face of overwhelming – most everyone else in Ralph’s world says impossible – odds. Ralph cannot but heed the small inner voice beckoning him to a fuller, richer life; he has arrived at that brilliant “moment of clarity” in the life of a believer, reassuring him that his life can count for more than the programmers who coded his character ever would have imagined. The parallels to the message of the Christian gospel show up over and over in the arc of this particular storyline, right down to “We’ve all forgotten who our true leader really is.”

While it is tempting to reveal at some length the sheer number of parallels between the storyline of Wreck-It Ralph and the historical/redemptive mission of God’s people in the world, to do so would almost certainly involve far too many plot spoilers for those that have not yet seen the film. Suffice to say, for now, that by embarking on an impossible task, Ralph changes not only his storyline but that of many others. His heartfelt desire to throw off villainy and embrace heroism in one form or another sets off an unpredictable chain of events that leaves the imaginatively-realized world of popular arcade games far better than anyone could reasonably have expected. Honestly, who doesn’t thoroughly enjoy a storyline like that?

But even more than simply enjoying the story, Ralph gives us yet another winsome way to talk about the call of Christ in the life of our young child. As parents who have given their lives to Christ, we are regularly called upon to encourage and exhort our kids, to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Wreck-It Ralph provides a wonderful, kid-friendly opportunity to draw those parallels between Christ’s call on our lives and Ralph’s inescapable desire to live for “something more.”

While I am reasonably certain that the makers of this film did not intentionally weave a gospel-saturated message into the storyline, the simple truth is that it’s really, really hard to tell any story that does not in some way echo the great themes of good vs. evil, how we determine which is which, and where we go when we are seeking clear and ultimate truth about our broken condition. Wreck-It Ralph does a fantastic job of preaching a gospel message, making it a fun, light-hearted tool in the hands of Christian parents to yet again point out to their children that God’s great story is everywhere we look.

Hebrews 1:1-3a (ESV)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”
Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty”

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