If you haven’t seen the 2012 animated film Wreck-It Ralph, I highly recommend it. It’s one of my all-time favorite children’s movies—and having two children of my own, I’ve watched it close to 20 times at this point.
I love the movie for many reasons, but probably the biggest is how well the movie illustrates the gospel—despite being a secular film. If this statement has you scratching your head (for those of you who have seen the film), allow me to present The Gospel According to Wreck-It Ralph.
The premise of the film is built on a secret, behind-the-scenes world inhabited by video game characters. One of these characters is Turbo. Turbo is a race car driver in a retro arcade racing game. Turbo is very good at winning the race. For many years, his game is popular with arcade visitors.
One day, a more modern racing game comes to the arcade. Turbo is suddenly ignored, and he’s angry about it. After all, he’s the greatest racer ever! So Turbo invades this new game, trying to get the gamers’ attention. He disrupts the new game so badly that it crashes and has to be removed from the arcade.
Everyone thinks this is the end of Turbo. They think there is no way he could have survived the crash. His story is whispered as a warning to the other characters. “Don’t go Turbo,” they say.
But Turbo is not finished. He is simply biding his time in the background. When a different racing game called Sugar Rush is installed at the arcade, he invades again—unbeknownst to the other characters. Except this time, Turbo has learned his lesson. Instead of trying to race under his old identity, he assumes a clever disguise to fit in, calling himself King Candy. He rigs the game to make himself the ruler of Sugar Rush and hordes the kingdom’s most precious objects. To determine which avatars will represent players during game time, Turbo holds nightly competitions where racers must buy their way in. Only those who race best are allowed to represent the kingdom. Of course, King Candy (i.e., Turbo) always makes it onto the avatar list.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” ~ Matthew 23:5-7
To install himself as king, Turbo deposes the rightful ruler of Sugar Rush: the sweet, spastic and irreverent Vanellope von Schweetz. To do this, he violently rips Vanellope’s code from the game’s programming. This does real damage to Vanellope. She develops a programming error that causes her to flicker uncontrollably, which occasionally causes minor accidents. Turbo then exiles Vanellope to the Sugar Rush wastes and spreads vicious lies about her danger to the kingdom. She is “the glitch.” She is damaged. She will end up hurting somebody. She was never intended to be part of the game.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” ~ Matthew 23:13-14
King Candy’s vendetta against Vanellope turns Sugar Rush into a spiteful place where fearful citizens bully Vanellope and each other.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” ~ Matthew 23:15
When Ralph arrives in Sugar Rush, Vanellope is the first person he meets. Like Vanellope, Ralph feels rejected by his community and is seeking acceptance. Both have plans for earning that acceptance. Vanellope’s plan is to win at one of King Candy’s nightly races. But she cannot race without Ralph’s help, and helping her requires that Ralph put his own plans on hold.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ~ John 15:13
Ralph eventually agrees to help Vanellope, which angers King Candy. When he fails to stop Ralph by force, King Candy resorts to reasoning. He presents himself to Ralph as a gracious, caring ruler who has been forced to make a difficult choice: reject Vanellope or endanger all of his citizens by letting her race.
“When the players see her twitching and glitching, they’ll think the game is broken,” he says. “We’ll be put out of commission for good. All of my citizens will be homeless. But because Vanellope is a glitch, she won’t be allowed to leave the game. So when they unplug it, she’ll be wiped out. I don’t hate Vanellope. I’m trying to protect her!”
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Matthew 23:27-28
Ralph buys into this argument until he discovers the shocking truth: King Candy won’t let Vanellope race because doing so would reset the game and undo all of his deception. So he goes back to helping Vanellope. When King Candy sees Vanellope racing, he becomes so enraged that he physically attacks her. At that moment, his true identity as Turbo is revealed to everyone.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” ~ Matthew 7:16
When Vanellope finally crosses the finish line, Sugar Rush is restored to its intended state, and her identity as the rightful ruler (i.e., heir) is revealed. And the glitch that was caused by Turbo’s actions? It becomes a tool she uses to help players win the game.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:3
In case it isn’t blindingly obvious by now, Turbo is a Pharisee. He had a good run in the “old game” (i.e., old covenant), and ran the race of faith well under those rules. But now a “new game” has come where the broken and imperfect can participate and win. Turbo does everything he can to keep Vanellope from “running the race,” exiling her to the margins and placing restrictive rules on everyone else to keep himself on top. But the game’s Creator had determined from the beginning that Vanellope would inherit the Kingdom, no matter how “damaged” others judged her to be. It’s only when Vanellope takes her rightful place as heir that the Kingdom returns to its intended state, and her brokenness is used to draw others in.
Her oppressor is vanquished. She is redeemed.
And Ralph? By helping Vanellope, he finds the community, love and purpose he always sought.
It’s a good movie, ya’ll.