Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph was an Easter eggstravaganza for video game nerds, especially those that spent half their lives in the arcade while growing up in the ’80s and ’90s. Although the central characters, including the eponymous "bad guy," were all gaming icons developed specifically for the film, they existed among a sea of familiar faces, which makes it a must-see for anyone who’s ever lined up their quarters to call next on a favorite machine.
Although the film was technically made for kids and bears a PG rating, it’s just as satisfying for their parents thanks to some choice moments of aged-up humor and references to a bunch of favorite throwback properties. Those grown-ups who do tune in to see the muscly destroyer endure an existential crisis about his status as a video game villain will probably also catch onto a few things about the film that the kiddos in the crowd won’t. Here’s a look at some of the things only adults will notice about Wreck-It Ralph.
Slipping past the censors
Even though it’s a family film, Wreck-It Ralph isn’t always suitable for all ages. There are some moments in the movie that are surprisingly intense, particularly when it comes to the virus battlefield scene in Hero’s Duty, the film’s homage to Metroid, Halo, and Call of Duty-style first-person shooters. On top of that, a close ear to the dialogue reveals that some of the characters have got rather filthy mouths on them, even if the little ones won’t likely catch the innuendos they’re making.
In an early exchange, for example, after Ralph discovers he’s been snubbed by his fellow Fix-It Felix characters for their 30th anniversary soiree, he comes in to discover that even Pac-Man received an invitation to the party above him, which spurs him to call his yellow pal a "cherry-chasing dot muncher." The film gets even more risqué a few scenes later when Ralph sneaks onto a Hero’s Duty mission and witnesses Sergeant Calhoun hyping up her squadron by saying, "All right, pussywillows, back to start position" — and it’s clear her word choice has nothing to do with flora. She also informs them that "the kitten whispers and tickle fights end now," which is a little lewd if you think about it, so while all of these turns of phrase are subtle enough to slip by most kids’ attention, the filmmakers obviously wanted to give the grown-ups a grin with a couple of slyly dirty puns.
Look very closely
It’s not just those spots of coarse verbiage that toe the line of tawdriness in Wreck-It Ralph; there are also a few visual gags that only adults will appreciate. One is in the scene when Ralph and Sgt. Calhoun are heading for the entrance to Sugar Rush, and the Surge Protector (that is, the security guard for the games transit center) can be spotted behind them. Rather than harassing Ralph, like he is often wont to do, his attention is decidedly elsewhere: staring at the rear ends of several passing princesses. Who knew the bright blue stickler had such a wandering eye?
It’s also a pretty suggestive moment when Ralph discovers Zangief’s underoos in the lost and found at the bar from Tapper and has to sigh at what that means about his fighting friend’s behavior of late. There’s no telling how those got there, but considering the guy brags about "crushing men’s skulls like sparrow eggs between [his] thighs" during their Bad-Anon group meeting, one might be able to venture a guess why he disrobed after drinking.
Cops and crullers
There’s a lot happening with the two policemen characters introduced in the Sugar Rush realm. The pair directly serve the tyrannical King Candy, so they’re pretty fast and loose with use of their tasers and batons (which reads a bit like a statement when factoring in all of the Surge Protector’s "random" screening stops with Ralph and such). And their motto is "to heat and serve," which is pretty close to the usual law enforcement credo of "to protect and serve."
On a lighter note, they’re also shaped like donuts — well, one’s technically an eclair — and are named Wynnchel and Duncan as a bit of homage to the real-life establishments Winchell’s Doughnut House and Dunkin’ Donuts. To children, they might seem like yet another random piece of the many personified edibles running around the game, but their parents are sure to get a chuckle out of this unsubtle play on the whole "cops like donuts" stereotype. Har har.
Generation Zers might be inclined to fixate on some of the more current playable offerings scattered about the screen in Wreck-It Ralph, like Dance Dance Revolution, Bowser from the Super Mario Bros. series, and the Halo-esque soldiers riffed in Hero’s Duty. However, there are a lot of other background characters that precede the birthdates of those in this movie’s intended audience.
Features like Frogger, the Street Fighter series, and Sonic the Hedgehog are probably still mainstream enough to ring a bell for most, even if they never actually played them. But the more obscure vintage video game characters that make cameos big and small in the film include Dig Dug‘s title tunnel-maker, Tapper‘s bowtie-wearing bartender, and Q*Bert. All three of those machines were products of the early ’80s, and only the latter has seen any kind of real modern revival (Sony Entertainment broke out with a few new versions of the game starting in 1999, and it was also part of the 2015 video game-centric film Pixels). So, while full-grown filmgoers might find their fingers glued to the pause button as they scour the screens for all these hidden gems from their own upbringings, the younger crowd could probably care less about those 8-bit oldies.
An obvious redux
Even the most obvious game reference of all in Wreck-It Ralph could be missed by those who weren’t around for the glory days of the earliest arcade systems. Fix-It Felix is purely a cinematic creation, but it was also undoubtedly inspired by Donkey Kong, which debuted in 1981 with an arcade machine featuring the debut of Jumpman, a.k.a. Mario. Donkey Kong as a character will still be familiar to today’s device-wielding whippersnappers since he appears in modern games like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros., so it’s probably not too surprising that his hulking size, brute strength, and general oafishness inspired a lot of Ralph’s physical and personality traits.
It’s Fix-It Felix‘s mission and play style that really bear a striking resemblance to what players were made to do back with the old Donkey Kong, though. In Fix-It Felix, users are charged with getting the do-gooder to climb up the apartment building and repair windows while mean old Ralph tears it up and tosses pieces down in his direction. The mission in Donkey Kong, meanwhile, was to take little Jumpman (no relation to the rap song or shoes) all the way up a series of wonky scaffolding to get to the kidnapped princess while the titular beast tossed barrels to knock him out. It’s not exactly the same, but… yeah, it’s the same.
Ditching the damsel routine
It’s not until the tail end of Wreck-It Ralph that audiences ever find out the film has a Disney Princess to add to the collection, and even after she’s suited up in a traditional ball gown, Vanellope Von Schweetz handles the news very differently than her royal forebears. Sure, there are a few theoretical similarities to the princesses of old: she’s been deprived of her title and impoverished by an evildoer and gets bullied by a bunch of mean girls, much like Cinderella; and she’s told that her eccentricities (especially the "glitch") are troublesome, as were Ariel, Belle, Mulan, Elsa, and more. She has no interest in wearing the crown, though.
For the most part, there’s nothing princess-y about her; she’s feisty, resourceful, determined, and has absolutely no interest in living a prim life of privilege (she’d so much rather sport a sweatshirt and have loose candy in her hair than ever touch crinoline). Further, there’s nary a love interest in sight, and while Ralph does help her fulfill her dream of earning a spot in the big race, she does a lot of the legwork herself. (For what it’s worth, Ralph Breaks the Internet does zero in on her rejection of so many of these tropes as she finally meets the rest of the princesses and only identifies with Rapunzel as she asks, "Do people assume all of your problems only got solved because a big, strong man showed up?" Well played.)
The original viral challenge
The Diet Coke and Mentos geyser gag that saves the day in Wreck-It Ralph is based on a real trend that became big in the mid-aughts after an on-air demonstration of the effect went viral and inspired an episode of MythBusters. For those who grew up ahead of the internet age, though, there was a much earlier version of the messy at-home experiment that everyone just had to try. Way back when, it was the Wint-O-Green flavored Lifesavers that kids would drop into their soda bottles to set off a massive liquid eruption.
That was just one of the many food item combination challenges that would get around by word of mouth in the ’90s (and some even rose to urban legend status, like the rumor that mixing Pop Rocks and soda was a death sentence). So, while the candy-soda combo trick might just be a convenient plot device in Wreck-It Ralph that kids shrug their shoulders at, the older crowd might just get a tinge of nostalgia for their own childhoods by seeing it come into use. Good times.