Here is another in my series of story structure breakdowns. Today I’m focusing on WRECK-IT-RALPH, the animated film starring John C. Reilly as a “bad guy” video game character who just wants to be the hero for once.
Don’t we all?
ORDINARY WORLD-- Ralph’s a video game character in “Fix it Felix.” He’s the bad guy—his job is to break stuff so Felix (the hero) can repair it. Ralph is bummed because he can never win a medal. While all the other “Felix” characters hang out after work in the penthouse of an apartment building partying, Ralph is stuck sleeping in the dump. He goes to ‘Badanon’ meetings and tells the other bad guys all he wants is to be a hero.
(see how clearly the writer is setting up Ralph’s goal/desire?)
INCITING INCIDENT-- There’s a 30th Anniversary party for the "Fix It Felix" game and Ralph’s not invited. He decides if he wins a medal, they’ll include him.
He goes to a bar, to try to find a medal in the lost and found. Once there, he meets another game character who tells him he can fight bots in a game called “Hero’s Duty” and win a medal.
Ralph enters the "Hero’s Duty" game.
There are guns and soldiers killing insects, blowing up eggs. It’s totally violent. Ralph FREAKS OUT.
The other Felix characters discover Ralph is missing and without a bad guy, their game won’t work. The video arcade owner puts up an “Out of Order” sign on the console. Oh no—when this happens to old games, they get carted off and destroyed!
While trying to escape “Hero’s Duty” Ralph sees a shiny MEDAL OF HEROES. He climbs to try to get it. Felix comes to Hero’s Duty to find Ralph. He meets a tough sexy soldier named Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch.) Ralph punches the glass that protects the medal, steps through some dangerous exploding eggs, and grabs the Medal. He’s got it. Hurray!
ACT I TURNING POINT—But suddenly Ralph is scooped up by an out of control space bot and crash lands in a weird Candy/Go Kart game called “Sugar Rush.” Everything is made of candy and its like nothing Ralph has ever seen before. (28 minutes in)
(See how he enters a whole new world at the end of ACT I?)
FOLLOW THE TRAJECTORY OF THE FIRST TURNING POINT: Ralph’s medal has flown out of his hand and landed on top of a candy cane. As he tries to climb to get it, he meets a little girl named Vanellope. She needs the medal to enter a Go Kart race. She takes it and runs away.
Felix and Calhoun realize Ralph and the cybot are in Sugar Rush and that if they don’t destroy the cybot, it will destroy every game in the arcade. (stakes!) Felix and Calhoun head to Sugar Rush.
We meet the bad guy—King Candy, the ruler of "Sugar Rush." He’s a little twisted and has two donut henchmen.
Vanellope uses the medal as a coin to enter the big Sugar Rush Go Kart race. Everyone thinks she’s a freak because she “glitches.” Ralph chases her, trying to get the medal. He’s captured and brought to King Candy’s castle. They want to imprison him, but he escapes.
The other girls make fun of Vanellope. Ralph defends her and scares the girls away. He wants the medal and she wants to win the race. They decide to join together. If he helps her win the race, she’ll get back his medal.
Felix and Calhoun talk about what happened in the past—a game character went “turbo” and tried to take over another game. He destroyed that game and others. As they are walking, they get trapped in quicksand, but in the nick of time are saved by Lafffy Taffy. United by danger, Felix and Calhoun fall in love.
Ralph and Vanellope break into the Kart building place and make one. It’s kind of messed-up looking, but Vanellope loves it. King Candy sees her, says she must destroy the car and that she’s not allowed to race. She and Ralph escape him.
Ralph and Vanellope go to her house. It’s kind of like Ralph’s dump. Vanellope explains that glitches can’t leave their games. Ralph builds her a race track. She learns to drive, says she’s going to win!
King Candy goes into the game’s “code” and takes the Hero’s Duty medal.
MIDPOINT-- King Candy brings Ralph the medal. He says that Ralph must do what is right. Vanellope can't be in the race. If she wins, the customers will see her glitch and “Sugar Rush” will be Out of Order. She and everyone in the game will die.
BIG GLOOM-- Vanellope makes Ralph a homemade medal that says he’s her hero. Ralph tries to talk her out of the race. Tells her she can’t be a racer.
She discovers Ralph sold her out to King Candy. He wrecks their Kart. Vanellope cries, falls to the ground, says, “You ARE a bad guy.”
Ralph picks up his Hero’s Duty medal, and goes back to “Fix it Felix.” Everyone’s gone. Felix has been captured, didn’t come back, and the Video Arcade owner’s going to pull their plug in the morning. One of the few remaining characters tells Ralph he can live alone in the penthouse.
ACT II TURNING POINT-- Ralph throws away the Hero’s Duty medal. He sees the one that Vanellope made him, then notices her picture on the side of the Sugar Rush game console. She WAS a racer. King Candy must have destroyed her code. That’s why she glitches. If she wins the race, the game will be reset and she won’t be a glitch anymore. Ralph has to tell her!
RACE TO THE CLIMAX-- Ralph races back to “Sugar Rush.” He finds Felix and asks him to fix Vanellope’s Kart. He promises never to be good again.
Ralph finds Vanellope, apologizes, gives her the repaired Kart. They all head to the race!
CLIMAX—Vanellope is racing and wants to win. She’s about to achieve victory, but Calhoun comes back, has to kill the cybot. She tells everyone they’re in danger. Go to Game Central Station now! All the game characters start to flee.
We discover that King Candy is “Turbo!” He chases Vanellope. She uses her glitch to escape from him. Vanellope crashes. The whole game is falling apart. Ralph grabs her. She says she can’t leave the game, that he has to leave without her.
Ralph faces off with Turbo and defeats him. Vanellope’s about to be killed by the cybots. Ralph sacrifices himself to save her. He destroys stuff. Accepts who he is. Vanellope wins the race, and the whole game resets. “Sugar Rush” goes back to the way it was before Turbo arrived.
BRIEF RESOLUTION-- Vanellope is the “queen” of Sugar Rush, but is a benevolent ruler/racer. “Fix-it-Felix” is back to normal and Ralph is taking it “one game at a time.” He and Vanellope will always be friends.
Felix and Calhoun marry and Ralph hangs out with his friends in the penthouse.
TAKE ACTION. Think about your own story. Do you have a strong goal for your main character up top? Ralph wants that medal, and this object becomes something that drives him forward and creates twists and turns in the plot. Does your character enter a whole new world at the end of ACT I? What happens at the midpoint of the movie that turns the story in a new direction? How does it all fall apart for the hero, and then what DECISION does the protagonist make at the end of ACT II that drives him/her toward the climax?
How does he or she face the bad guy in ACT III and TRANSFORM?
P.S. Do you have a really cool clever facet to your story? In WRECK IT, all the candy in "Sugar Rush" functions as part of the plot-- providing obstacles, etc. Watch it if you want to find out what happens in the Diet Coke and Mentos cave...