“Tolkien” BioPic Movie Review

One of the world’s most engaging authors in one of the world’s most un-engaging biopics. Go behind the prolific fantasy writing, linguistics, and mythology to discover the origins of author J.R.R. Tolkien. From his early childhood as an orphan to his studies and teaching at Oxford, follow the famed author on his own unexpected journey to eventually pen those iconic words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Biopics are often challenged with balancing what the audience wants to see with the reality of what was, both the attractive, inspiring moments and, if applicable, the gruesome or repulsive. And over all, Tolkien does an adequate job of highlighting the personal history of Tolkien (tol-Keen); however, where the biopic does not deliver is evoking a significant emotional response from the audience. If you’ve read that it comes off as a glorified Wikipedia article, then don’t worry, that is not true. But, it isn’t an I, TonyaTheory of Everything, or Amadeus either. As biopics go, it is pretty much middle of the road. Though the story may not be as fascinating or gripping as audiences want, it does deliver command performances by Hoult, Collins, and JRR’s three best friends. In addition to the impeccable casting, the production design is gorgeous and the score is compelling. Sometimes biopics make the mistake of treating the subject with too much reverence, thus overlooking or glossing over low points or decisions that place the subject in a less than favorable light. And, without knowing a detailed history of his life, I am left with the real possibility that this biopic did just that. Perhaps it’s the oversimplification of Tolkien’s quasi-privileged life that predisposes the screenplay to falling short of evoking strong emotion from the audience. If there is one message that is clear from this biopic, it’s that imagination served as an escape from the obstacles and trials of life, especially during WWI.

Years before he would write The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien found himself in a childhood fellowship with three other outcasts at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England after his mom, who would regale him of stories of dragons and knights, unexpectedly passed away. This close friendship would follow him all the way through to college and even into WWI. These four friends would draw upon one another for courage and artistic expression. Taking inspiration from his own fellowship including the personal/interpersonal challenges Tolkien faced as he and his friends challenged one another and his affections for Edith Bratt, Tolkien reflected on these experiences to write The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Although the scenes from WWI serve as a framing device for this biopic, it is the formidable years spent at King Edward’s School and Oxford that truly defined Tolkien and set him up for his timeless masterpieces. Had the movie taken a more linear approach, the story may have been much more impactful. As it stands, there is so much oscillation between the “present day” moments and the flash forwards/backwards (yes, there are both in this movie) that it was difficult to focus. The majority of the movie takes place at Oxford, but the number of flashbacks and flashforwards took me out of the story periodically. Flashbacks can be a useful storytelling tool, to provide visual exposition, but they are often misused. Had this movie followed the approach that Fried Green Tomatoes took with the use of present-day and flashbacks, then I think it would have delivered more powerful story. Although as a screenwriting lecturer I recommend that my students not use flashbacks because of how tricky it can be to integrate them in such a way that they advance the plot, if a screenwriter chooses to use flashbacks, then the writer has to make sure that the flashback or flashforward works to move the plot forward–add something of value to the story. With Tolkien, the flashbacks do little more than frame the story. Other than some impressive visuals and opening a window into the world that inspired and shaped Tolkien, these moments do not significantly advance the plot in meaningful ways.

With Tolkien’s infatuation with (future wife) Edith Bratt, there was certainly opportunity to turn this into a romance, shifting focus away from the fellowship Tolkien had with his three close male friends. Thankfully, the romance between Tolkien and Edith was a nice B story to our A story. I say B story instead of subplot because it is a counterpart to the main outside action plot (story A). Furthermore, the romance between the two does heavily influence the and even inspire the romance between future characters Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. From romantic to close platonic relationships, that is truly what the plot of the biopic is about. Throughout the movie, you will encounter various relationships that Tolkien experienced during his life. Although we don’t spend much time with him and his younger brother, it is well-established that he has a moderately strong relationship with his brother. Furthermore, we see that Tolkien had a strong relationship with his mother, whom helped to shape his imagination in his younger years. It is widely known that Tolkien was a Catholic, but that is not highlighted in the movie (and it isn’t missed) but it’s that element that explains why the family priest is his legal guardian. Tolkien and the priest have a contentious relationship, but it is clear that the priest wants Tolkien to succeed in life. We don’t get to spend much time with his foster mom, but she seems to understand Tolkien and Edith’s relationship. Before getting to focal relationships, Tolkien has a strong relationship with his mentor and professor whom is chiefly responsible for Tolkien pursuing his scholarly studies at Oxford.

The central relationship(s) in the movie is between Tolkien and colleagues Christopher, Geoffrey, and Robert. For most of the movie, they are shown to be as close as brothers, but I appreciate the movie spending some time on the development of the relationships. What starts out as heavy conflict (that even devolves into physical altercations), soon evolves into the kind of friendships that you and I hope to have with close friends that ostensibly become our family. Despite Tolkien not coming from wealthy families like his friends, they share one very important thing in common: a desire to change the world through art. Each of the boys has a different interest, but they each inspire one another to stand up to the obstacles of life and achieve what each deeply desires. Of all his friends, Tolkien was closest to Geoffrey, whom was tragically killed during WWI along with Robert. Christopher is the only survivor out of Tolkien’s three friends. While Christopher’s scares (we are led to believe they are more emotional/psychological than physical) impacted his ability to compose music, Tolkien harnessed the atrocities of war to inspire The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I absolutely love the depiction of close friendship between these young men because we seem to have very few examples of this level of male companionship in cinema, by in large. Many of the closest friendships are often shown between women. The structure of the plot keeps the movie from being as inspirational as it could have been, but there is still a lot to like here.

As biopics go, this one is middle of the road. It is not outstanding nor is it a bore. For fans of the author, I feel that you will get quite a lot out of the movie. The impeccable casting is the strength of this story. Each actor/actress delivers solid performances. Whether you are more familiar with the books or movies, you will find surrogates for notable characters throughout Tolkien’s most famous writing. Interestingly, the late author’s estate released a statement saying that Tolkien’s family members “do not endorse it or its content in any way.” In fact, the estate has yet to see the movie. Perhaps its the exclusion of nuances that the family is aware of in the author’s life, but I am unable to see why any parts of this biopic are controversial in any way. If you enjoy reading his books or watching the movies that were inspired by them, then you should see this biopic. Not because it is an outstanding motion picture, but because it does give you insight into the real world of Tolkien.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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Avengers Endgame Full Movie Review

By Raul Navedo of the Minorities Report Podcast

“Part of the journey IS the end.” And what an end we’ve been gifted with. We live in a world that has had to endure Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, TDKR, and Justice League. Where your average ensemble film can’t get pacing and structure right because of how many A-Listers have to share a narrative. A place where “spectacle” tends to trump storytelling. It’s no wonder why we walk into things like this with some concern. Worried that we will be let down like so many times before… But I can now say, not this time. This time we can walk out of the theater like Judd Nelson and throw that fist in the air, and I hope some of you do, because our beloved Russo Bros. have brought an epic and satisfying end to one of the greatest journeys in cinematic history.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the breakdown because we all know it and if you don’t, then this is not the place for you. You clicked on the wrong “Avengers” from the wrong decade… Our team is back to kill Thanos and try to correct what he did. Some of our heroes are in VERY VERY VERY low places, and I’m not just talking about their gut; but they have to get it together for a long-shot opportunity to regain the people they have lost while making up for the years humanity can never get back.

Guys, I don’t know if you are aware but our current MCU universe is made up of 28 (from my quick count) lead, non-supporting, characters that make up our heroes. Extend that to supporting and we are at 40, but let’s stick to 28, shall we? To consider what the Russos had to work with to balance screen time to appease the fans of all of these franchises. Breaking down each storyline and finding ways to–not only represent them well–but end them well with a conclusion that is both epic and satisfying. Funny and heart breaking. Some would say it’s too much for one person to handle… Luckily we got two!

The plot was handled so well even though there was so much to work with, and I know it was a three hour film; but honestly, it could have been longer. One of my biggest issues with the film is the pacing in the first hour. It is a bit rushed; but then again, if you consider where they need to get and all they need to do then you understand why it is so. However, if you add another twenty minutes to the film, that first third will feel a lot better. For the general public, a three hour film is too much to handle. So, I get it. The pacing seems to settle significantly once a certain character pops back into the world and puts a plan in motion that, though the risk is high, the reward is, literally, a trillion times better! “We owe it to everyone who isn’t here to try.”

As a kid I used to own a VHS copy of Titanic. I remember it was so long it came in two tapes. The second tape began right as Jack and Rose leave the iconic handprint on the glass. They run out to the deck laughing. The two guys in the crows nest see them getting frisky and then we get the comedic “If that’s what it takes to get warm I’d rather not” line right before we hit the glacier. I remember this because I watched the second half of Titanic easily over a dozen times. I would just pop in the second tape. If VHSs were still relevant this would be this generation’s Titanic. The whole film is great but the second half is so much greater! Kids would know the second half like the back of their hand and their recollection of the first half would amount to lovers standing at the front of a ship with their arms out AND Rose’s boobs. Hopefully you are still tracking with me. Although the first half of this film is great, the second half is what people will keep coming back for.

This is the culmination of 2,448 minutes of superhero excellence, and the pressure was real but the “Endgame” was handled so well that few will have a hard time enjoying these three hours that fly by before you know it.

Besides the first hour’s pacing being a bit off, there was one scene that is truly problematic. I may get some hate for this but someone has to say it! The forced unnecessary-female-empowerment-moment. Not that I have a problem with an awesome kick-ass girl scene but this one is so blatantly forced that it is very difficult to enjoy without mocking. I loved the similar moment in Infinity War but I didn’t have to suspend disbelief to enjoy it. Everyone around me shook their heads–women and men My wife was right next to me saying “So dumb…”

That is truly the worse moment in the film for me, and it wasn’t even a full scene. Just a quick moment. The rest of the film was filled truly great moments where we felt deep joy and heartache that was fueled by some tremendous acting. Everyone did exceptional, but I have to say hats off to Robert Downy Jr who created some complicated emotional moments. The only thing I was left wanting was Captain Marvel. I really like what Brie, the Russo’s and Anna & Ryan did with her character so I expected to see more of her. I mean, it must be tough considering this was shot before Captain Marvel even had a script so they had no idea how well her character would do and how big her fandom would be but I wish they had just trusted that people would jive with her and that her solo film would break a billion at the box office.

All that being said, this is a great film that I will probably see five times in theaters and will surely talk about at length. It is definitely worth the watch that I need to say that, and it will likely end up at the top of my MCU ratings. “Part of the journey is the end” and, as I writer, I believe that it is not only part of the journey but it is the most important part. It is the part people leave with. The part of the story that determines how you feel when it’s all over. Did you know our strongest memories are attributed to emotion? That’s why the end is the thing people will discuss and breakdown most. The part they will criticize or admire the most. It’s the part that keeps them coming back like when Cal is chasing Jack and Rose through the sinking ship while shooting at them…

The end is everything and, in this situation, everything is pretty friggin great!

You can follow the Minorities Report Pod on Twitter! And visit their website to listen to the podcasts. A big thank you to Raul for contributing this article.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

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“Captain Marvel” Film Review

Written by guest contributor and one of the hosts of the Minorities Report Podcast The Raul Navedo

We’ve all, at least once in our lives, crushed on someone much like Carol Danvers. Someone cool, fun, has a good sense of humor that’s easy on the eyes, and is a total bad ass that can shoot photon lasers from their arms… Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has all of these in spades. Likable from the jump, Carol yearns to be the best Kree “Noble Warrior Hero” in all of Hala. The only problem is that she can’t shake the dreams that haunt her. Dreams of a past she can’t be sure is her own; and furthermore, slow her progress to becoming a true Kree.

The hate is real, people! Critics are coming after this delightful performance by Larson viciously, and without reason. Don’t get me wrong, Captain Marvel has many flaws; but very few, if any, can be blamed on our star. I was as concerned as anyone when I heard Larson was casted as our glowing heroine whom would be flying freely through space, and whom would be kicking some serious Skrull ass. After Room,I was convinced that she was a great actress, but being a superhero doesn’t require incredible acting chops as much as it requires a certain charisma that I just couldn’t see in her. If you recall, though our superstar Avengers cast is beloved NOW, there were some serious concerns after most of them had their debut films (RDJ being the exception). Most of them had to grow into their respective roles, so it wasn’t until the second films that they became the heroes they were working to portray in our hearts. Not the case with Larson’s CM. She is fun, complex and dynamic, spanning the spectrum of emotions in a single scene.

Let me tell you guys something, a character being likable/unlikable does not a great/bad movie make. Harley Quinn is extremely likable in Suicide Squad and yet… And our lead in Manchester by the Sea is unlikeable and yet it is an incredible film. The art of writing real and complex characters is the ability to write them as they truly are. Angry, funny, sad, charismatic, annoying, reclusive, broken. Stop bashing films because YOU didn’t understand the characters as they were depicted. The Kree train their “noble warrior heroes” to think and not feel. Emotions are the enemy of sound thinking and are therefore a detriment to being a great warrior. Carol wants so badly to be this way–to prove she is a true Kree, but it is against her nature so she is conflicted. Her desire to not feel makes her unlikable because people without emotions are sociopaths, are un-relatable and therefore are not likable! She was written this way, people. And it is her inability to follow through with this Kree “noble warrior hero” prerequisite that makes her so damn likable!

But enough about her. I believe that what truly hurts this film is the same thing that hurt me when I was a young lad in the throws of passion for the very first time. Lack of experience. Our directing duo, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, have worked together on a number of projects that pale in comparison to the endeavor that is an MCU film. The writing suffered from poor dialogue and pacing at times. There were lines that just didn’t need to be there that provided information that the audience had already gathered. Action sequences that felt rushed because the rest of the script wasn’t as tight as it should be. Carol’s very first mission is so oddly paced and executed that you can’t enjoy it.

It takes a trained mind to know what needs to be trimmed and what needs to be expanded, whether in the script or in the editing room. It takes a trained ear to hear a line during a table read or on set that you know needs to be changed or taken out. These are things that not all audience members can catch or express but that most can feel. Some might just say it wasn’t good. Some might say it was fun but lacked heart. I say it was a great effort that lacked refinement. Wonder Woman had many flaws but most people were able to overlook it because it had so much heart it was tangible. It wasn’t just because Gal Gadot did a great job, it’s because Patty Jenkins has developed her skills over the years to make her a very gifted storyteller. We can forgive flat cinematography and lighting. We’ve been doing it for years with many of these MCU films who’s visuals lack depth. We can forgive a great many things that contribute to making great film. What we cannot forgive is lack of heart and emotional depth. Captain Marvel has all the building blocks, but it fell just short of being great. Fleck and Boden are well on their way there and I am excited to see their next project.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure the blame does not solely land on their shoulders but as a great director once said “When a film does very poorly the director gets all of the blame and when a it does exceptionally well the director gets too much credit.” It comes with the territory, unfortunately.

I still highly recommend that people go see Captain Marvel. Just lower your expectations a bit and you’ll definitely enjoy it!

(From Ryan)

I hope you enjoyed this review from Raul. He is one of my longest and best friends, and spends much time watching and talking about movies as he manages a high traffic AMC Movie Theatre in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

“Mary Poppins Returns” full film review

A spoonful of nostalgia isn’t enough to make the narrative go down. The highly anticipated Mary Poppins Returns hits theatres this week. Unfortunately, this film gets lost in nostalgia, neglecting the need to tell a new story. Instead, we get more than half a movie full of frivolity that lacks any coherent meaning or substance that is more concerned with hitting the same plot beats with similar songs at the same moments in this version as it was with the original. Visually, the movie is flawless and the animation sequences were a welcomed visit from the past. Reminded me of, if the animation from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mary Poppins got together, this is what you’d get. When creating a sequel that doubles as a remake, connections to the original are important but should not be at the diegetic forefront. Mary Poppins Returns exists in a gray area that is neither a sequel nor a remake. Had Mary Poppins Returns been a full-on sequel or remake, then perhaps the narrative would have faired better. As it stands, it sits uncomfortably in the middle and suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Perhaps this version is lacking in critical value and complex characters, but it ranks highly in entertainment value. There isn’t anything particularly memorable about it except for the special appearances by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury, but the movie offers a couple hours of whimsical fun.

In depression-era London, the Banks family faces one of the greatest hardships a family can face–losing their home. Compounding the present state of affairs, the family is also coping with the recent loss of Michael Banks’ wife and mother of their three children. With help from the family’s longtime maid/cook Ellen and Michael’s sister Jane, the family hopes for the best while planning for the worst. With only five days until the house is repossessed, Michael remembers that his father left him shares of that infamous bank from his childhood; but when certificates of shares in the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank turn out to be missing, all hope seems lost until Michael, his children, and Jane get the surprise of a lifetime. Mary Poppins returns! Michael and Jane’s beloved nanny from their childhood returns to look after the family during this crisis. In true Mary Poppins fashion and accompanied by the lamplighter Jack, she whisks Michael’s children into a fun-filled adventure through the streets of London and into a world of imagination.

At the bedrock of the original are these lessons that must be learned. In many ways, Mary Poppins was a teacher to both Jane, Michael, and George. Although the lessons varied by character, they had one common denominator: life’s priorities. And there were no true villains–that is–evil or villainous out of malcontent or cruelty. And the songs had strong meaning, not just fun, creative lyrics to a show-stopping accompaniment. Furthermore, there was strong character development in the central characters. The character arcs of George and the kids were measurable. Even Mr. Dawes Sr. demonstrated measurable change. There are the elements of substance that make the original a timeless classic that transcends the decades and generations to remain a beloved film. Mary Poppins Returns fails to deliver any of these elements to the audience. Instead, chooses to get lost in the nostalgia of the original. Relying on the abstract of nostalgia to carry this remake-sequel.

While Michael’s lesson is clearly to learn to be a child again, his children learn the lesson to be quasi adults by teaching their father and working to solve the family’s financial crisis. Those two idea are in direct contradiction. Mary Poppins is no longer acting like a teacher but she seems more concerned with being an actual nanny moreso than the governess that was the original. If the lesson to be learned was to have the imagination or hope of a child, then that should have been taught, not two different lessons in direct contrast. George Banks may have been had his priorities in the wrong place, but he was not evil, nor was Mr. Dawes Sr. evil–he too had his priorities all askew. In Mary Poppins Returns, Colin Firth’s Mr. Wilkins is downright cruel for no reason other than simplistic greed. Simple motivators are a good place to start but should be developed to be more complex to add to the conflict. Firth’s character is completely uninteresting.

Talk about memorable songs in the original; I imagine you can recite most lyrics by memory, unlike this version with lyrics so convoluted and complex that they are largely forgettable. At the time of listening, the lyrics are poignant and work at the given emotional or plot beat, but then they are mostly forgotten. The songs in this one seem to exist only for the amusement of the audience. And the vaudeville number. Let’s talk about that for a moment. For starters, I love Mary’s wig that she borrowed from Catherine Zeta Jone’s Chicago costume. The music and lyrics in that number were incredibly entertaining–but–these same lyrics are quite risque in places. I was shocked that they were in a movie aimed at kids (despite the PG rating). And comparing the songs from the original to the ones in this version, each and every song in Mary Poppins Returns sounds similar AND comes at precisely the same beat as they did in the original. Each and every song in this one is an answer to the counterpart in the original. With one conspicuous exception, there is no equivalent for the Sister Suffragette. With Jane’s heavy involvement in workers’ rights (much like her mother’s women’s rights), it seems odd that she was not given a song since were were giving everyone else songs equivalent to the original. Yes, I am aware that Sister Suffragette is not in the Broadway musical, but it should have had a place in Mary Poppins Returns.

Structurally, the first two acts are all over the place. Fortunately, the film finishes with a strong third act. Everything seems so forced, rushed. Pacing matched the original. It’s as if the emotional beats and plot points from the original were mapped out and a “new” story was conformed to fit the old diegesis. There are even moments that can be completely removed from the story and not effect the outcome. For example, the entire Meryl Street scene has no impact on the realization of the narrative. Screenwriting 101 teaches us that each and every scene should point the audience toward the end–each scene should culminate in something important. Think of each scene as a paragraph in a larger story and each line of dialogue as a sentence in a larger paragraph. Each paragraph has a beginning, middle, and end; just like a story has a beginning, middle, and end. If a scene does not advance the plot, then it should be reworked or removed. We never revisit the cracked pot or truly embrace the idea of giving oneself a new perspective from which to view life. The song is fun, but that is all I can say about that scene. And there are other scenes in the movie that do little to advance the plot, but this is the most obvious one.

The movie is not without its entertainment value. If you are looking to escape reality for a couple of hours, then you are in the right place. You will be delighted with the whimsy and magic of this story. Perhaps the screenplay is poorly conceived, but everything else (from a technical perspective and performance perspective) works very well. If you enter the film with a heavy heart or some degree of sadness, the movie will help you forget your troubles for a moment and put a smile on your face and maybe even a tear or two in your eyes. Emily Blunt may not be a perfect Mary Poppins but she is practically perfect as the beloved nanny.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Ralph Breaks the Internet” Full Review

It’s cute and entertaining. The highly anticipated sequel to the Oscar-nominated Wreck It Ralph hits theatres everywhere today. Much like the first film, this sequel relies heavily upon nostalgia and familiarity with pop culture more than it it does a strong narrative. All too often, it’s more concerned with making you laugh than it is delivering a meaningful narrative. However, no mistaking it, you’ll have a fun time watching this film. And sometimes an entertaining story for the whole family is all that is needed to accompany your holidays. Ralph Breaks the Internet took what the Emoji Movie attempted to do, but failed, and delivered a heartwarming story that comments on our usage of and fascination with the internet. Return to the brightly colorful animated world of Ralph and Vanellope for a highspeed adventure that takes them from the 8bit world of 80s video games to the immersive world of a visualized, stylized internet. If it’s gone viral on the internet, then you’ll likely find it in this movie. What we see in terms of abstracts or constructs, this film creatively translates that which only exists in 0s and 1s into something far more tangible. For all that Ralph Breaks the Internet did right, and that constitutes a lot aesthetically, it appears as though the writers were far more concerned with cramming every bit of Disney, pop culture, and digital media into the movie than developing a compelling narrative. And that was the part that I found obnoxious, the amount of time we spent on the Disney brands. It became self-serving instead of plot-serving. That being said, this uplifting movie accomplished what other animated films attempted, making what users do on the internet interesting. Must in the same way that Searching brilliantly captured screen-life, Ralph delivers a sensory explosion of what a visualization of the internet may look like. But who would’ve known that we were all POP Vinyls???

Vanellope is bored with her game Sugar Rush. In order to change the tracks up and give Vanellope a new experience to revive her love of her game, he builds a new track! Unfortunately, this means that Vanellope ostensibly takes control of the game’s steering wheel causing the user to break it off when trying to correct Vanellope’s car. When the arcade owner is unable to find a replacement steering wheel on eBay within his budget, he decides to shutter the game. Unbeknownst to him, he forcibly displaces the citizens of Sugar Rush. With no home to return to, the citizens of Sugar Rush are relocated to other games and the racers are adopted by Felix and Sgt. Calhoun. Ralph and Vanellope are determined to replace the steering wheel by exploring the unknown world of the internet where eBay is located. Upon arrival, it is clear that both of them are way in over their heads. They must rely upon intuition, wit, and the citizens of the internet to help them on their quest to make enough money to buy the steering wheel. Their journey soon leads them to Yesss, the head of the algorithm of BuzzTube, the most popular video sharing site, to guide them through turning likes into cash.

Central to this film are the (1) theme of friendship (2) one’s identity with home or work and (3) commentary on one’s insecurities. A nice trifecta of themes and concepts upon which to build the plot. But there is something missing. Something that is a fundamental to any screenplay. And that is clearly defined opposition to the goal represented or manifested by a character. In other words, there lacks a “villain” in this story. The villain in this story is the friendship shared by Ralph and Vanellope. Suffice it to say, it is not a requirement to have a physical villain (or more precisely, a character of opposition), but when abstracts, constructs, or concepts are the villain, it is advisable to select a character from the story to represent the true enemy. Take Jaws for example. The villain is NOT the shark; it is the folly of man. And in order to visualize this opposition, the screenplay uses the character of the mayor to personify it. Looking at Ralph Breaks the Internet, we go nearly the entire movie before we have a true character of opposition. A central character(s) is only as interesting as the character of opposition. Sometimes, the character of opposition is even more interesting than the central character.

There is also very little struggle experienced by Ralph and Vanellope. Vanellope nearly out races Shank of Slaughter Race the first time and Ralph’s first video and all his subsequent videos go viral. Not having a well-denied villain paves the way for Mary Sue characters. Just good at everything. This ease of success takes away from the ability to empathize with the struggle. That being said, after Ralph and Vanellope have their falling out over Ralph’s obsession with what he feels is best for Vanellope, their friendship is called into question and forced to face the fact that their friendship is evolving. And fighting with friends is something with which we can all identify. When Ralph’s insecurities manifest themselves in the form of a virus that takes over the internet, the movie finally has a villain that we can see, hear, and experience. The lack of a villain in this story affects the ability for the story to be as compelling or interesting as it could have been. One of the dangers of not having a villain in a story such as this one is the risk of disjoined subplots. Without a villain, the central characters have to work exponentially harder to get the audience interested in them. As it is, the audience is far more likely to find the internet setting, product placement, and mentions more interesting than our two central characters. The takeaway: make sure your screenplay has a CHARACTER of opposition.

But Ralph Breaks the Internet is not without well-developed characters. More specifically, a well-developed character in Ralph. Two of the film’s themes are manifested in Ralph. The themes of personal/interpersonal insecurities and evolution of friendship are witnessed in the actions of Ralph and Vanellope, but Ralph in particular. Audiences of all ages easily identify with him because they can observe traits, characteristics, and idiosyncrasies that have likely been experienced by each and every member of the audience at one time or another. How many among us do not depend on some sort of external validation in order for us to feel confident in what we do, what we wear, or where we go. We empathize with Ralph when his demonstrably gentle, generous soul gives way to self-destructive behaviors that form a wedge in the friendship between him and Vanellope. And that leads us into the third main theme of this film, and that is the theme of the evolution of friendship. There is no questioning the strength and loyalty of the six-year-long friendship between Ralph and Vanellope. There have been many movies that comment on the state of or evolution of our best friendships, but none quite so creative as this one. However the plot may be lacking in its ability to be truly compelling, the mountains and valleys of the central friendship are ones that many of us can identify with. It’s also a great opportunity to teach kids how their lives may go in different directions from their friends but that doesn’t mean that the friendship has to die or become burdensome. Children (and all of us, really) learn that sometimes when you love someone so much that you have to let them go to pursue their own dreams because that’s what friends do–selflessly support one another’s dreams.

Despite the inundation of recognizable brands and incessant, obnoxious Disney product placement, Ralph Breaks the Internet is an entertaining animated movie that finds a way through the underwhelming plot and constant reminders that we are in a visualized world of the internet into our hearts to brighten our holiday weekend.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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