Blog Bonus: What PWDs Can Learn From Vanellope Von Schweetz

Hello readers,

Time for a bonus round! I felt like doing an upbeat post after the one about PWDs serving jail time or getting lost in the criminal system, so here it is.

After my post on Queen Elsa, a reader mentioned Vanellope Von Schweetz of Wreck-it Ralph. Vanellope doesn’t have a “classical” disability, but she is considered disabled, therefore “less” in her world. If you haven’t seen Wreck-it Ralph, you should know it’s all about the worlds of arcade characters. Vanellope lives in a game called Sugar Rush, which is sort of a combination of Candy Land and Mario Kart. The game revolves around players choosing a cute little kid with a candy-themed go-kart as an avatar, then racing against the game or other players to win. To give you an idea, other racers have names like Crumbelina diCaramello, Taffyta Muttonfudge, Adorabeezle Winterpop, and King Candy.

Vanellope longs to race more than anything. What’s more, she knows she’d be great at it. The problem is, she’s a “glitch.” She randomly blurs in and out of focus, especially when stressed. Because of this, the other racers bully her, thus making her stressed and her glitch worse. Vanellope is also barred from racing because the other avatars fear that if a player chose her, that player would think the game was broken when Vanellope glitched. Thus, the game would be unplugged and the characters homeless. Vanellope must live in exile, and she tells main character Ralph straight up, “Everyone here says I’m just a mistake and wasn’t even supposed to exist.” Ouch.

Any real-lie PWDs out there feel like glitches? I know I have. Still do sometimes. Being a believer in God, I’ve even straight up told Him He messed up and had no clue what He was doing. Well one, that’s an insult to God; it’s calling Him a liar and insulting His creation. And if you think writers feel bad when their novels are insulted–well. Two, as hokey as it sounds and as hard as it is for me to believe at times, God does not make junk or mistakes or glitches. So, that’s something I learned from Miss Vanellope Von Schweetz. Here are a few more sweet morsels:

Know your gifts and believe in them. Ralph eventually helps Vanellope learn to drive so she can race and says that once she finishes one, she’ll be a real racer. “I’m already a real racer; it’s in my code,” Vanellope insists–and she’s right. She’s dynamite at it. No matter if you can’t walk or talk or do anything others expect you should be able to do, you have gifts, too. You can be great at whatever they are. Embrace them–they are in your code.

Have a sense of humor. I love Vanellope in part because she’s snarky and sassy. Part of that comes from her voice actress, Sarah Silverman, who’s a comedienne. But I think most of it comes from Vanellope’s character and her positive response to the adversity she’s experienced. Take a cue from this gal. Disability is serious–but it’s okay to laugh about it. Zinging bullies can be pretty fun, too.

Compensation is good, not bad. While barred from racing, Vanellope couldn’t have a real go-kart. She made one from odds and ends around her home. The result was a pedal-powered kart that probably wouldn’t have won her any races, but the key is, she was proud of it. She found a way to put herself on equal footing with the other Sugar Rush denizens, as best she could. PWDs do this all the time, but they’re sometimes made to feel lousy about compensating. Like the kid in gym who gets belittled because he plays basketball in a wheelchair or someone runs for him in baseball, therefore, his athletic accomplishments don’t count. Baloney! Compensation, done the right way, can help, not hurt. If you’ve had to modify or compensate on your own, be proud of your ingenuity.

Don’t be afraid to call others out. This doesn’t mean starting a fight with bullies or accusing everyone of trying to hurt you. But when someone does try, never be afraid to say, “Hey, cut it out. Don’t call me that. Don’t do that.” And so on. Vanellope didn’t let Taffyta and other snooty racers walk all over her and tell her what she couldn’t do. Don’t you do it, either. But on that note:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Vanellope found the backup she needed, and a friend, in Wreck-it Ralph. She was sassy and confident, but little, so she couldn’t tackle every tough situation by herself. Don’t be afraid to find someone you trust and say, “I need help here” or “This situation is too big for me.” As an added bonus, it’s likely you’ll find a new friend. And perhaps that new friend can help convince any naysayers and bullies that you’re a lot more than you seem.

Keep these tips in mind, and continue racing on to your personal victories. Have a sweet Thanksgiving.

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2 thoughts on “Blog Bonus: What PWDs Can Learn From Vanellope Von Schweetz

  1. Yay, happy to see this one! The two things that I loved so much about Vanellope as a representative of people with disabilities is that the writers didn’t fall for two of the major tropes that come with PWD representations in film (which you discussed some in one of the first posts I read from you).

    1) Her glitch wasn’t actually also some plot twist or superpower that would save the day in the end. She didn’t have to come to some sappy conclusion at the end that it was actually her “greatest strength” or that her disability was somehow “redeemed” by also saving everyone’s life. Instead, she embraced it in a much more holistic way at the end, accepting it as part of herself without great fanfare and moving on with life. It was just part of who she was. It didn’t have to be her greatest feature or her worst feature. It was just her.

    2) She still has her glitch at the end of the movie. Unlike Ariel who gets her voice back or that dude from Quest for Camelot who gets his sight back (and probably some other examples that I can’t come up with right now), Vanellope still glitches at the end of the story. And that’s okay. She’s managed to find a group of friends that supports her, she’s been accepted by her community, and she just continues to live with the glitch. And people love her. Not BECAUSE of the glitch, and not IN SPITE of it either. The just love HER. I think that’s such an important message since people with disabilities, as you’ve said many times, often end up just being defined by their disability and that’s so limiting and dehumanizing.

    Seriously, I feel like the writers of that movie really outdid themselves in making a fun by also really smart and sensitive film for kids. It’s definitely on my list of “shows my kids will be encouraged to watch.” 😀

  2. Ditto. 🙂 As is Frozen. Actually, they’ll be watching all the classics, but we definitely will have age-appropriate talks about the values represented and how well those do or don’t translate to real life. Example: in real life, NEVER call a Native American a “red man” or greet them with “how.” Honestly, I know it was the ’50s, but ???!!! Also, in real life, do NOT give up your voice–physical or otherwise–for a man.

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