RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET
***½ out of five stars
Co-director Rich Moore and Walt Disney Animation Studios at long last have unveiled the sequel to their 2012 hit Wreck-It Ralph. For their latest adventure, Ralph and his buddy Vanellope venture out of the arcade and into the World Wide Web. Will their online journey live up to their previous cinematic outing?
Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) have enjoyed a peaceful life in the worlds of their respective games and the other attractions at Litwak’s Arcade. Disaster strikes when the steering wheel to Vanellope’s game, Sugar Rush, breaks and the only available replacement is too pricey for the proprietor Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill). Vanellope and the denizens of Sugar Rush are left homeless when Litwak plans to sell off the parts for the game.
To save Sugar Rush, Ralph and Vanellope travel to the Internet via Litwak’s new Wifi router. They travel to eBay and win the bidding war for the steering wheel but are unintendedly left with a high price. With only 24 hours to pay for the steering wheel, the duo needs to make a lot of money fast. Luckily, Ralph creates videos for the site Buzzztube, which become extremely popular.
Meanwhile, Vanellope is attracted to the world of Slaughter Race, a rather intense online racing/demolition game. As Vanellope becomes reluctant to return to Sugar Rush and Litwak’s Arcade, a rift develops between Ralph and her. Can their friendship survive this life-changing online experience?
Ralph Breaks the Internet should appeal to fans of the first film. With co-director Moore and the original voice cast returning, this is a Disney animated sequel that feels like a natural extension of the first film. Fans should be forewarned, however, that the scope of the film’s cast and cultural references has shifted. Ralph and Vanellope remain the focus here, but Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and the other video arcade characters (both licensed and original) are given little screen time. Given the online setting of most of the film, we are presented primarily with references to contemporary Internet culture instead of nostalgic video games.
Luckily, the new characters and pop-culture in-jokes are quite good. Among the colorful figures Ralph and Vanellope meet online are Shank (Gal Gadot), the bad-ass female lead of Slaughter Race; Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), the managing algorithm of Buzzztube; the search engine mascot KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk) and the shady pop-up advertiser J.P. Spamley (Bill Hader).
When it comes to representing the Internet, eBay is one of the few real-life websites that play an important role in the film’s story (though the logos for others make background appearances). Buzzztube, on the other hand, stands in for YouTube unofficially. There are references to cat videos, unboxings, the Dark Web, and Slaughter Race itself represents online and pay-to-win games. The Internet is depicted as a bustling cyber metropolis, and the visuals are eye-catching as usual. Pre-release discussions of this film feared comparisons to Sony Animation’s 2017 dud The Emoji Movie (which I have not seen, so I can’t elaborate on), but thankfully Ralph’s online adventure has been released to a much warmer reception.
Perhaps the most hyped sequence in the film involves Vanellope traveling to Oh My Disney, the official fan site for the entertainment giant. While this kind of self-promotion may sound somewhat crass in theory, in practice it is a treat for fans of the company (which, perhaps confidentially, celebrates its 95th anniversary this year). Characters from Disney animation, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and the Muppets all make cameos. The most memorable scene involves Vanellope meeting the Disney Princesses, as they compare their respective life stories. This serves as a deconstructive but affectionate self-satirical commentary on history of Disney heroines (not unlike their 2007 live-action/animation hybrid Enchanted).
The overall story of the film is a bit different from its predecessor. The first movie featured an intriguing subplot of Ralph trying to uncover the mystery of Vanellope’s origin. This time around, there is no big bad villain and conflict is largely internal. Vanellope longs for something more than the predictable world of Sugar Rush (her yearning for “something more” is quite humorously compared to that of the typical Disney Princess at one point). Meanwhile, Ralph has the bad habit of being too clingy of a friend and not always giving Vanellope her space. While this type of existential dilemma is not unlike those featured in many other family films, the ultimate resolution may surprise audiences. The story is not as engaging as the original, but still keeps the viewers’ interest.
It’s somewhat difficult for me to guess what people who haven’t seen the first Ralph would think of this sequel. Ralph Breaks the Internet personally appeals to me because the original movie left me wanting more. I would wager that newcomers would be caught up on Ralph, Vanellope and the arcade world during this sequel’s opening (like the first one, it is book-ended by monologues from Ralph), and most viewers should already be internet-savvy to understand the in-jokes.
If you enjoyed the first Ralph movie, this is easily a must-see, even if it may not be as overall satisfying as its predecessor. If you haven’t seen the first film but are in the mood for a lighthearted satire of online culture, you’ll find something to enjoy here (though I would recommend renting the original movie first). Ralph Breaks the Internet is yet another delightful feather in the cap of contemporary Disney Animation, and that’s not a load of clickbait. And please stick around during and after the credits.