Synopsis – Six years after the events of “Wreck-It Ralph,” Ralph and Vanellope, now friends, discover a wi-fi router in their arcade, leading them into a new adventure.
My Take – Love them or hate them, but you got to agree, the Walt Disney Corporation sure knows how to make films, of course notwithstanding a few exceptions (The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) are here and there. Be it Pixar or Star Wars or Marvel Entertainment, Disney as a brand takes every possible measure to maintain and carefully curate an image that appeals to as wide an audience as possible. But for some reason, despite their massive successes, relatively few sequels have been produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, mainly in comparison to their other brands.
While some believe, as Disney specializes in happy-ending family entertainment, and by producing a follow-up to a beloved all-ages cartoon places the young audience’s desire for more up against the security and stability that comes when a story ends. Which is why 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, which despite being cribbed from plenty of existing properties, ended up being one of the most ingenious and touching films to come out of the studio. The story of a video game bad guy, Ralph, trying to break out of a perpetual cycle of defeat and exile by venturing into other games had no business being as touching and good as it was.
While six years later, as the original continues to be considered as ahead of its time, the sequel hopes to get a similar response by doing the same with something else that literally controls our life–the Internet. As the original pretty much did all it could in the world of arcade video games, the sequel gets bigger in scope by depicting the Internet as elaborate and more endearing.
Thankfully, this atypical sequel ends up also being just as effective as the original, while never feeling like a cash grab despite repeating the narrative formula. While the first film was about learning to be fine with one’s own skin, the sequel moves on to be about friendship and learning to evolve with the times. Trust me, if you’re on the lookout for another round of top level pop culture filled animation, a bag of genuine laughs and your heartstrings to be pulled just a little bit, this sequel is the perfect film to watch this week.
Taking place a few years after the events of the original, the story follows Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the antagonist of the arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr, who has now fully reconciled his desire for heroism and seems contend with his job. After work, he spends the rest of his time hanging out with his diminutive best friend Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman), the glitchy casual-dress princess hero of racing game Sugar Rush. While Ralph seems completely happy with his daily routine, the risk-taking Vanellope is growing bored with her racing-world domination and yearns for change.
In order to fulfill her need, Ralph moves into her game, and makes a change to the race course, which unfortunately leads to disaster as the game’s external controls break, leaving the characters of the game homeless as the arcade owner unplugs the game due to insufficient funds for replacement. Feeling responsible, Ralph and Vanellope hatch a plan to use the recently connected Wi-Fi to find their way into the internet and find the replacement controller from eBay. Once inside they find themselves in over their heads in the wild world of social media, e-commerce, and pop-up ads includes a trip to Slaughter Race, an immensely more violent racing game dominated by Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot).
Relying on the citizens of the internet like J.P. Spamley (voiced by Bill Hader), a click bait pop-up ad, to help them navigate their way, including a website entrepreneur named Yesss (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), who is the head algorithm and the heart and soul of trend-making site called BuzzzTube, the two decide to try everything to get the controller as fast as possible, mainly as Vanellope is smitten with this more intense, challenging new world, while Ralph is instead intimidated, both by the game’s extreme environment and his friend’s newfound independence.
This sequel is arguably a simply structured film on the surface that aims to wow all of us with the wonders of the internet while the duo races against time to find a missing part. What makes this film so enjoyable is the surprisingly freewheeling approach to storytelling. At every turn in which audiences might expect the sort of corporate self-promotion one came to expect in the this era, the film takes a more unexpected and less traveled road, all the while managing to locate some gentle satire in our culture’s love-hate relationship with the internet.
The way the internet manifests is almost overwhelming: It’s a bustling, futuristic metropolis, with users flooding in and reams of data flying by overhead. Twitter, for instance, is a giant tree, populated by blue birds that tweet out, well, tweets. You see the avatars of the people in real life looking for things across the Internet, and the weird things that the Internet does to them. You get to see things like eBay and how it works in the “virtual world”, or how scams are “defeated” by security.
They shift audiences from a suspicion the film’s presentation of the web will be about endless product placement, to the dawning realization the story will actually include some of the darkest aspects of web surfing. It is spot on in how it shows the perils and cruelty often found online. At one point, Ralph must attain a certain level of viral popularity, assisted by the BuzzFeed-esque content guru Yesss, and the film is savvy about how accidental spikes in fame can turn into cynical algorithm manipulation.
The film also suggests, in a cautionary way, that internet users can easily waste far too many hours watching nonsensical detritus online. Ralph, in fact, even tries to monetize that human desire for silly stuff (as he’s in need of money to buy that coveted part) and makes some videos of his own. But when Ralph checks the comment feed on his videos, he sees many negative and hurtful comments that internet trolls have left—calling him a “worthless bum” and the like. “This place can bring out the worst in some people,” Ralph is told. That sense of neediness and desperation eventually has a more destructive outlet in the form of a computer virus that attacks “insecurities” in its targets.
Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, both veterans of the original team, also pull off some inventive, enlivening left turns that bring to mind the first film. These include a brief but show stopping scene where Vanellope crashes a Disney Princess reunion, packed with gags and references that should send both young and old fans into paroxysms of glee. The princess confab also leads into a scene featuring Vanellope and the cast of Slaughter Race that probably shouldn’t be spoiled.
However, once you start to peel the layers from the story and dig deeper into the character development that both the directors have crafted for us, the film reveals a deeper truth about humanity and relationships more than I think any of us would have thought to have tackled in a film about video game characters and the internet. Despite the many references and the spectacle of it all, the film at its core was about the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope, and addresses the ideas of being a selfish friend, learning to let go and the ephemeral-yet-lasting nature of friendships in a world that’s so plugged in.
The personal and software definitions of insecurities are meshed with puns as Ralph struggles to hold onto Vanellope, whose glitch (which kept her apart from her fellow racers before being revealed to be her racing superpower in the first film) has begun acting up again as she tries to reconcile her love for Ralph with her desire to move to the online racing game Slaughter Race. The film reminds us how friendships evolve over time. And it suggests that sometimes you have to step back and give friends space to make their own choices—even choices you don’t agree with.
If the film never falls into a feedback loop, credit should probably go to John C. Reilly and especially Sarah Silverman, who bring human vulnerability to their roles. Twice now Reilly and Silverman have helped to give an animation’s happy ending real emotional depth. And twice now, they’ve made their characters so endearing that some fans may feel oddly conflicted about the prospect of undoing those endings just to see them again. Sadly, Fix-It Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) have minimal time this go round. But they do make the most of it.
Taraji P. Henson, Gal Gadot, Bill Hader, and Alfred Molina are welcome additions, while in smaller roles, Alan Tudyk, Kristen Bell, Kelly Macdonald, Linda Larkin, Mandy Moore, Anika Noni Rose, Anthony Daniels, Aulii Cravalho, Brad Garrett, Corey Burton, Irene Bedard, Jodi Benson, Michael Giacchino, Roger Craig Smith, Paige O Hara, Tim Allen and Vin Diesel (as Groot), play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet‘ is a hilarious and emotional animated film that is not only just astounding but also acts as a great companion to Wreck-it Ralph.
Rated – PG
Run Time – 112 minutes