Wreck-It Ralph represents a rare breed among the films released by Walt Disney Animation Studios in the past ten years. Not only is it an original property, but it also left itself open for another installment to the point that it barely scratched the surface of its own video game universe. In fact, this extends to what the original is in essence: a film about being proud of who you are as opposed to being a feature-length deep dive into video game fan-service. Now that six years have passed since the original’s 2012 release, we finally have that sequel in the form of Ralph Breaks the Internet. So how does this new installment develop the world created in its predecessor and more importantly, how well does it achieve its goals?
I will give the movie some credit: it answers the first question rather quickly. After the first few minutes of reintroducing the audience to Litwak’s Arcade and its many games such as Fix-It Felix, Sugar Rush, and Tapper, we are thrust into the vast landscape of the Internet, complete with popular websites like eBay, Google, and Twitter. There are also minor characters that personify aspects of the online experience, including the search predictor and clickbait messengers. Of course, Disney’s presence is felt in the dedicated Disney section of the Internet as well as the elements softened for family audiences such as comment sections and a rather basic depiction of the dark web. In short, the film offers a scale much larger than what was seen in the original, which never even bothered to leave the arcade.
Given the film’s leaning towards comedy, it is no surprise that a variety of jokes are generated from this new setting. In addition to gags centered around how intrusive online advertisements are, there are several dedicated to how people can trend through video posting sites like YouTube (or the site relevant to the film’s narrative, Buzztube). While a few cover mainstream topics like cat videos, most of them tackle subjects rarely depicted in modern animation like hot pepper challenges and ASMR videos. Although not all of the gags hit their mark, the screenplay by Pamela Ribon and co-director Phil Johnston does its best at making the majority land – surprisingly, the best bits are found in the mid-credits scene and especially the post-credits scene, which must be seen to be believed.
However, much like its predecessor, Ralph Breaks the Internet is not all about bringing its expansive setting to life. For a movie to have a lasting impact, there must be a central message that permeates throughout, and in the case here, that message revolves around strengthening friendships by spending time away from companions. The story starts off with the pair of Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) going through the Internet to save Vanellope’s game of origin, Sugar Rush, from being sold for parts. During their quest, Vanellope finds an online racing game that slowly changes her previous motives. Most notably, she starts a bond with one of the racers, Shank (Gal Gadot, playing a character that bears a striking resemblance to her), and soon realizes that being a part of this new game is how she wants to progress with her life. This not only creates interesting conflict between the characters, but it also leads to Ralph showing a newfound flaw in his personality: insecurity.
What is unfortunate about the message is not that Johnston & Ribon – as well as co-director Rich Moore, who helmed the previous movie – fumble the execution, but that it takes over half of its 112-minute runtime to take full precedence. The biggest distinction is that Wreck-It Ralph prioritizes its messages of self-acceptance above taking its sweet time developing its universe, while Ralph Breaks the Internet quickly establishes its Internet setting as the most time-consuming element. Sadly, this change is not to the film’s benefit. This is most apparent in the sequence set in the Disney site, where an entire scene is spent on Vanellope interacting with other Disney princesses for no other reason than to foreshadow an upcoming musical number, but it is problematic in other scenes as well. Also detrimental is how the shift in focus to the Ralph/Vanellope pairing leads to the underutilization of previous supporting players – the biggest offender is Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) who spends most of the time caring for the other Sugar Rush racers. The end result is an experience that has its most vital parts loaded in the back half – though it has a few stand-out scenes in the front half such as the chase scene with Vanellope and Shank as well as the montage of Ralph’s embrace of viral videos.
In all fairness, the back half is quite effective indeed: the climax turns Ralph’s insecurity into the most intimidating physical form possible – I will be vague as to avoid spoilers – and it is genuinely poignant given the society’s online personality slowly becoming more unstable in recent years. Furthermore, the way it resolves nicely taps a lot into concepts of one’s will to control another’s future to suit one’s own desire. It also helps that by this point, the product placement and pop culture references have reduced significantly, meaning that it has the opportunity to capture the original film’s successes. While the jump in quality is too late to make up for the time spent on world-building, it is assuring to see a story improve itself as it goes along.
All of this is to say Ralph Breaks the Internet is not a failure: there are imaginative sets and character designs, the voicework is solid as ever, and it is nice to see a family film that tackles the challenges of friendship. But at no point does it feel like it is reaching the heights of its predecessor nor does it seem like the references were ever a low level of importance, which is disappointing given what made the original work as much as it did. On the upside, we now have a studio animated film about the Internet that is leaps and bounds more enjoyable than The Emoji Movie. Because even in its compromised form, Ralph Breaks the Internet has relatable themes and humor that hits on a regular basis. Obviously, this is faint praise, but if that means we can get a film that has moments of unabashed fun that can be counted on multiple hands, I see no reason not to give this a recommendation.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is now available in theaters.
Ralph Breaks the Internet – Taking place six years after saving the arcade from Turbo’s vengeance, the Sugar Rush arcade cabinet has broken, forcing Ralph and Vanellope to travel to the Internet via the newly-installed Wi-Fi router in Litwak’s Arcade to retrieve the piece capable of saving the game.
Directed by Rich Moore, Ralph Breaks the Internet stars John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, and Gal Gadot.