Back in 2012, Disney released Wreck-It-Ralph, and it quickly won the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. About as close to greatness as any movie based on video-games has proven to be, it built upon our culture’s increasing love and familiarity with video-game culture with a tale all its own about Wreck-It-Ralph (impeccably voiced by John C. Reilly), a villain in the game, Fix-It-Felix, Jr., who tires of his lot in life. Always seen as the bad guy wherever he goes in Litwak’s Arcade, Ralph would just like to know what it’s like to be the good guy for once. His search brings him to know Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a misfit racer in the game, Sugar Rush. Their stories weave together, and by that film’s end, the two become the unlikeliest of friends.
Now, in 2018 with Ralph Breaks The Internet, we revisit the digital denizens of Litwak’s Arcade, and Sugar Rush has a broken steering wheel, due inadvertently to Ralph and Vanellope. The game is in need of repairs or else it will get unplugged and removed, leaving the characters in the game all homeless. Where does the world look when in need of obscure parts? You guessed it: eBay! It’s that simple need that pulls the guilty-feeling Ralph and Vanellope out of the arcade by way of a newly installed router and into the worldwide web, and it’s this film that allows us all a charming and amusing look at the current state of our world online. While out and about from the arcade, the two meet characters like the dangerous online racer, Shank (Gal Gadot), the lead algorithm for the BuzzzTube video platform, Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), the encyclopedic bookworm, Knowsmore (Alan Tudyk), and dark-web denizens, J.P. Spamley (Bill Hader) and Double Dan (Alfred Molina), among many others, and in meeting them, each begins to see that priorities can change over time for individuals. While the original Ralph film worked off of our nostalgia, this entry works off of our collective knowledge of the here-and-now. It’s for that and other reasons that this film proves to be different from what came before it.
As it comes down to in really any review, is the film any good? I’d say yes! I enjoyed this film and had some good laughs, even as the emotional core that was present in the first film didn’t exist as strong this go-round for me. The story of two misfits worked well before, and that film’s ending, especially in my own life and with my own daughter, was incredibly resonant beyond the credits rolling. Here, we have two friends who are forced to grow as individuals, and that may put them moving apart from each other. Maybe it’s because the message is a harder life lesson that made the film less enjoyable to me? I really don’t know, but I can say that where the film really shone for me was its depiction of the Internet: how the thrill of fame and gratification excites us, how we turn to a variety of means possible to profit online, and how free being online makes us feel. These are the moments that stick out, and while this film is probably the most laugh-out-loud Disney film I can recall, it will be interesting how funny this film will be five, ten, or fifty years out. Cultural examination and the processing of pop culture in films can date a film like nothing else, and this film’s foundation is precisely such things.
The main cast of the original all return here: Reilly, Silverman, Jack McBrayer as Fix-It-Felix, Jane Lynch as Calhoun, and Ed O’Neill as Mr. Litwak. All are in fine form, including the aforementioned Tudyk in a new role. The new additions to the cast are numerous, and all handle their parts well. Criticisms of the film attack the plot (or lack thereof), and I get that. The film is less focused than the prior film, and it really does come down to feeling more like a series of vignettes than a living, breathing story. Much of the film is a roast of what we collectively know about the Internet, poking fun at it throughout, and amongst all that, we get a big helping of humor from Disney-owned properties, far and wide. While I felt the film was more than just a long commercial as some have gone on record as saying, it does give this film a different, stranger feel than the other film (or really any film), even if it isn’t entirely bad. Don’t try to count the product/brand placements; it will give you a headache. Those hoping for a sequel focused solely on video-games will likely be disappointed, even though it doesn’t abandon those concepts entirely and does nail several aspects of online gaming that the first film couldn’t, due to its premise.
Content-wise, the video-game action and violence does come across as more intense than the prior film. Yes, characters are comedically caught on fire and swallowed whole by sharks, but towards the end, things get a little creepy (without delving into specifics). This film and its predecessor use made up “kiddie” profanities throughout, and while typing that sentence makes it all sound much worse than it is, some parents may not want their kids repeating phrases heard in the film. There is no sexual content to be aware of, thankfully. I found the concept of two individuals growing apart to be very illustrative of couples splitting up or divorcing, even if the two friends we follow are not married or even romantically involved. Others may disagree with that assessment, but if you view what the film teaches, it can be instructive to couples who find themselves becoming different people than they were when they first met their significant other. Christ calls for people to change in following Him, and as we do that, it is important to examine how our relationships change with other people, good or bad.
All-in-all, I think Ralph Breaks The Internet is a worthy successor to the original (even as it becomes a very different thing on its own), and it presents a pitch-perfect lampooning of our current society. Not quite as heartfelt as the original and more likely to have its relevance passed by with the ever-changing Internet landscape, it seems to set things up for even more adventures in what is now one of my favorite animated settings of all. While the plot and emotions of it all aren’t as strong, I had too much fun while watching to fault it much.
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