An animated sequel that doesn’t byte.
In no small feat, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a sweet, funny and worthy follow-up to the Oscar-nominated 2012 Wreck-It Ralph. The sequel finds room to grow on the original film’s premise by exploring not only a larger world beyond video games but also new and more complicated dimensions to the core friendship at the heart of these movies.
Gaming remains a factor this time around — especially when Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope’s (Sarah Silverman) online journey leads them into the absurdly dangerous and over-the-top GTA-style game Slaughter Race — and the quest to save Vanellope’s “home” Sugar Rush from extinction is the plot’s main objective. But the Internet, as the movie’s title makes obvious, is the main subject of this keen parody, and this shifts the focus from the past (nostalgia for classic games) to the present. Everything from viral videos to the dark web to online shopping gets ribbed here.
Poking fun at the Internet isn’t exactly a novel idea at this point in time, so as cute and funny as it is to see Ralph Breaks the Internet poke fun at popular viral videos and online behavior, the film gets far more mileage and bigger laughs with its observations on its parent studio. Ralph and Vanellope’s visit to (the very real) OhMyDisney.com provides a steady stream of Easter eggs and hilarious meta commentary on Marvel, Star Wars and other Disney properties.
But the inarguable highlight of all this Mouse House-mocking is the significant role played here by a large contingent of Disney Princesses. The Ralph sequel gets its biggest laughs in sequences where all the cliches and outdated elements associated with these animated icons are royally and uproariously sent up and addressed head-on. These are the moments — funny, yet substantive and cuttingly insightful — that will remain in the collective memory long after Ralph Breaks the Internet leaves theaters and many of its meme jokes lose their relevance.
Ralph and Vanellope also cross paths with two new characters who are each entertaining additions in their own ways. In what’s likely a nod to her big-screen roots in the Fast and Furious franchise, Gal Gadot shines as Shank, the oh-so-cool, badass anti-hero of Slaughter Race. She starts off as an antagonist of sorts but, in true Fast and Furious fashion, proves she’s a more sympathetic figure than was initially evident. Meanwhile, Taraji P. Henson goes big in the showy role of Yesss, a trending algorithm who knows how to exploit any online phenomenon. Yesss gets a few more laughs in the long run, but Shank proves more pivotal to the proceedings thanks to the influential bond she forges with Vanellope.
For all its chiding of the web, Ralph Breaks the Internet actually provides a very moving message about online bullying. Ralph discovers not just the fun and silly parts of life online but endures its most negative and hurtful aspects as well. The film’s true pathos, however, stems from the course Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship takes once they leave the small and repetitive world of Litwak’s Arcade and are exposed to the range of experiences that the larger and more exciting realm of the internet offers. And like any small-town kid curious about what life is like outside her mundane, provincial life (or Princess Jasmine, for that matter), Vanellope becomes fascinated by what this big, new world has to offer.
Ralph, remember, is not just Vanellope’s best friend but also her pseudo-big brother and guardian figure. But Ralph’s neediness and insecurities — coupled with his natural tendency to wreck things — push his bond with Vanellope to its breaking point in some of the movie’s most dramatic, poignant moments, brought to life in an action-packed final act where Ralph’s dunderheaded actions literally break the internet. It’s the signature mixture of action, humor, and heartstring-tugging that Disney Animation Studios does so well.