Disney has proven over the years that while subsidiary Pixar may still be THE name in computer animation the company’s home studio Walt Disney Animation Studios can still churn out credible works on their own. We’ve seen is with the likes of “Frozen”, “Tangled”, “Big Hero 6” and others but one film that still stands out in the crowd for it’s fun and unique premise is “Wreck-It Ralph” which this weekend became the first movie in the studio’s modern CGI animation collection to receive a sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet”. There was a lot of promise for this film with director Rich Moore returning to the helm, this time joined by his fellow story writer from the original Phil Johnston who wrote the screenplay along with Pamela Robin for this followup. A lot of the same characters return to the movie as well while the film expands the universe beyond the limits of the arcade into the internet. With so much promise and a much larger scale for the story this was a risky sequel to make seeing as the original is so beloved among modern fans. So, does this follow-up succeed in building on a modern animated classic or is it a simple retread? Let’s take a look in my review of “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” returns us to the video game world of Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and his best friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) who are enjoying their lives and friendship in their familiar arcade six years after the events of the first movie. However, Vanellope has begun to feel bored with her meager existence with the excitement and wonder of her game having faded away. When Ralph tries to cheer her up he inadvertently causes a player to break the steering wheel for “Sugar Rush” leading the game to be unplugged and the game’s residents, including Vanellope, to be homeless. To try and make up for his mistake Ralph brings Vanellope into the newly connected internet to look for a new wheel on Ebay. Along the way the two friends explore different real-world aps and properties eventually leading Ralph to turn to a video sharing website to try and earn money for the wheel with the help of an algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) while Vanellope falls in love with a new game called “Slaughter Race” led by a fellow racing character names Shank (Gal Gadot). As Vanellope comes to realize that she would rather join “Slaughter Race” than return home Ralph has to come to grips with his insecurities and the potential of losing his best friend leading him to take desperate measures that put the entirety of the internet in jeopardy.
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is an absolutely gorgeous and engaging from start to finish. I mean it, this film never gets boring and always has something going on while also throwing some fantastic animation and attention to detail our way. This sequel takes the interesting and sleek design of the original movie and adds to it by introducing us, and the characters, to an imaginative physical interpretation of the internet complete with sprites for the human users and physical locations for many licensed websites including Google, Ebay, and Pinterest that are all explored to some extent by the characters. We also get an entertaining Disney-themed world that Vanellope explores leading to the popular meeting with the princesses from the movie’s trailer and some slick callbacks to MANY Disney owned properties. Overall this feels like a natural transition for this franchise which was confined to the world of arcade game boxes in the first film. This new world is much more expansive, and the possibilities seem truly endless. The fact that we’re learning about the internet’s design and limitations at the same time as the characters makes it all the more interesting especially since the internet is such a huge part of our lives to begin with and many people barely tap into it’s potential.
While this film does forsake some major players from the first movie this allows it to focus squarely on the partnership of Ralph and Vanillope which really is the driving force of the entire plot. In order to explain this, I need to first note that “Ralph Breaks the Internet” has no real villain. The bad guy here is actually Ralph because he is the cause of most of the conflict. His attempt to help Vanillope find more joy in her own game is what leads her game the break. His attempt to try and keep her in his life is what leads to the climactic conflict in the final act that, as the title suggests, breaks the internet. While this initially left me with mixed feelings it didn’t take long for me to realize how brilliant this story decision was from a character development perspective.
The entire movie Ralph is overprotective and devoted to Vanellope which is not surprise considering we learned in the first movie how hard it was for him to be accepted even in his own game. Why would he want to give that up now that he has it? For a while it DOES look like Vanellope is going to be the one with the problems because her anxiety causes her glitch to act up. But by the end of the film it’s actually Ralph who has to deal with his insecurities. He doesn’t want to lose his best friend that he worked so hard to earn? He doesn’t want to go back to just being a one-dimensional villain again and in turn he BECOMES that villain he wants to avoid being, albeit with the best intentions in mind. This serves as an extension on the first film’s morals by forcing Ralph to come to grips with aspects of himself that make him a “bad guy” on paper but are actually normal human reactions and emotions everyone must face. Left unchecked though these emotions can be more destructive than helpful and that’s a powerful and relevant theme for both adults and children to learn especially in a film like this that handles it so well.
Beyond this deeper message I absolutely loved how “Ralph Breaks the Internet” poked fun on not only the internet, but also Disney’s own tropes as well. I had my issues with the Disney Easter eggs which I’ll detail soon, but I have to admit the princess scene is absolutely hilarious and it’s not the only time that Disney as a studio shows some great self-awareness by mocking their own formulas. It’s also really cool that a lot of the Disney owned characters are played by their original performers, including the bulk of the princesses. Then you get to the internet itself where fictional websites like KnowsMore and BuzzTube parody their real life counterparts which are actually presented as their competition in the film. While KnowsMore hilariously mocks the “autofill” function and predictability of search engines BuzzTube mocks the public’s obsession with viral videos and even uses Ralph himself as the subject of these videos. The fact that SO many Ralph-themed knockoffs of popular trends go viral in only 8 hours was quite amusing to me because it felt like a truly inspired jab at the public’s obsession with not only repetition but with the next big fad in general which often lasts a very short time before something new takes its place. Commentary like this adds more depth to the film beyond it’s central message. One of my favorite moments was where both main themes f this movie came together. There’s a touching scene that offers commentary on the vile nature of internet commenters which serves as a powerful storytelling tool because it plays into Ralph’s insecurities. Great storytelling like this that combines fun elements with the emotional message of the project are while these movies work so well. The makers of the “Emoji Movie” should take notes.
I can’t move on without acknowledging the flawless voice work put into this film. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are as charming as ever in the lead roles and work off each other perfectly with the same charisma they embraced in the original film. New additions like Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson and Alan Tudyk bring to life some truly interesting and fun characters while other familiar names like Jack McBrayer as Fix-It Felix, Jr. and Jane Lynch as Sergeant Calhoun may not be as prominent in this movie as the first but are still fun to see again six years into their on-screen marriage. I also have to compliment the cameo voice actors and actresses as, like I said, many of the original performers returned to voice their previous Disney roles for the sake of quick surprise appearances. Brad Garrett for example plays Eeyore in a quick moment who he also portrayed earlier this year in the live action “Christopher Robin” movie. Tim Allen returns for Buzz Lightyear, Vin Diesel returns to play Groot, and Corey Burton plays Grumpy who he has portrayed for many years despite not playing him in the original “Snow White” movie. These are just a few of the many voice cameos in the film and none of them feel like they’re doing it for a paycheck. They all seem to be enjoying an opportunity to bring their characters to life even for mere minutes and it make’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” all the more fun to watch and experience especially if you’re a diehard Disney lover.
That said though the Disney callbacks were actually my least favorite part of this film. Don’t get me wrong they were fun and amusing. I already praised the voice work and how hilarious these cameos can be, especially the princesses. But I couldn’t help feeling like this was pure pandering on the part of the studio all the same. There’s really NO reason for the Disney world to be here except to flaunt the studio’s many successes and poke fun at itself. Yeah it does help ground the film in our reality by introducing real world properties into the mix, but this film and its predecessor already accomplish that with actual video game characters like Sonic and Zangief as well as this sequel’s references to real life websites.
Really Vanillope only ends up in the Disney section of the internet because of Ralph and while this isn’t the first (or last) time Ralph’s actions impact Vanillope this is the one area of the film where the results weren’t necessarily plot related. Sure, Vanillope’s interactions with the princesses leads to a rather trippy and random moment where she realizes she wants to stay in “Slaughter Race” but otherwise there’s really no need for it. This could have been handled in so many more subtle ways even by using the estblished new characters to get that point across. The Disney elements are a nice touch that do make “Ralph Breaks the Internet” a source of some fun nostalgia to the fans but from a story perspective I just felt like this wasn’t necessary to get to the point and, at times, it even felt like padding. This also comes back in the finale which I can’t spoil here but I’ll just say the involvement of familiar characters in those scenes didn’t exactly make me feel any better about the including of popular Disney favorites either.
I also felt like the writing was a little off in parts but not enough to derail the entire story. I actually give this movie credit for handling very adult themes like emotional strife and insecurities in a way both adults and children can understand but some of the dialogue and the way things are resolved was clearly dumbed down to work more with the young audience than the older crowd. Some of the exchanges feel a bit clunky like when Shank talks about her game to her fellow characters in “Slaughter Race” when it’s clear they should have had these conversations before and the discussion is purely to catch up the audience. This isn’t a common occurrence in the film, but it happens enough times where it bothered me even in the slightest, so I feel it’s worth mentioning. The writing is mostly smooth and seamless but when its not it’s very obvious and it’s no fault to the performers who are making the best out of the material they had to work with. In fact, it could be said that this is a compliment to the film because the rest of the final product is so well written and smoothly laid out that it makes these blemishes all the more obvious.
While I have to admit I needed to let “Ralph Breaks the Internet” digest overnight before I could write this review, in the end I just simply loved this sequel. I very much enjoyed the original film and this follow-up ups the ante in many ways, expanding on the film’s universe while also building on the relationship between the main characters eventually leading the titular Ralph to have to face some harsh truths about himself and his insecurities, an important message for all viewers that is handled extremely well. Surprisingly I also enjoyed the fact that there’s no real villain here. It’s just Ralph having to face the consequences of his actions which create ripple effects that he has to manage. It’s a powerful look at how the best of intentions can sometimes lead to the most destructive of results but that doesn’t make someone bad because there are consequences. It makes them flawed. Even the Disney callback stuff was interesting and unique even if I felt it was a little too much pandering for my liking and despite some issues I have with the writing and the script most of this movie hits it out of the park so even the most minuscule of errors can easily be overlooked and forgiven. This is just such an interesting film. It’s funny, it’s inventive, it looks beautiful and it’s definitely one of the more engaging and enjoyable animated films of 2018.