Amid all the flashy spoofing of the Internet, Ralph Breaks the Internet grounds its storyline with remarkably profound themes about friendship.
Directed by Rich Moore (Zootopia, Wreck-It Ralph) and Phil Johnston (screenwriter of said movies), Ralph Breaks the Internet, the 2018 offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios and the sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, wastes no time in reintroducing you to the main characters as they play a game of I Spy: Ralph (John C. Reilly, Magnolia, Stan & Ollie), the hulking “villain” of the Donkey Kong-esque arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr. whom everyone has seen as a good guy since his acts of heroism six years ago, and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, The School of Rock, Punching Henry), the feisty girl who uses the glitch in her code as a form of limited teleportation in the candy-themed racing game Sugar Rush. When the steering wheel for Sugar Rush breaks, forcing its residents to escape the game before it gets unplugged, Ralph and Vanellope use a Wi-Fi router that the arcade has recently installed to venture into the Internet and buy a replacement wheel from eBay.
Wreck-It Ralph focuses on the eponymous protagonist’s conflictive self-image as he attempts to free himself from his bad-guy pigeonhole. It does a terrific job at creating a frenetic world inside the arcade and entertaining viewers with its complex plot and endearing characters. The sequel, while spending plenty of time in the vast Internet, has a plot that feels a little too straightforward, but it’s actually more emotional than Wreck-It Ralph as it digs deeper into the story by exploring Ralph’s friendship with Vanellope and their discordant perspectives on life. Through this it offers meaningful commentary about what it means to be a good pal and how not to cling onto the people you love. This isn’t a lesson that I’ve seen many animated movies pass on to their audiences, and I think it’s much more insightful than the platitudinous “You can achieve anything if you believe in it” message.
The movie takes many opportunities to satirize everything from the darknet and pop-up ads—one of the supporting characters, J.P. Spamley (Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), is a living spam algorithm who works as a pop-up advertiser—to an eBay auction selling a corn chip that looks like Beyoncé’s face. Of course, the references to Amazon, Twitter, Google, Buzzfeed, and other similar examples, while amusing at the moment, will surely make this feel dated within five or ten years. And I can’t help but derisively chuckle when the story heads to the online version of Disneyland and fills the screen with Stormtroopers, Eeyore, Buzz Lightyear, and more. Yes, it’s an unabashed advertisement, but the Easter eggs make it worth the time. And the Disney Princess scene that everyone went crazy for back in the summer is the best part of the movie, showing Disney’s ability to poke fun at itself for all those misogynistic Princess tropes.
In general, feminism runs strongly through the movie, not only as it gives Vanellope a powerful arc and allows her to evaluate her desires to explore the world, but also because it introduces two female characters to the main cast. There’s Yesss (Taraji P. Henson, Empire, Hidden Figures), the head honcho of the video-sharing site Buzztube. This is where you’ll see all the hot trends like the ghost pepper challenge and dance tutorials. There’s also Shank (Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman, Fast & Furious), the hardened streetcar racer from the brutal online racing game Slaughter Race, which could be compared to Grand Theft Auto. I particularly admire the fact that Vanellope and Shank, instead of becoming hostile rivals, respect each other and quickly grow a friendship that feels genuine.
Movies have explored the Internet for the past couple decades, so some of the mechanisms, such as how people roam around with chibi-style avatars called netizens or how they can lose their connection, don’t surprise me. Other parts are more creatively designed, like the search engine overseen by the know-it-all netizen Knowsmore (Alan Tudyk, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Doom Patrol). Innovative, character-driven plot twists towards the climax give it an affecting punch and conclude the movie’s thoughts on friendship perfectly.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is right up there with Disney’s other quality films, so make sure you watch it.
Windup score: 93/100