Ralph Breaks The Internet the results....
By Jordan Bosch
For most of its history, sequels haven’t really been Disney’s thing -
not high quality, theatrical animated canon ones at least.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (which ought to be called Ralph Wrecks the Internet) is only their third after The Rescuers Down Under (the studio’s single most underrated gem) and Fantasia 2000 (which contains some of their best ever animation).
The arcade game world and creative premise of Wreck-It Ralph actually did offer a lot of opportunity for a follow-up though, and I was really looking forward to what a sequel would do. Going to the internet wasn’t what I expected, but I remained optimistic even while the trailers for this movie were pretty insufferable, emphasizing mostly the shameless Disney Princess scene. Luckily, the movie is not as bad as the trailers, but it does have some bugs.
Craving something new from her game, Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) is delighted when Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) creates a new track for her. But a player, while manoeuvring it, accidentally breaks the games’ wheel control causing the game itself to be shut down and Vanellope rendered homeless. Hearing that they could find a replacement wheel online, Ralph and Vanellope journey into the arcades’ recently installed wifi and connect to the internet. While trying to make real money to buy the wheel, Vanellope becomes enamoured with a tough online racing game called Slaughter Race as Ralph’s insecurity threatens their friendship.
The problem with making a movie about the internet is that the internet is in a constant state of change. What was true about it when a movie enters production won’t necessarily be when it’s released, so the filmmakers have to keep their fingers on its pulse in order to satirize it effectively.
But director Rich Moore is an inventive guy, and in a number of places lambastes the internet as much as he can under the Disney family friendly banner (which really isn’t a lot -the internet is definitely not a PG-rated place).
There are some astute, creative, and funny observations and interpretations in this movie, such as a great animation gag involving online avatars, and a murky dark web where pop-up ads take you. However half the internet jokes aren’t very inspired and quite a few are downright outdated.
It’s been almost a decade since jokes about cat videos have been funny or pertinent, yet here they are in this movie.
Predictive text in search engines even is a bit old hand and the film doesn’t quite get how viral videos work. At times it’s very clear that this movie is being made by people who aren’t quite in tune with internet culture. It could have used some more millennials on its creative team. As far as imagination goes, the look and feel of the world of the internet is somewhat reminiscent of Futurama (on which Moore was a director), not quite as unique or well-realized as Moore’s worlds in Wreck-It Ralph or Zootopia.
The film immediately recaptures the endearing relationship between Ralph and Vanellope though, and Reilly and Silverman have terrific chemistry. The strength of their characters was the real key to what made the first movie so great and they have a lot of good moments here too.
But while Vanellope’s arc is interesting and resonant, Ralph’s comes across almost a little regressive. It’s not a bad character direction per se, but it does feel a bit off for Ralph and allows for a couple really awful clichés to dampen the last act of the movie.
Gal Gadot is a welcome addition as Shank, a Slaughter Race daredevil and inspirational figure for Vanellope. Taraji P. Henson voices Yesss, the personification of a social media algorithm, whose not nearly evil enough to come anywhere close to an accurate depiction. Alan Tudyk of course is here, as is a funny Bill Hader. But returning actors Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch get very little to do, as Fix-It Felix and Sergeant Calhoun are confined to the wings of this movie. A subplot for them is even set up but never actually followed through and their parts are only barely more than cameos.
That brings me to the Princesses and the excessive Disney sequence, which is the most awkward part of the film. Even setting aside the fact the movie stops dead in its tracks to be a Disney ad and the blatant corporate manipulation, it’s not all that clever and mostly just exists to remind the audience how many properties Disney owns.
As for the much promoted Princess gathering, it is nice for Disney fans to hear the likes of Jodi Benson voicing Ariel again and Paige O’Hara voicing Belle, alongside recent additions Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, and Auli’i Cravalho (Kelly Macdonald of Brave gets one line that’s a lame joke, followed by a pretty good joke). But the subversive nature of their self-awareness itself feels outdated and disingenuous. Add to that a very out-of-place musical number written by Alan Menken that feels a little cheap for the sequel to a movie that was one of the least synergistic Disney movies in the companys’ history.
However, just like the first movie, Ralph Breaks the Internet conveys a unique but important message in an accessible way.
The greatest asset at play is the films’ theme of friendship and specifically, respecting anothers’ autonomy. Ralph’s attachment to Vanellope is notably a little unhealthy, and it manifests in very potent ways throughout.
Towards the end, the film touches on a very real aspect of a lot of friendships too and to its credit, sticks to its guns and goes through with an unconventional, even risky ending. It’s worth noting as well that this movie breaks with the Disney villain tradition, which is very refreshing and allows its theme an even greater impact.
Ralph Breaks the Internet can’t overcome its weaker story and humour elements as well as its predecessor, which is a modern Disney Classic; and the self-indulgent Disney sequence especially doesn’t work. But it does have a strong heart and conviction to it, and the characters generally still ring true. Ultimately it is fun, very nicely animated, and heartwarming. But I do wish its connection was a little stronger.
MJ Independent movie reviewer and arts reporter is a former Moose Jaw Times Herald columnist