Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph 2 poster

The Internet can be an awful place, but it’s also an outlet of endless possibilities where one can entertain themselves for hours on end, or improve people’s lives for the better. The thought of a feature-length film encapsulating the merits of this interconnected medium seems an impossible feat, but Disney has given it a crack anyway, and mostly succeeded.

Video-game characters Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) have been the best of friends for the past six years – whenever Litwack’s Arcade is closed, the two can be seen drinking root beers, having fun in Tron, or simply watching the sunrise. Their friendship is stifled only by the two arcade games they are programmed to be part of, and obliged to participate in, once Litwack’s opens for the day. Other than that, the duo is inseparable.

Vanellope’s game, Sugar Rush, is one of the arcade’s most popular; but after the cabinet’s steering wheel breaks – thus rendering it unplayable – the decision is made to unplug the machine, forcing its characters to flee and leaving Vanellope without a home or a purpose. Wanting to rectify his pal’s situation, Ralph proposes that the two of them venture to the internet via Litwack’s newly-installed Wi-Fi modem, where it is told that they can find a replacement part.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a follow-up to Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s tribute to video-game culture which doubled as a smart, touching tale about two outsiders wanting the recognition they deserve. The sequel opts to be a different film, preferring to celebrate the wonders of the Internet by referencing numerous websites, memes and tropes that people frequently encounter when they browse the World Wide Web. This is achieved to the detriment of the last movie’s arcade references, which are now a scarcity, sadly.

Ralph 2 still
Yesss guiding Ralph and Vanellope through Ralph Breaks the Internet

In addition to acknowledging the motifs of the online sphere, Ralph Breaks the Internet explores the camaraderie between its chief protagonists in an unexpected, unique way. Ralph and Vanellope’s close bond is tested throughout the film, not through the pair arguing with or being aggressive toward each other, but by acknowledging that their dreams and aspirations are different. In doing so, the screenplay cleverly, maturely demonstrates how friendships can evolve and remain stronger for it.

The intelligence of Ralph 2 extends further than that, for the script omits something that has long been a staple of cinema, that being a readily-identifiable foe. Although characters with antagonistic tendencies are encountered, not one of them seeks to enforce their will upon the heroes, nor do they attempt to thwart their actions – there’s not even a twist villain to speak of. In place of a clearly-defined enemy are some fun new characters like Shank (Gal Gadot) and Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) who help the protagonists on their journey.

Making the second Ralph even more delightful are the worlds in which the characters find themselves. Most prominently featured is a Massively Multiplayer Online game called Slaughter Race, a post-apocalyptic, open-world racer that is a truly fascinating place to witness, rife with pyrotechnics, dog-eating sharks and ruthless personalities, Shank being among them. It’s also a world that Vanellope takes a shine to, and it’s easy to see why, because the game looks like a tonne of fun. Pity it isn’t real.

Ralph 2 - Shank
Shank (centre) and her Slaughter Race gang in Ralph Breaks the Internet

Another world Vanellope encounters is the real-life website Oh My Disney, where she meets with Stormtroopers, Eeyore (Brad Garrett) and every single princess in the Disney canon, resulting in plenty of self-referential and self-deprecating humour. At this same location, she and princesses exchange tips about fashion and “finding her song”, which eventually results in a catchy musical number by Disney veteran Alan Menken, who previously wrote songs for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, among others.

Although this review seems like it’s positioning Ralph 2 as an improvement, truth is the newer film doesn’t quite come together as brilliantly as its predecessor does. The first act is rushed and graceless somewhat, hastily building its setting and expounding on the conflict to come. Additionally, fans of the previous movie will be disheartened to know that the affable Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (Jane Lynch) are virtually absent from proceedings, with their underdeveloped subplot merely bookending the story.

One final element of the movie that proves impressive is the animation – the same could be said of every Disney release, true, but the efforts gone to in Ralph 2 are nonetheless extraordinary. The film depicts the Internet as a bustling city, filled with tall buildings and roadways that appear to extend indefinitely, while still managing to insert characters and Easter eggs into the scenery. The film looks as though it must have been a nightmare to render, and yet there’s not a single blemish to be seen.

Ralph Breaks the Internet may not match the brilliance of its precursor, but it comes ever so close to doing so. An intelligent, innovative script and some very creative settings are among the many delights of Ralph and Vanellope’s second adventure, a picture which once again proves that Disney is the dominant force in animation.

4 stars

 

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