Ralph Breaks The Internet will connect with audiences
Ralph Breaks the Internet, the second ever direct sequel from Walt Disney Animation Studios, is as clever as the first film, stocked with ideas and great moments of comedy. Inside the film is a thoughtful exploration of personal growth, but it covers a lot of ground before it gets there. At times it feels like the filmmakers had so many ideas, they couldn’t let any of them go.
Picking up six years after the end of the first film, Ralph Breaks the Internet starts with Ralph (John C. Reilly), content with his life after the developments of the first film. Meanwhile, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) is starting to get bored. She has no more worlds to conquer, with every bonus level and shortcut in her game uncovered. There are no surprises. When Ralph tries to help, the steering wheel controls for her game end up breaking. The only spare parts are on eBay, and cost way more than the game brings into the arcade. But luckily, the recent addition of Wi-Fi to the arcade means that Ralph and Vanellope can go directly to the Internet to get a replacement themselves. The rest of the Wreck-It Ralph supporting cast members return, but since their storylines were effectively wrapped up in the original film, leaving them to extended cameos is actually the best choice for this movie.
This film’s primary focus is on Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship. They are like siblings who are also best friends, and the source of their conflict is Vanellope’s desire for change while Ralph’s insecurities only grow as she tries to explore new experiences. At the center of this is Vanellope's discovery of the game Slaughter Race, a Grand Theft Auto-style game that doesn’t confine a racer to a track. Ralph finds himself a viral video star, thanks to the help of Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), the head algorithm on a YouTube-like site called Buzztube (this is the only example of the film replacing a real website with the fictitious replacement, Twitter, Google, Amazon, and others exist in the world of Ralph Breaks the Internet).
Both Ralph and Ready Player One approach the internet from the side of optimism. Both sides show the internet itself as closer to neutral, if not a net positive. What connects these two films is how they approach our online lives. In Ready Player One, Wade (Tye Sheridan) views his online persona, Parzival, as his ‘true’ self, escaping from his lower class life in a stacked trailer park into a place where he is recognized for the greatness he believes himself to posses. In this way, Parzival is a mask, as are the avatars of his friends. Ready Player One demonstrates the benefits of online anonymity, as Wade is nearly powerless in the real world, but uses his power online for good.
There’s a quick scene in Ralph Breaks the Internet where Ralph sees the comments that his videos–which have gone viral because he deftly capitalizes on what is already popular–and of course the ones that jump out at him are the insulting comments. Not even the negative comments about his videos, but the ones that are personal attacks. These people, Yesss explains, are also using the anonymity of the internet to their advantage. Their toxicity thrives in this environment. Sadly, Yesss doesn’t offer any solutions.
This helps propel the film’s third act, which is Ralph learning the hard way to own his own insecurities, and try to work on himself, so he can be a better friend to Vanellope. It’s the least subtle way a film aimed at families can deal with the toxicity seen in men online, but in 2018, it is a necessary conversation to have. While it is not as elegant or thoughtful as the way Zootopia handles racism, it does make its point well while serving the story.
The parts of Ralph Breaks the Internet are better than the whole, however. I love the way the film visualizes the internet (something we all use but very few understand how it actually works) and is able to do much of the world-building with a nice visual shorthand. The references to other Disney properties are mostly confined to one or two sequences, and the road trip model is likely a smart choice. There’s just simply too much of it spread too thin. I was ready for the climax long before the film was ready to end.
Ralph Breaks the Internet opens in Philly theaters today.