The internet is a lot of things to many different people. It can be a way to keep up with friends, a professional workspace, a battleground, or a powerful tool for harassment. For Vanellope, the glitchy star of the arcade kart racer Sugar Rush, it represents unlimited possibilities, the potential for evolution and change–an escape from monotony. That same monotony is what keeps Wreck-it Ralph, the lovable bad guy of the game Fix-it Felix, on the path of goodness. And for him, the internet is a frightening frontier that draws his most villainous characteristics to the forefront.
In that respect, Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to 2011’s Wreck-it Ralph, rings true: The internet brings out the worst in some people. But that reality doesn’t make for a particularly fun or lighthearted movie. Ralph Breaks the Internet is almost as funny as the original, and it’s especially nice to catch up again with these characters and see what they’re up to these days. But it’s also kind of a drag.
Ralph Breaks the Internet follows Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) as they journey to the online world to buy a new part they hope will save Vanellope’s game. You’re mostly fine if you’ve never seen the original or it’s been a while; returning characters like Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (Jane Lynch) are sidelined and play unimportant roles, and all you really need to know is that this is basically Toy Story for video game characters. When the arcade closes for the night, the game characters go “off the clock,” traveling around through power cords, meeting for root beers in the bar from arcade classic Tapper, and generally leading their own lives.
The movie does a good job establishing where Ralph and Vanellope are at in their lives: Ralph is happy to go to “work” every day as the villain of the game Fix-it Felix Jr., while Vanellope is growing bored of racing the same tracks over and over. Thus, you get the different ways they view the internet–and the movie’s main conflict.
From a practical standpoint, the new setting is rich with both overt and subtle comedy. The internet is a teeming, endless metropolis in Wreck-it Ralph 2, and Disney Animation filled each frame with inside jokes, memes, and references to online culture. At the same time, the movie often reaches for low-hanging e-fruit, lazily plucking lame dad jokes, especially at Ralph’s expense, like when he’s trying to come up with relevant trends and the new character Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) reprimands him for suggesting something that was hot “15 seconds ago.”
The whole world accessible at your fingertips? Ralph just doesn’t get it. He’s essentially your parents, which is fine, since plenty of moms and dads will see Ralph Breaks the Internet with their kids. If Reddit memes were the main source of comedy, half the audience would walk out scratching their heads. That said, there are some jokes that just don’t land in the slightest, like an uncomfortable tribute to the mole gag from Austin Powers in which Ralph keeps slipping up and mentioning a character’s physical deformity out loud. There’s absolutely nothing funny about it, and there are similar examples throughout the movie.
Yesss is an algorithm, a digital being who runs the internet’s largest trend site, BuzzTube. As a concept, she’s fairly on the nose–she’s so hyper-aware of every new trend that the other characters can barely keep up. That’s what the plot demands, and Henson seems to have fun with the role. The other main new face, Shank (Gal Gadot), fits well in Ralph’s universe: She’s essentially this movie’s Calhoun, albeit with a softer edge, despite hailing from the hyper-realistic online racing game Slaughter Race. The relationship she and Vanellope form is genuinely touching.
The part that feels most out of place is also the one that’s received the most attention leading up to Ralph 2’s release: the Disney Princesses scene that sends Vanellope on a surprisingly self-deprecating trip through Disney history. It’s undeniably a well-executed, hilarious scene, brimming with impressive details like the fact that almost all the original voice actresses return. Sure, it’s all a bit contrived, but it’s also OK to simply enjoy Disney being so self-aware. Whether Cinderella would ever really smash her glass slipper into a shank and brandish it at a little girl is beside the point.
Ralph Breaks the Internet does manage to confront the internet’s ugly side, which feels like the elephant in the room for any viewers who spend a significant amount of time online. We’re all aware of the trolls, harassment, propaganda, and lies that assault every corner of the internet, and Ralph learns a hard lesson when he encounters the “comments room” after his videos go viral. Yesss’s assertion that you just need to ignore the trolls isn’t as wise as the movie seems to think it is–we should know by now that doesn’t actually work–but at least it’s something.
More troubling is the turn Ralph takes as a character. He’s always been a bad guy; he spent most of the first movie trying to earn a “medal” just to prove that he wasn’t, while ultimately accepting that being a bad guy doesn’t mean he has to be a bad guy. If you enjoyed that character development, brace yourself for a backslide, as Ralph easily slips back into his old, selfish, villainous ways in this movie. What is the message here? That some people really are just villains? His arc seems designed as a warning to all the online bad guys of the real world, but the final act trades any subtlety for a huge action set piece, and the movie’s central conflict takes a very strange turn. Ultimately, Ralph goes a little too bad, and it’s resolved a little too easily, for the movie to feel satisfying.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is a funny, detailed look inside the online world that viewers of all ages should enjoy. Its take on internet culture is just not very nuanced, which doesn’t come as a total surprise. After all, there’s no pleasing everyone.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Internet humor for all ages||Ralph’s negative character development|
|Nice to catch up with these characters||Misguided platitudes like “just ignore the trolls”|
|Self-aware Disney meta humor||Unsatisfying climax and resolution|
|Cleverly brings the internet to life||Some jokes don’t land|