Ralph Breaks the Internet is bigger and more heartfelt, with some fun Disney nostalgia, but its story gets lost in the online setting at times.
Six years after the release of their nostalgia-steeped arcade game adventure Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Animation Studios returns with a sequel: Ralph Breaks the Internet. Known for their iconic princess movies, kid-friendly fairy tale adaptations and - for a brief period in the early 2000s - their experimental animated features, Disney rarely releases theatrical sequels to their films. Instead, Disney has tended toward direct-to-video sequels to their animated hits. However, that's beginning to change as Ralph Breaks the Internet gets a theatrical release and Disney is planning to debut Frozen 2 next year. Now fans have a chance to revisit the characters of Wreck-It Ralph on the big screen with the film's sequel. Ralph Breaks the Internet is bigger and more heartfelt, with some fun Disney nostalgia, but its story gets lost in the online setting at times.
Ralph Breaks the Internet picks up six years following the events of Wreck-It Ralph, and Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are still the best of friends, spending every night together goofing off while Litwak's Family Fun Center & Arcade is closed. However, it quickly becomes clear that Vanellope has gotten tired of the monotony of her life, with only three tracks in her racing game Sugar Rush. When Ralph tries to give Vanellope something new by building her a new, experimental track, however, the game player accidentally breaks Litwak's game. And with the company that built Sugar Rush having gone out of business, Litwak decides it's easier to scrap the game entirely than spend an exorbitant amount of money on a replacement part.
While Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) take in the displaced racers of Sugar Rush, Ralph decides to go into the Internet and buy the replacement part for the game himself. So Ralph and Vanellope venture inside the Internet looking for the game part. Their adventure takes them through various realms of the Internet, including the online game Slaughter Race, where they meet the racer Shank (Gal Gadot), who Vanellope quickly begins to look up to. Ralph and Vanellope also meet KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk), a personified search engine, and Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), the head algorithm of the site called BuzzTube, which is an amalgamation of BuzzFeed and YouTube. However, it becomes clear that Vanellope and Ralph don't see eye to eye when it comes to their dreams of what their lives can be, and as a result, it remains to be seen if their friendship will be about to survive their own insecurities - and the Internet.
Directed by Disney stalwarts Rich Moore and Phil Johnston (Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia) from a script by Johnston and Pamela Ribon (Smurfs: The Lost Village, Moana), Ralph Breaks the Internet is a solid sequel to Wreck-It Ralph. In traditional sequel fashion, Ralph Breaks the Internet goes bigger than its predecessor, introducing its main characters to the infinite world of the Internet. And to balance that massive setting, the story of the movie focuses directly on Ralph and Vanellope's friendship in a way that's exceptionally grounded. The pair don't have a traditional villain to face in Ralph Breaks the Internet. Instead, the true villain - and the true danger to their friendship - are their insecurities. The movie has a wonderful, and surprisingly impactful message about trusting your friends and adapting within a relationship as you each grow and evolve. The movie does, at times, hit its viewers over the head with this message, but it's an earnest and important lesson to impart on the movie's young audience members (and is something viewers of all ages could do with hearing).
On the flip side, however, the vast setting of the Internet proves to be a problem at times for Ralph Breaks the Internet. While the movie script manages to build a linear storyline that takes Ralph and Vanellope through various parts of the Internet, and propels both the story and their emotional journeys forward in compelling fashion, the transition between these plot beats feels forced at times, and sometimes gets lost in certain realms of the online space. The result is some disjointedness as Ralph Breaks the Internet moves between various set pieces, bouncing from a race between Shank and Vanellope in Slaughter Race to Ralph making viral videos for BuzzTube to Vanellope exploring the Oh My Disney website - in what is a sequence rife with nostalgia and Easter eggs as much as atrocious product placement. However, as Ralph Breaks the Internet sees Ralph and Vanellope explore these realms, the movie also gambles with viewers becoming more invested in those parts of the Internet than in the film's main characters. The Disney princesses sequence, for example, is excellently executed and quite honestly overshadows everything else going on in the movie (especially for those who grew up watching the Disney princess movies).
Instead of dwelling too long on one realm of the Internet, though, Ralph Breaks the Internet must move on and bounce to the next setting within the online space in order to propel its story forward. That's not to say there isn't enjoyment to be had in the various parts of the Internet that the movie visits. The Oh My Disney website allows from a great deal of meta ribbing, poking fun at Disney's own legacy in Hollywood. Slaughter Race gives Vanellope a locale to truly shine, and Ralph Breaks the Internet a chance to provide more visually enticing animated racing. And once the second act truly locks on to the emotional rift between Ralph and Vanellope, digging deeper into their emotional journeys rather than focusing on their awe of the Internet, Ralph Breaks the Internet provides an undoubtedly compelling emotional throughline for their characters. Still, even with that emotional arc grounding Ralph Breaks the Internet, the movie has the feeling of an animal almost too unwieldy for the screenwriters; one that could - and sometimes does - get lost behind the sheer magnitude of its online setting.
Altogether, Ralph Breaks the Internet isn't quite as unabashedly charming as its predecessor. There is some fun to be had with arcade game characters being introduced to the World Wide Web, but the movie also loses some of the original's sense of nostalgia by venturing into a world we live in everyday. In Ralph Breaks the Internet, that loss is supplemented with references to famous Disney-owned characters (which include Star Wars and Marvel cameos) and online staples like Instagram and Pinterest. There's a soullessness to the sheer amount of Disney and Internet references infused in the movie, as Ralph Breaks the Internet crams in as many recognizable characters and logos as possible. It's a litter overwhelming, like the Internet itself is to Ralph and Vanellope at the start, but while the characters find their footing eventually, viewers may be left feeling exhausted by the visual overload.
To be sure, Ralph Breaks the Internet is perfect fodder for Disney fans - and Star Wars and Marvel fans will no doubt eke out some joy from those characters' appearances. The movie has an atypical structure for a Disney movie, wherein the characters battle an internal demon rather than an external villain (though there is an external representation of the characters' internal demons to fight because this is still a Disney movie). This structure is part of the evolution we've seen from Disney's animated fare in recent years, where the films buck the studio's own trends to create new, fresh stories for younger generations. As a result, Ralph Breaks the Internet will be entertaining for Disney fans young and old and is a strong competitor amid the holiday season at the box office.
Ralph Breaks the Internet starts playing in U.S. theaters Tuesday evening November 20. It is 112 minutes long and rated PG for some action and rude humor.
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- Ralph Breaks the Internet/Wreck-It Ralph 2 (2018) release date: Nov 21, 2018