Ralph Breaks the Internet
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Disney’s 2012 animated hit Wreck-It Ralph was a clever story about an arcade game villain who wanted to be a good guy. It had tons of videogame references and found a way to apply the standard family movie formula so that it felt somewhat fresh, at least for a large portion of its run time. Its inevitable sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, spins that concept in an entirely new direction.
It is the rare follow-up that actually builds upon the original. Instead of introducing something new to the characters’ world, it introduces the characters to a completely different world. In this case, they leave the arcade for the internet. That gives the filmmakers the opportunity to riff on all sorts of things. But they never forget that the heart of this now-franchise is in the relationship between its two protagonists.
The genial Ralph is enjoying life, playing his role during the day and hanging out with his best friend, Vanellope, at night. When Vanellope’s racing game is broken and on the verge of being removed from the arcade, Ralph suggests they travel to the internet to find a replacement part to save the game. Though the plot is pretty thin, Ralph uses that to its advantage. I am unsure how many kid’s movies can accurately be described as “character driven,” but this one is close. While there is a lot going on, the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope moves the story forward, making it easy to stay engaged even during some of the less interesting action scenes.
Once things get to the internet, there are references and gags in nearly every frame. There is commentary on the way people use the internet and jokes based on many of the most popular websites. There is also a massive racing game they stumble into that allows the movie to have fun with immersive online games as well as stuff like Grand Theft Auto. The original included pop culture jabs aimed at video games. Some of that goes on here, just with far more targets.
The centerpiece is a lengthy sequence that brings in a whole bunch of Disney characters (voiced by their original voice actors). It is a gentle poke in the ribs at a few of the company’s clichés that is used to add depth to the story’s themes. It is more than “wouldn’t it be amusing if…;” the screenplay takes a funny idea and applies it in a way that matters.
The voice cast certainly gives things a boost as well. John C. Reilly is still perfect as Ralph. He has such an expressive, friendly voice. Sarah Silverman brings the right amount of youthful energy to Vanellope. They have great chemistry together. The two major additions are Gal Gadot as a super cool driver in the dangerous online driving game and Taraji P. Henson as the algorithm for a video sharing site. Gadot is essentially a straight-woman, playing someone who is realistic and fairly down to earth in comparison to the much more cartoonish Ralph and Vanellope. She helps the movie find its purpose. Henson’s Yesss is mostly a plot device, but she invests enough passion to make her mildly entertaining. There are also other returning cast members along with several cameos I will not spoil.
The thing that impressed me the most about Ralph Breaks the Internet (98 minutes, plus both a mid and post credits scene) is how well the filmmakers understand what made the first one a success. The online material is a nice little twist on the initial concept, however it is really about the two main characters trying to make their odd couple friendship fit with their personal desires. It drags a bit in the middle and I did not laugh quite as much as I expected, but this is pleasant, family-friendly entertainment that never panders.
My biggest complaint about sequels is how unnecessary they tend to feel. While Wreck-It Ralph may not have felt like it needed a second installment, Ralph Breaks the Internet proves it did.
3¾ out of 5
John C. Reilly as Ralph
Sarah Silverman as Vanellope
Gal Gadot as Shank
Taraji P. Henson as Yesss
Jack McBrayer as Felix
Jane Lynch as Calhoun
Alan Tudyk as KnowsMore
Directed by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore
Screenplay by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon