Ralph Breaks the Internet and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston
I remember when the first Wreck-It-Ralph movie came out that I couldn’t wait for there to be a sequel! However, as the years went on and the marketing pivoted from video games to him being ON THE INTERNET, I started to lose interest because the sequel that I would have wanted didn’t seem like it was going to manifest. Now that’s not to say I thought it would be a BAD movie, but what I was seeing wasn’t getting me as excited as say a Disney version of Super Smash Bros or whatever where we got even MORE nostalgic characters (maybe even ones from Nintendo!?) that Ralph and crew could go on adventures with. Now clearly NOTHING could have competed with the fan fiction I made up in my brain so even if the lead up to this movie wasn’t filling me with fanboy joy I wasn’t about to dismiss it out of hand for those reasons. Does this manage to live up to maybe not quite MY expectations but REASONABLE ones for a sequel to a modern Disney class, or should they have gone with my idea of having Mario and Sonic fight zombies together while Ralph and Boswer play Yu-Gi-Oh… or something like that? Let’s find out!!
It’s been several years since the events of the first film where Ralph and Vanellope (John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman) uncovered Turbo’s evil plan, and things have been going pretty well since then. Vanellope has been racing, Ralph has been wrecking, and Fix-it Felix Jr and Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun (Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch) have been the most adorable couple ever six years running! Still, things might be settling down a bit TOO much for Vanellope who’s time in the spotlight has turned a bit monotonous, but soon things go all Monkey’s Paw on her as her game breaks down and she and Ralph have to go online to see if they can find a replacement part before the kindly arcade owner (Ed O’Neill) sells the machine for scrap. Once online using the arcade owner’s recently purchased modem, they discover all the fantabulous things THE INTERNET has to offer, including the part they need on eBay. However, they don’t have any ACTUAL money and so need to find a way to score some cash through shady loot hunting in an online game with a bad ass NPC named Shank (Gal Gadot) and slightly less shady viral marketing through a trending video website run by an algorithm called Yesss (Taraji P Henson). Oh, and they visit Disney’s website at one point just to make sure you remember things like Star Wars, Zootopia, and their ever expanding stable of princesses. Will Ralph and Vanellope be able to buy the part and save her game before it’s too late? What will Vanellope learn about herself by seeing all these new and exciting places, and will Ralph be able to adapt to these new experiences? Where exactly did they manage to find such a clean and efficient version of THE INTERNET, and is there any way I can get on there!?
I mean… it’s fine? It’s nothing special and I think it’s a step down from the first film, but then what else are you supposed to expect from a sequel? The number of sequels that are genuinely superior to their original film is rather small and a good chunk of those win simply because the first one wasn’t that good to begin with, but that doesn’t mean that sequels are inherently without value if they can’t measure up to what came before. Heck, there are a lot of sequels out there that I like more than the original film simply because they tried something different rather than make a better version of the first one (*cough* Deadpool 2 *cough*), but sadly that’s not really the case here. It’s rather predictable as a sequel that doesn’t really try to outdo its predecessor but doesn’t have enough interest in its new ideas to really make the film seem all that different from the original. It’s… fine. It’s funny in places, sweet in places, and looks nice in places, and for the most part it’s just… fine.
Things start off well enough at least as we do get a fair amount of time in the arcade catching up with the characters from the first film. Admittedly Jack McBryer and Jane Lynch are NOT in this movie nearly enough, but what little we see of the happy couple is greatly appreciated, and I do like that the movie more or less addresses the issue with Happy Endings; namely… what happens next? It’s made clear that this “Happy Ending” they’re experiencing has been going on for six years now as each day is a never ending paradise. No conflict, no challenges, go to work, drink some root beer, and do it all again the next day. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see them actually tackle the idea of growth in this way; almost like how The Lord of the Rings ended with Frodo being unable to go back to his life back in the shire after experiencing such a harrowing adventure. Sure, Vanellope isn’t traumatized by her and Ralph’s battle against Turbo, but how long can you stay happy with things being exactly the way they should be? What is life without a bit of adventure to it? Also, since we’ll be getting to the not-so-good stuff soon, I do want to point out that both John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman are still fantastic in their roles and even when the movie starts to go downhill for me they managed to keep things engaging.
Sadly, once the plot truly kicks off and they have to go to the internet, the film just kind of settles into a groove and it never really finds a way to keep things all that interest like how the game hopping did in the first film. It doesn’t help either that all the characters they come across online are rather perfunctory compared to the crew at the arcade who had genuine reasons to interact with the two of them. In the first movie, everything Ralph did affected the arcade (in particular though not exclusively his own game) and there felt like a reason that all of this was happening. I mean I guess the film nails the mindless inanity of internet culture pretty well in this regard, but I don’t think it makes for compelling drama, nor does it take advantage of the fact that Ralph and Vanellope are video game characters. Now that said, there ARE some decent ideas in here about nostalgia with Ralph more or less having to “game” the algorithm in order to leverage his own nostalgic place in pop culture (as I’m writing this, Amanda Bynes is BREAKING THE INTERNET with her piece in Paper and everyone is talking about Evangelion coming to Netflix) to resolve the primary conflict of the film. However it has the same problem that many films ABOUT THE INTERNET (especially those aimed at kids) often run into which is that it doesn’t really understand what The Internet even is, and no I’m not saying that just because there’s a lack of anti-Semitic slurs and White Genocide garbage clogging up the place. Disney and others are still approaching it with the old rules in mind (ironically rules that worked PERFECTLY for the first film) in that it’s trying to convey a sort of wonder to something that’s ultimately very mundane. Unless we’re going for old school nostalgia blasts like Neopets or Homestar Runner (neither of which show up in this film), there’s not much about THE INTERNET that really evokes the kind of nostalgic response the same way that seeing toys or old video games coming to life does. The internet of this movie is purely functional with websites like eBay, Google, and Twitter merely filling in the background instead of feeling like an enchanted world of childhood wonder (i.e. a big part of the first movie with its old school characters and retro aesthetic), so a big part of the first film’s appeal is entirely missing here and it’s not made up by anything particularly inspired. Sure, it’s kind of funny to see Ralph try to do trending stuff like eat spicy peppers and make unboxing videos in an effort to get more and more “hearts”, but there’s a reason so much of the marketing focused on The Disney Princesses since not much else of the movie is all that interesting or will connect with people on that kind of level.
And then we get to the third act which is the biggest mixed bag of the whole film. Now granted, I DO like that the film circles back to the initial conflict right when it seems that we’re about to get into the happy ending. I haven’t mentioned the BIG NEW VIDEO GAME of the movie (something the marketing forgot to do as well) which is a big MMO style Twisted Metal knock off called Slaughter Race, and frankly it’s not that interesting of an idea to begin with which is why it just kind of fades into the mind numbing miasma of the second act, but at this point of the movie it actually serves a nice purpose and even has the most genuinely subversive moment in the movie with a big song and dance number that I’m sure will be “trending” on YouTube any day now. Sadly this brief shining moment where the movie might become about something more than just internet memes and Disney brand management quickly goes away as Ralph makes a few plot decisions here that completely derails the movie and makes for a “final boss fight” if you will that’s utterly meaningless and a total retread of what we saw in the first film. It’s really disappointing when a movie feels the need to throw in a giant monster battle when one wasn’t really needed, and while the story of this film wasn’t GREAT, there was a fair bit of sincerity to it that ultimately got undercut when things got all SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER at the end.
This isn’t really a bad movie because Disney rarely makes such unqualified disasters like The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, but as far as sequels this falls in to the rather uninspired camp. Maybe I’m getting too old for this and kids WILL get a sense of wonder and enjoyment out of seeing… I don’t know, a YouTube logo, but there’s just a lack of heart to so much of the setting and the world that the characters have to work overtime to try and compensate and as talented as John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman are, there was just nothing here to give them the support they need to make this shine like the first film did. Still, the movie is just… fine, and if you’ve got nothing better to do with your time I guess it’ll be an okay Matinee. However, even with the vibrant visuals that look great on a big screen, I’d still just wait to check it out when it gets a home release as the whole thing comes off like a high end straight-to-video movie more than anything else. It could have been a heck of a lot worse which for some may be the only bar that needs to be cleared to give it a thumbs up, but for me I think I’ll just stick with the first one. After all, how can someone make a sequel to the first movie and think there should be LESS Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch!?