John C. Reilly
Taraji P. Henson
1 Hr., 56 Mins.
Ralph Breaks the Internet December 1, 2018
idway through Ralph Breaks the Internet, the long-awaited sequel to Wreck-It Ralph (2012), a character breaks out into song as if she were a lovelorn Disney princess. She is not warbling about a strong-cheekboned inamorato, though. She sings of a life she wishes she had. Which, with a healthy dose of absurdity, involves a desire to spend the rest of her life playing a game called “Slaughter Race,”
which is just like Grand Theft Auto but smoggier, more melodramatically dangerous, and with sharks swimming about its world’s sewer systems.
The moment summarizes the likable silliness the movie will be built on. Set six years after its predecessor, Ralph Breaks the Internet again capitalizes on its Toy Story (1995)-like premise — that, after hours, arcade-game characters spend their free time hanging out, sometimes in a “peer’s” game — and again stars former video-game villain Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a bratty racing-game character.
Since we saw them last, Ralph and Vanellope have become close friends. Every day, after “work” — which entails he antagonize players through his eponymous game and she be a playable character in a Mario Kart-like spectacle called “Sugar Rush” — they meet up. Usually, they unwind by getting drinks in the Tapper’s otherworld, or visiting another game like Tron.
Over the course of the last few years, though, Vanellope has been feeling increasingly stir-crazy. Specifically, she is tired of the monotony of “Sugar Rush,” where she is forced, day in and day out, to go down the same tired raceway. Sympathetic to her weariness, Ralph, in the middle of one workday, breaks into her game, and literally forges a new path for her to try out. The plan works swimmingly until it doesn’t.
Overexcited, and confused as to why her selected character is driving down unfamiliar territories, the real-world little girl behind the “Sugar Rush” steering wheel during the incident jerks the contraption a whit too hard and accidentally breaks it off.
She offers to buy a replacement. But when it's discovered that the locum is currently only being sold on eBay for a hefty price, it's decided that, by the end of the week, “Sugar Rush” will instead be sold for parts, leaving the characters inside essentially homeless.
Ralph, fearing the loss of his best friend, hatches an alternate plan. What if he and Vanellope were to harness the powers of wireless internet (which the arcade has recently installed) and order the wheel themselves? The plan will be seen through, and in no time will Ralph and Vanellope become acquainted with applications we use on the regular.
In Ralph Breaks the Internet, the titular “place” to be broken is three-dimensional and gaudy. The “internet” looks like a city. Websites are big skyscrapers; the population comprises users who are, essentially, silent, Mii-looking avatars who zoom from site to site in aerodynamic cars. Initially, Ralph and Vanellope’s plan plays out as they had expected, though this requires they move across sites to earn enough money for the wheel.
But after making a pit stop in the annals of “Slaughter Race,” a violent racing gambol, Vanellope sees a possible salve to her existential woes. What if she were to reside there and not inside the humdrum “Sugar Rush”? This leads Ralph, who is profoundly insecure, to pull out all the stops to prevent her from leaving him. But alas, manipulation will not work. Ralph Breaks the Internet’s obligatory take-home message, as it stands, is that you cannot determine someone’s fate for them as if they were property.
I surmise, though, that the movie will be more appreciated, by older members of the audience at least, for the ways it animates online platitudes. A major part of the narrative involves Ralph becoming a star on what is clearly a parody of YouTube, and pandering to trends in order to more effectively monetize his photographed antics. Sinister algorithmic calculations are personified as a chic tastemaker named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson); a Google-like search engine looks like a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and is run by a nasal-voiced librarian type (Alan Tudyk) who can tell you the answers to nearly everything after running through all the autofill options. My favorite visual trick came in the form of pop-up ads, which are physical promotional boards wielded by louches who are unopposed to putting their placards a millimeter from your face.
There are two genuinely masterful sequences in Ralph Breaks the Internet. One is the previously mentioned musical sequence, which is so cockamamie that I couldn’t help but marvel at the comic audacity of screenwriters Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon. (We’ve gone on for decades seeing women cartoon characters sing about men they’re into, and here we have a character belting about yearning to live inside a bizarro Grand Theft Auto.)
The other is a seemingly immaterial run-in with all the Disney princesses, whom we discover are working at the Oh My Disney! website as part of a “Which Disney Princess Are You?”-style quiz. They participate in a screwball-fast, laugh-out-loud funny group conversation with Vanellope, who expresses her predicament to them. It’s a brief interlude, but instead of merely serving as a jovial group cameo, the session enables the filmmakers to undercut the features from which these princesses come, openly mocking some of the dated plotlines and themes with a surprising amount of acid. Both epitomize the movie’s high-concept, daffy comic style. The sensibility is missed during the final act, which is protracted and more humorless than it has any right to be.
Ralph Breaks the Internet would make for an improvement on its forebear if it weren’t so spun out. Indeed, its satire is sharper, the visual ambitions bigger. But a rather vacuous narrative dragged out for almost two hours is not complementary to a movie at its best when it’s zippy and vaguely dicey. Still, Ralph Breaks the Internet is so frequently inspired, and so regularly uproarious, that we’re able to forget that a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph perhaps wasn’t necessary in the first place. B+