Movie Review – Ralph Breaks the Internet
The sequel to Wreck-It Ralph (2012) seems to have been affected by the #MeToo and Time’s Up Movements. Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston have pivoted away from the focus on the male character, despite the title, and made the female character more the center. They might have also gotten the memo that a relationship between what looks like a grown man named Ralph with what looks like a little girl named Vanellope perhaps comes across as a little inappropriate. But I’m sure Moore and Johnston didn’t want to throw their protagonist completely under the bus, so instead, they build to an amicable split and have Vanellope associate with someone, if not age-appropriate, then at least gender-appropriate.
However, to split up Ralph and Vanellope, we have to accept a premise that doesn’t exactly track or make all that sense. What the filmmakers would have you believe is that Ralph is too needy and too clingy a friend to Vanellope. That premise doesn’t work as depicted on screen here. What does work is that the film establishes that Ralph and Vanellope have two different world views. Ralph is more conservative and is content with his simple life, whereas Vanellope is more adventurous and a thrill-seeker, wanting more danger and unexpected things out of life. Yes, the two hang out a lot, but that’s logical given the events of the last film and the confines of their situation. When Vanellope expresses her existential crisis, Ralph does what he can to make her happy. He goes out of his way to accommodate her, given their limitations, but I don’t see how that classifies him as needy or clingy. She even responds positively to his presence or interventions. She never really comes across as annoyed or bothered.
Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly (Chicago and Boogie Nights), believes that Vanellope, voiced by Sarah Silverman (Battle of the Sexes and School of Rock), wants to maintain her situation. Vanellope comes from a game that’s very much like Mario Kart. When her game becomes broken, Ralph learns that it can be fixed by going into the Internet. When they do enter the World Wide Web, Ralph prefers to stay by Vanellope’s side, but the Internet is a new and dangerous frontier. Ralph is trying to be protective, but it’s meant to come across as clingy and endemic of their entire relationship, which doesn’t feel totally true.
Vanellope meets a new video game character on the Internet named Shank, voiced by Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman and Fast & Furious). Shank comes from a game that’s very much like Grand Theft Auto. Like Vanellope, Shank is a serious driver. She can drive fast and, yes, furious. Vanellope is just as good a driver, which impresses Shank. The two are at odds, but they have a respect for each other. The film does a good job of establishing and slightly building on that respect, which puts Shank really at odds with Ralph who feels jealous that maybe Vanellope doesn’t have the same respect or love for him. Yes, Ralph might be somewhat insecure, but if he’d had a conversation with either Vanellope or Shank or both, he would have understood and not become the control freak or obsessive stalker that the film wants us to believe he is.
The centerpiece though is the visualization of the Internet. It’s not that far off from the brief depiction in the opening credits for HBO’s Silicon Valley. In reality, it feels like a combination of the Oasis in Ready Player One and Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). I also felt a little of the DigiCom virtual reality in Disclosure (1994). Except, despite the obvious amount of sexual and profane things on the Internet, this Disney film keeps it all kid-friendly. Even when Ralph goes to this movie’s version of the Dark Web, everything is kept very soft, safe and non-offensive.
Seeing personifications of famous brands on the Internet is cute, but the only real comedy comes when the film takes Vanellope to the part of the web owned by Disney. The film gathers all of the Disney princesses and then proceeds to deconstruct the tropes surrounding them, as well as the underlining sexism. Other than amplifying certain aspects on the web, I don’t feel like that same level of deconstruction exists about the Internet in general or with any of its specific parts. Some fairly decent jokes about the Internet are made here, but the film perhaps had the opportunity to say something about viral videos, what goes viral as opposed to what doesn’t with a interesting character called Yesss, voiced by Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do anything or say anything insightful about viral videos other than the obvious, such as the online abundance of cats.
Because Ralph comes from a video game that’s very much like the arcade version of Donkey Kong, which was itself inspired by the film King Kong (1933), it’s only fitting that the climax of this film is a veritable re-creation of the climactic scene atop the Empire State Building in that classic. It again recycles the theme of friendship from the last movie with that of Toy Story 3, but it’s not as great as that Pixar franchise. Yet, this movie is effectively emotional by the end.
Rated PG for some action and rude humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.