— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
In 1988, Disney (via Touchstone Pictures) released Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Beyond its many artistic and technological accomplishments, Roger Rabbit fulfilled many a long-held dream of seeing classic cartoon characters sharing the silver screen together. A similar wonder overwhelmed me late in 2012 when Disney released the video game-themed Wreck-It Ralph. As proven time and again (e.g., Tomb Raider from earlier this year), video game adaptations fare poorly in converting the original medium’s signature interactivity to the silver screen. Wreck-It Ralph sidestepped that issue by centering on fictional video game characters in fictional video game worlds, making many playful references to video game culture along the way.
It pains me, therefore, to say that the sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, falls short of matching the magic of its 2012 predecessor.
Video game characters and best friends Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) have carved out quite the routine for themselves in the six years since the events of the first movie. They put in a day’s “work” in their respective games and spend the whole night across the various machines in Litwak’s Family Fun Center and Arcade. Yet while Ralph is content, Vanellope has grown tired of her racing game Sugar Rush and now aches for more. Ralph tries to build a new track for her game, which she then wrestles with the current player to test during another race already underway, resulting in the real-life arcade wheel breaking off. Realizing that Mr. Litwak will have Sugar Rush removed permanently without expensive repairs, Ralph and Vanellope use Litwak’s newly-installed Wi-Fi to scour the internet for the replacement wheel. Only the help of various “netizens” like Shank (Gal Gadot) of the violent online racing game Slaughter Race and Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) the stylish algorithm of the video sharing site BuzzzTube will ensure their success.
In Ralph Breaks the Internet, co-stars John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman slip wonderfully back into their voice roles. The Disney animators succeed in bringing the virtual scale of the internet to life while also leaving room for clever and hidden references sprinkled here and there. Yet despite how the first film saw Ralph realizing his value and how that organically leads to this sequel testing his friendship with Vanellope, everyone just seems less magical this time around.
Ralph Breaks the Internet takes a route similar to that of 1991’s An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, starting off with one of the heroes now dissatisfied with the goal reached by the end of the previous story. This “I’m bored, what else is new?” launchpad tends to undervalue the journey of the first movie and signals a new, either novel or undercooked development at hand. To make room, supporting players of the past get put aside. The suspension and imminent salvaging of Vanellope’s Sugar Rush game renders homeless all of Vanellope’s fellow Sugar Rush characters. In particular, the now-married Fix-It Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch) adopt Vanellope’s fellow racing avatars. An opportunity for a refreshing newfound parenthood C-plot gets totally wasted by story’s end, only to anticipate one of the film’s closing jokes when racing noise makes inaudible the parenting lessons Felix and Calhoun share with a minor character.
One common criticism of the first Wreck-It Ralph involved the paltry number of video game worlds shown, especially ones for real-life games. Ralph Breaks the Internet’s depiction of the internet shows exactly why that past criticism carries little substance. Having characters tour multiple settings can turn the movie into an extended commercial, especially if those settings are literal video games or, in Ralph Breaks the Internet’s case, websites. The battle among real-life websites for script and screen space further contributes to that commercialist slant, as do mock websites, whose phony names almost always embarrass audiences who know at once which websites are being mocked. Worst of all, Ralph, Vanellope, Shank, and Yesss soon settle for viral video saturation to generate the funds needed to buy a new Sugar Rush wheel. The fascination of viral trends starts with how suddenly they blow up. Viral video production and making $30 thousand in less than eight hours (definitely realistic) severely pales in comparison to the 2012 Wreck-It Ralph’s medal quest and tough negotiation between Ralph and Vanellope.
With these misgivings, it strikes me as odd how the crossover samplings of other Disney-owned properties that so pervaded Ralph Breaks the Internet’s marketing feels more like a brief and welcome detour as opposed to an integral plot point. How Vanellope gets to the Oh My Disney website was unexpected, yet her inevitable hangout with Disney’s all-star princesses (most of whom involve original voice actresses) functions more or less as a segue to her own “princess song” about “wanting more” and easily the film’s most entertaining scene—the musical number “This Place Called Slaughter Race”. The venerable Alan Menken has reached the point of parodying himself (this includes “The Great Beyond” from the very adult Sausage Party) and I sincerely hope that he still has more to offer as he approaches 70 years of age. As for the Disney crossover samplings, they may lead to a something bigger in the future.
The phrase “diminishing returns” comes to mind when I think of Disney’s two sequels in 2018. Incredibles 2’s legacy falls by millimeters in the minds of some now that the rabid desire for a follow-up has been met. Now, at the end of 2018, Ralph Breaks the Internet’s heart takes less priority than the vastness of the internet and Disney shining a spotlight on themselves. It will disappoint greatly if the Academy passes over works like Isle of Dogs and The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl in favor of either Disney movie this awards season.
Perhaps it is best if Ralph Breaks the Internet serves as the final chapter to Ralph and Vanellope’s story.
(Parental Note: Ralph Breaks the Internet has been rated PG by the MPAA “for some action and rude humor”. It has also been rated PG by the BBFC for “mild threat” and “rude humor”, and rated A-II (Adults and adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “cartoonish mayhem, some peril,” and “fleeting scatological wordplay.”)
(P.S. Keep an eye out for a post-credits “sneak peak” of Frozen 2.)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.