- Movie Rating -

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

| December 4, 2018

I have spent the better part of a year writing individual essays on every animated feature in Disney’s official cannon from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Moana and the one thread that seems to flow through all of them is that they are timeless.  Even if they employed themes of the moment, the stories still ebbed toward the idea that they will be appreciated for decades to come.  Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney’s newest animated feature may not be so lucky.  Here is a movie so heavily steeped in the internet culture of the moment that it may be dated by the time it hits video in a couple of months.  Internet trends change so fast that you are left to wonder if people watching the film in 2025 will still be hep to references to click bait, Internet trolls, screaming goat videos, snapchat or Rick-rolling?

That’s not to say that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a bad movie.  Heavens no.  It is actually a very entertaining sequel that is not simply satisfied to sit back and be a clone of the previous adventure.  Wreck-It Ralph was a cute nostalgia trip that took place inside the world of old school platform arcade games and dealt with two game characters Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope Von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman) who were outcasts from the video game world – he because he wanted to escape the narrow destiny of just being the villian in a video game and she because she was a game glitch.

The sequel catches up to them six years later and finds the content Ralph still working his days as a video game villain at Litwak’s Arcade and then at night hanging with Vanellope at Tappers enjoying root beer.

The first few minutes of the movie feel like a happy post-crisis epilogue from the first film but that ends when a new crisis enters their arcade world.  A player seated at Vanellope’s racing game Sugar Rush accidentally breaks the steering wheel.  The owner of the arcade can’t fix it because the company has gone out of business and decides to unplug the game and retire it.  Of course, inside the world of Sugar Rush this means that all of game characters are now homeless, so Ralph and Vanellope devise a plan to buy the replacement wheel on Ebay, but in order to do that, they have to travel inside the arcade’s WiFi and locate Ebay itself.  Here the Disney animators use their creative skills to create the vast and beautiful world of the internet, a cybernetic city that looks like an infinite capitalist utopia loaded with brand names of every size and shape where, for the first time, Ralph and Vanellope discover new innovations that their limited scope of platform gaming hasn’t provided.

This has an especially influential impact on Vanellope who has begun to feel that the limited parameters of Sugar Rush are beginning to feel confining.  She knows every track, every bonus, every easter egg so there’s nothing new.  Inside the internet she discovers a new racing game, a dangerous street racer called “Slaughter Race” and wonders if moving to a new game might not be such a bad idea.  Will this put a strain on her friendship with Ralph?  Will he do something stupid in the name of preserving their friendship.  Well . . . yeah.  Will he, say . . . break the internet to make it happen?

Oddly enough, the movie is more interesting when it deals with Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship then when it mines comedy about the internet.  The friendship is an interesting twist.  We feel for these two.  We know why they’re friends.  We can feel the bond between them, and so it’s a nice touch that the movie has the guts to include the unique message to kids to not only be themselves but to let their friends be themselves as well – your friends don’t have to be just like you in order to be your friends.  That’s a daring approach.

Where the movie comes up short, I think, is in its depiction of the world of the internet.  There is so much to be explored and so many things to satirize that when the movie is over you realize just how much the movie has missed.  Part of the problem with Ralph Breaks the Internet is the idea of exploring the internet in a film offered by Disney.  In my year-long study of Disney’s animated product, I have found that they are often the victim of their own brand – even in the Disney Renaissance, they were constrained by the limits of that brand when they wanted to explore new territory.  You can feel a lot of that here.  Most of us know the internet like the letters in our own name and by that we know that the real internet is a place that is often nasty and hateful place overpopulated with squatters, trolls, fake news, pop-up ads, comment sections and, of course, disturbingly easy-to-access pornography.  Since this is a Disney film, obviously those issues cannot be truly explored, but perhaps they could have been acknowledged in a subtle way.

The absence of even a hint that such things exist on the information superhighway feels startlingly overlooked.  There is a moment when Ralph enters into the comment section of one of his own viral videos and gets his feelings hurt but the movie quickly drops this and moves on to something else.  Why not comment on this?  Why not comment on the ways in which some people hide behind their computers and throw hate rocks at other people?  As much as I love the visuals and the way that it points out certain inequities of the use of the internet, you are left to wonder if the film couldn’t have been a cautionary tale to kids to use it responsibly.

But, I don’t want this to be a lengthy screed about what the movie doesn’t have.  What it does have is a bright and colorful world, showing us an insider view of the internet and seeing things from the other side.  Subtly the movie does comment on our dependence and manipulation by certain entities.  Human users are represented by block-headed avatars who are easily led from one thing to the next, sometimes by force.  That commentary works, but you sense that there’s not enough of it, either by the film’s time constraints or the limits of the Disney brand.  It’s hard to say.

But again, for what it has, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a fun movie.  Not a great one, not the great and powerful commentary that it could have been.  One of the best assets is that for all its commentary on internet culture, the movie extols a greater virtue on the value of human relationships, that friendships are more valuable than anything, the allowing your friends to be themselves is valuable too.  That’s the unexpected lesson here, and what a wonderful lesson it is.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2018) View IMDB Filed in: Kids