Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet Is a Meme Come to Life With a Surprising Message
Three out of five "you're my hero" necklaces.
**Warning: Mild spoilers will follow.**
When it comes to this film, as it has with many Pixar films, I found myself wondering who Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph Breaks the Internet was made for. Certainly there are jokes about bodily humor and kiddie gags, but the film seems aimed at an audience that knows the Internet.
The Easter egg game knows no bounds here, with more visual gags than you can catch on the first go-round. There are cameos galore, obscure references, bee puns, and of course, every Disney Princess. There’s also a somewhat touching message about toxic friendships and letting go buried under all the bright and shiny visuals.
Six years after the events of the first film, Ralph (John C. Reilly) has settled into a rhythm. During the day, he wrecks things; by night, he spends time goofing off with his best friend, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). When Vanellope expresses frustration over how routine her life has become, Ralph tries to help his friend, but his good deed proves to cause more trouble than it’s worth and results in Ralph and Vanellope having to find a new steering wheel for Vanellope’s game, on the fabled Internet.
Their journey to raise the money to pay for the wheel leads them to two excellent new additions to the franchise: Shank (Gal Gadot), the star of a violent and vicious online racing game called Slaughter Race, and Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), the lead algorithm of a viral video site called BuzzTube. By far the best characters in the film, I’d be down for them to get their own Disney-Pixar short, since their characters are friends.
Shank comes across as effortlessly cool and an excellent role model for Vanellope, who falls in love with the world of Slaughter Race. Plus, I need her costume for a casual Disneybound as of yesterday. Yesss, with her costume changes and knowledge of cat videos and bee puns, she is both sharp and supportive. She gets a lovely, if somewhat undercooked, moment where she comforts Ralph after he discovers the comments section, which made me want to hear more from her about how she navigates the Internet.
The Disney Princess sequence made the adults in the screening laugh far harder than the kids did. Some of the jokes don’t really land because Disney seems more content to laugh at the criticism than they do actually want to change their formula. Still, it’s not too overly saccharine, and it leads to a fairly excellent few sequences.
Vanellope is the real star of the film: Her arc is what gives it heart. That does mean that Ralph finds himself a bit … extraneous at times. Sure, the memes and viral videos he makes to raise money for Vanellope’s wheel are cute, but he comes across as frustrating for most of the film, and actually sort of fills the role as antagonist a fair few times.
I admire the narrative choice in making the title character the bad guy, but when the film focuses on Ralph, it slows down. Scenes with Vanellope soar, on the other hand. You can’t have a Wreck-It Ralph without the Ralph, but I wish they had.
Overall, for a film trying to cash in on internet culture, it’s not half bad. It doesn’t go for any moralizing statements about screen time or get on a soapbox about the potential dangers of it all. It presents the internet as simply a background for quirky characters to find each other, and to watch cat videos. Seriously, there’s a commendable amount of cat videos.
When the film finally figures out what it wants to say, the waterworks do start coming fairly hard, though not as much as they did during the first Wreck-It Ralph. There’s room for a sequel, as there always is, but I hope that Ralph, who’s learned a lot at this point, steps back, and we focus more on Vanellope’s journey, as she is the far more dynamic of the pair, and her story leaves room for more adventures with Shank and Yesss.
A female-fronted Disney Pixar teamup might be too much to ask for, but here’s hoping.
One last word of advice: Stay through the credits. You won’t be disappointed.
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