I Love the Awesome Ladies of Ralph Breaks the Internet
Also, I want to go to Slaughter Race.
**Spoilers for Ralph Breaks the Internet.**
The most anticipated scene in Ralph Breaks the Internet is probably the fabled princess scene. Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), while perusing the world of Oh My Disney online, stumbles upon the entire Disney princess lineup. The princesses nearly start a fight, until they realize that Vanellope is a princess just like they are.
It’s the scene they’ve hyped up the most in marketing, mostly because the draw of all the princesses in personalized loungewear is a powerful lure for those of us who love a good Disneybound. Many assumed it would be a cash grab sequence, and while it’s certainly fanservice friendly, it also has a surprisingly powerful message.
The film itself, when it avoids memes and when Ralph gets out of the way, is fairly forward-thinking with regards to the female characters. Vanellope gets an arc that focuses on finding her own independence, along with the other major women in the film, from Gal Gadot’s Shank to Taraji P. Henson’s Yesss—to, yes, even the princesses. While he’s the title character, future films might do better ditching Ralph and just focusing on Vanellope.
Vanellope starts out frustrated with her place in the world. She plays the same game every day, and then each night is spent getting up to shenanigans with her friend Ralph. When voicing this frustration to Ralph leads to her game being endangered, she heads to the internet to find her game a new steering wheel on the promised eBay.
But steering wheels cost money, and Vanellope’s quest to earn enough cash leads her to the game Slaughter Race, a Grand Theft Auto-esque romp through an apocalyptic Los Angeles.
There, she encounters Shank. Shank is cool, insightful, and a damn good racer; she’s able to take on Vanellope after Vanellope tries to steal her car. For Vanellope, the freedom to race through the ever unpredictable world of Slaughter Race is the freedom she craves. More importantly, Shank provides her with support she’s not getting from Ralph. Whereas Ralph wants everything to stay the same, Vanellope needs to grow; Shank advises her on that, and Vanellope finds herself wanting to stay in Slaughter Race.
The princesses are the ones who help Vanellope realize what she wants, by encouraging her to sing about her dreams into her reflection in water (or, in this case, a spilled soda). Vanellope sings her way through why she loves Slaughter Race and ultimately decides to stay as a result. Her choice isn’t framed as selfishness, or as being in the wrong. Ralph, when he tries to get Vanellope to come back to the arcade with him, is shown to be the villain; his insecurities literally almost destroy the internet.
Vanellope is shown to be the hero for following her dreams and choosing to leave behind her old life to embrace her new dream. We see her thriving when Ralph calls her to ask how she’s doing. In the end, there are no negative consequences for her actions; she’s rewarded for taking agency and moving forward with her life instead of just following Ralph. It’s an empowering message to send to young kids—young girls especially.
Shank and her friend Yesss are both cool characters who are shown to be in charge of their respective sites without being belittled by male colleagues or shown by a male character that they don’t know what they’re doing. They are simply presented as being capable, and we see them being capable onscreen, as well. (By the way, when can we get them to interact? In a bonus scene? Please?)
Even the princesses ultimately get their moment to shine in a scene where all of them work together to save Ralph from falling to his demise. Sure, we can argue over whether Disney self-parodying the Princess formula is a bit on the nose, but it’s a cute moment that proves that, once again, the ladies have this on lock.
It’s not the most feminist film to come out of Disney’s animation studios, but it is on the right track. I left wanting to see more of Vanellope’s adventures on the internet. Hopefully, if they continue to make films with these characters, Vanellope can take the lead. That spunky little racer deserves her own spinoff.
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