The original Wreck-It Ralph from 2012 was one of those films that pleasantly surprised me with how good it was: a simple tale of friendship, video gaming, and a bad guy trying to prove that he’s not so bad after all. The sequel, Ralph Breaks The Internet, is, if anything, even more of a surprise. With the setting being moved from a video game arcade to the entire Internet, it would have been easy to build the film entirely out of cheap jokes and references, a possibility that the trailers didn’t do much to assuage. In actuality, there’s clearly been a great deal of effort put in, and the film manages to be both crammed with amusing references and tell a great, emotional story.
Six years after the events of the first film, video game characters Ralph and Vanellope are still best friends who spend practically all their spare time hanging out together. When Vanellope mentions that she’s growing dissatisfied with her racing game, Sugar Rush, Ralph tries making a new track for her – unfortunately, this well-meaning gesture results in the game getting broken, and there’s only one suitable replacement part on eBay, which the arcade owner can’t afford. Luckily, wi-fi has just been installed in the arcade, so Ralph and Vanellope head out into the massive world of the Internet to get their hands on the part. Naturally, the quest ultimately becomes more complicated than simply visiting eBay, and when Vanellope becomes enamoured with the fresh and unpredictable opportunities of online gaming, Ralph fears that his best friend is going to abandon him.
The film’s portrayal of the Internet as a living world is wonderfully creative. Well-known websites become buildings, and users become little cubed figures being transported from place to place. Well-known Internet functions are hilariously anthropomorphised, such as the search engine who keeps interrupting with his autofill (“Um…” “Umbrella? Umbridge? Uma Thurman?”) and the salespeople who shove pop-ups in users’ faces. There’s a great deal of fun to be had throughout, from both the jokes and the recognisable details that can be picked out. For example, there’s the series of “BuzzTube” videos that Ralph makes, which include ASMR and a reaction video. The well-marketed scene where Vanellope meets the Disney Princesses is enjoyable; most of the princesses are voiced by their original actresses, and stay true to character while also being tongue-in-cheek. The film chooses to maintain a neutral approach about how it portrays the Internet as a whole, neither going overboard in celebrating it nor being too cynical; ultimately, the Internet is what it is.
Alongside all that is the tight, well-paced story, which manages to be considerably more emotionally complex than the first film; Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship is used to provide some fresh life lessons about friendship. Ralph and Vanellope want different things out of life – Vanellope wants something new and unpredictable, while Ralph is comfortable with his familiar routine – and find themselves questioning whether this should affect their friendship. And when it looks like Vanellope might be going down a path away from Ralph, he has to deal with the difficulty of letting someone who means so much to him be their own person and live their life, beyond their relationship with him. One of my complaints about Incredibles 2 was that the “twist villain”, now so common in Disney and Pixar films, was too predictable; no such fear in Ralph Breaks The Internet, where there isn’t really a villain at all, though there is still a significant threat that needs to be overcome at the end. Instead, it’s what goes down between Ralph and Vanellope that forms the heart of the narrative and is easily strong enough to carry it.
Ralph Breaks The Internet provides everything you could want in a Disney film, and it just beats Incredibles 2 as my favourite animated film of the year. But of course, there is still Into The Spider-Verse to come…