2012’s Wreck-It Ralph was a hit for Disney and proved to be a charming adventure set inside the world of arcade video games. Its mass appeal was owed to it nostalgia and sharp sense of self- awareness. Adults were attracted to the 1980’s game-play while kids liked the animation and overall aesthetic of the movie. It was a crowd pleaser to say the least and a sequel was always going to be inevitable.
I will begin my review of Ralph Breaks the Internet with a glaring observation of the title and the missed opportunity to call it Ralph Wrecks the Internet… after all Ralph is a wrecker, not a breaker. But… so be it. 6 years after the original movie Ralph (John C. Reilly) is back, along with his best friend Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and a slew of characters, new and old. When the owner of the ‘Litwak’s Family Fun Centre & Arcade’ installs Wi-Fi the characters inside the games are perplexed by its strange and seemingly irrelevant existence, however when Vanellope’s game is damaged and put up for sale, Ralph decides to venture into the Internet to visit eBay to purchase the missing piece that will restore the game and save the characters within it. Vanellope travels alongside him and discovers a new and exciting game called Slaughter Race.
The story in and of itself is a natural progression from the first film, and the trajectory of Ralph and Vanellope’s story is a tried and true formula. Their friendship is cute and the sincerity of their characters oozes off the screen to elicit “awws” and “nawws” from its excitable audience. But here lies the problem with Ralph Breaks the Internet: it is little more than an animated billboard, banging the viewer over the head with an endless assault of brand names and endorsements. They’re all represented, from Google, Twitter and Amazon, to Facebook, Snapchat, Fandango and more. It’s a shameless barrage of big-name brands, and none more shameless than Disney itself. A large portion of the film takes place within “Oh My Disney”, which is – in reality – Disney’s online digital platform. When inside this world the audience will lap up references from Star Wars, Marvel and The Muppets (amongst many others) while unaware that they are being sold Disney’s upcoming Disney+ streaming platform. It’s all too tasteless for my liking.
Furthermore, the film poses little to no cautionary tale as it endlessly promotes addictive online behaviour. Online shopping and the ease at which people can overspend is fundamental to the film’s narrative, and yet after accumulating massive debt, our two heroes are able to make back the money with ease (and without repercussion) and even venture into the dark-web where acquiring a malicious virus is no big deal. Yes, yes, I know – I’m being a grumbler. And it’s true that children won’t understand the implications of these mature themes, but just as we produce commercials to educate how bad adult behaviours inform childhood development, there are parallels to be drawn here too.
So obviously Ralph Breaks the Internet makes it very easy for a film critic to be cynical and while “criticism” is my objective, I will reign in my suspicions for now and refer to some of the movie’s positive attributes, of which there are many. Disney pokes fun of itself and addresses various contemporary social issues, most notably gender equality and the resurgence of the women’s rights movement. In a particularly effective scene Vanellope meets ALL of the Disney princesses, from Snow White and Cinderella, to Ariel, Pocahontas, Mulan and Jasmine; every Disney princess from over the years is represented and their slumber-party style banter is wonderfully written. No longer damsels in distress, they are a bunch of strong-willed women whose recollections of the men in their lives are both hilarious and topical. Their screen time is substantial and their presence is affirming.
Of course, as alluded to earlier, the film is populated by characters from all of Disney’s properties, with original voice-actors reprising their roles. This makes for a fun “spot-the-reference” style of viewing, similar to what Spielberg did with Ready Player One. The universe created in Ralph Breaks the Internet is jam-packed with teasers and Easter eggs, which ought to keep astute fans revisiting the movie several times over.
The voice talent is excellent. Reilly and Silverman give fantastic lead performances. Return players include Ed O’Neil, Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer, most of whom have small precursory roles, with newcomers including Gal Gadot, Alfred Molina, Taraji P. Henson and Alan Tudyk. It is a strong line-up of talent and their characters are as equally charming as each other. Each of these new characters represents a particular nuance within the Internet, such as Tudyk playing a search engine, or Henson as an algorithm who determines which video uploads trend or not. Suffice to say, the techno references are rife and grandparents taking their grandchildren to see the movie will have absolutely no idea what’s going on.
The visual design of the movie is glorious and plays well on the big screen. As the characters from the 8-bit arcade world venture into the high-res universe of the Internet, the screen throws a never-ending display of colour and animation mastery at the audience. It is a vast tapestry of intricate detail and a showcase of exceptional craft. Of course, it’s a shame that the first thing we see inside the Internet is a big fat Google logo, followed by incessant symbols of mass consumerism. Most moviegoers will laugh at the familiarity of bad online habits, but others may question the integrity of Disney’s storytelling.
Whatever the case and wherever you stand on the issue, there is no denying that Ralph Breaks the Internet is ultimately a fun adventure, and that it has enough moments of sincerity and charm to afford it a moderate review. Would Screen Realm offer half marks, I would be inclined to give it a centre score of 2.5 stars, however given the delightful addition of those Disney princesses, I feel happy enough to bump it up a half-notch.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ opened in the US on November 21 and opens in Australia on December 26.