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Ralph Breaks the Internet Movie Review

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) movie poster Ralph Breaks the Internet

Theatrical Release: November 21, 2018 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston / Writers: Phil Johnston (story, screenplay & characters); Pamela Ribon (story & screenplay); Rich Moore, Jim Reardon (story & characters); Josie Trinidad (story)

Voice Cast: John C. Reilly (Wreck-It Ralph), Sarah Silverman (Vanellope von Schweetz), Gal Gadot (Shank), Taraji P. Henson (Yesss), Jane Lynch (Calhoun), Jack McBrayer (Fix-It Felix), Alan Tudyk (KnowsMore), Bill Hader (J.P. Spamly), Alfred Molina (Double Dan), Ed O'Neill (Mr. Litwak), Sean Giambrone (The Eboy), Timothy Simons (Butcher Boy), Ali Wong (Felony), Hamish Blake (Pyro), Maurice LaMarche (Tapper), Rich Moore (Sour Bill, Zangief, Stormtrooper), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Brad Garrett (Eeyore), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Corey Burton (Grumpy), Vin Diesel (Baby Groot), Michael Giacchino (FN-3181), Kevin Deters (Stormtrooper), Colleen Ballinger (Colleen), Jason Mantzoukas (Hey Nongman), Irene Bedard (Pocahontas), Kristen Bell (Anna), Jodi Benson (Ariel), Auli'i Cravalho (Moana), Jennifer Hale (Cinderella), Kate Higgins (Aurora), Linda Larkin (Jasmine), Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel), Paige O'Hara (Belle), Pamela Ribon (Snow White), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Ming-Na Wen (Mulan)

 

There are too many Disney sequels to count, but only three have hailed from Walt Disney Animation Studios, been made for theatrical release, and feature in the storied canon. The Rescuers Down Under (1990), released thirteen years after its unspectacular predecessor,
remains a puzzle and the only outlier to break up the musical renaissance from the end of last century. Fantasia 2000 made some sense as a the realization of an envisioned follow-up to the early Walt masterpiece whose legend grew over the years. And now here is Ralph Breaks the Internet, arriving six Novembers after the original Wreck-It Ralph won over moviegoers with its inventive comedy and adventure set inside the worlds of arcade video games.

For the most part, Disney sequels have been low-budget, direct-to-video affairs that reaped the benefit of the studio's retail allure while distancing themselves from the original films and not really tarnishing their legacies. But sequels are more in vogue now than ever before, especially in animation where even originality-valuing Pixar can no longer resist going back to the well and profiting wildly. A Wreck-It Ralph sequel may not have the clout of being "this year's new Disney classic", but that tradition has been evolving and no one can deny the project being of tremendous interest to the movie-loving public.

Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz journey into the Internet and learn about viral videos in Disney's "Ralph Breaks the Internet."

We open in Litwak's Arcade, which we learn is in California. There, life is perfect for Wreck-It Ralph (voiced again by John C. Reilly, who again receives story material credit), the large 8-bit baddie who made peace with his role and friendship with the young racer Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Vanellope found peace too, as her glitch evolved into something of a point of pride. But there's a sense she's grown restless racing the same three candy-colored tracks during business hours and then going for root beer with Ralph at Tapper's every night. When her game Sugar Rush goes awry and its steering wheel breaks, the arcade's owner hesitates to bid $200 on a replacement part available on eBay.

With Vanellope's gameless status in jeopardy of becoming permanent if Litwak (Ed O'Neill) goes ahead with scrapping Sugar Rush and selling it for parts, Ralph decides the two of them must venture into the newest addition to the arcade: the vast and supposedly dangerous Internet. Once Litwak sets up the wifi connection, Ralph and Vanellope find themselves in the busy and vibrant World Wide Web, where Google is a tower and users turn to the Search Bar manned by KnowsMore (new WDAS good luck charm Alan Tudyk), who is eager to auto-fill queries.

This Internet is to the one you're using now what the first film's worlds were to arcade video games. There's some logic to contemplate, but you get the idea quickly. Pop-up ads, for instance, are intrusive strangers who try to attract interest with clickbaity signs.
One of those, named J.P. Spamly (voiced by Bill Hader), promises Ralph and Vanellope can earn money by playing video games. That's just what they need after their time at eBay leaves them with a $27,001 winning bid (which defies the site's actual bidding processes, but just go with it) on the Sugar Rush steering wheel and no way of checking out.

Like most pop-up ads, Spamley's job opportunity is a bit too good to be true. He sends the two friends into an edgy Grand Theft Auto-esque online multi-player game where they're supposed to steal a car belonging to a street-smart, crew-leading woman named Shank (Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot). When that doesn't pan out as planned, Ralph tries to come up with a new way to raise the money to save his friend's home game, which sets both him and Vanellope off on separate adventures.

In an effort to raise money, Ralph and Vanellope crash into the online game Slaughter Race, where they meet streetsmart Shank (Gal Gadot) and her crew.

The original Wreck-It Ralph resembled a Pixar movie both visually and thematically. This sequel does so to an even greater degree, especially narratively. Finding Nemo and WALL-E writer-director Andrew Stanton is credited as "Narrative Guru" and you get a sense of his storytelling instincts here. With both studios under the leadership of John Lasseter (who is credited as executive producer for likely the last time for a while), the gap between Pixar and Disney animation narrowed. But Disney has still largely had their own traditions and accomplished personnel to lean on. None of the credited writers including director Rich Moore had worked at Disney before when they made Ralph and you could kind of tell that. The excitement, wonder, and bustling digital canvases you associate with Pixar were all there on Disney's "52nd animated feature."

There is one substantial difference between this sequel and most of Pixar's movies, though. Ralph 2 puts no premium whatsoever upon timelessness. Outside of that three-second shot of Andy's family listening to "Hakuna Matata" while driving to their new home, there is little to tie Toy Story to the '90s. With the exception of the Cars films, which most Pixar fans deem outliers, the studio has avoided including details of time and setting that could age their work. Ralph Breaks the Internet goes completely in the opposite direction. This is a film in the moment. It's going to age terribly and probably require a Leonard Maltin-type figure decades from now to make sense of references that will be lost on viewers who aren't yet alive.

To make things right, Ralph takes the drastic step of journeying to the dark web and asking a shady fellow named Double Dan (voiced by Alfred Molina) about viruses.

Ralph is loaded with references. The first movie limited them to video games, with Disney licensing rights to nostalgia-inducing characters like Q*bert,
Street Fighter's Zangief, and Sonic the Hedgehog. They're all back again, but our heroes venturing outside the arcade into the Internet means anything is fair game: Amazon, Pinterest, social media.

There are two big avenues the movie chooses to explore. The first is YouTube, which is essentially rebranded BuzzzTube. The YouTube logo features elsewhere, but Disney wasn't about to give free advertising to Google's $160 billion enterprise. It's clear just what universe Ralph is delving into as he tries to quickly raise money for that eBay purchase. He creates his own version of popular viral videos, filming himself eating ghost peppers, doing make-up tutorials, and cracking bee puns. (There are bound to be some disappointed kids out there who come away thinking this is all you need to do to make thousands of dollars in a day.) Making this timely material succeed is plenty of sharp and witty commentary on subjects from the fickle, fleeing nature of viewers to the savageness of comments sections. There's even Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), a BuzzzTube algorithm who has to be finessed in a bit that will likely float over young viewers' heads. I don't believe any other film has quite captured the value of wasting time on Internet diversions as well as this, although Bo Burnham's outstanding summer indie Eighth Grade comes close.

The second spot on the Internet explored at length is the one that might divide critics and moviegoers. It's Disney's official fan-oriented site "Oh My Disney", but really that is just the launching point for a celebration of Disney's culture unlike anything ever witnessed outside a theme park or D23 convention. This material was prominently featured (and subsequently dissected) in trailers released months ago, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to those looking forward to this, but it's still a bit overwhelming. This grandiose display of corporate synergy is hard to swallow because product placement and self-promotion are two things widely frowned upon, with good reason, in the art and cinema worlds. There are storm troopers from Star Wars. There is Groot, the talking tree from Guardians of the Galaxy. And you already know, there are the Disney princesses. All of them, even Merida of Pixar's Brave, who is at the center of the stretch's funniest joke.

Part of me bristles anytime I see a Sony electronic product prominently featured in a Sony movie. This is like that practice times a million. And yet, if we are able to view the film just as viewers, without any concern and cynicism for the commercial forces at play, it kind of works beautifully. The Disney princess scenes are show-stoppers, as Vanellope wanders into the backstage room where they gather in between personality quizzes. There's Rapunzel, Mulan, Pocahontas, Ariel, Cinderella, Tiana, Moana, Anna, Snow White, Aurora and so on. When viable, they're all voiced by the actresses who voiced them in their original movies. Clearly, the scenes are less about Disney promoting their properties and solidifying their lucrative brand than about Disney poking fun at themselves and the things that their princesses have in common. It's witty stuff that amuses greater than any "House of Mouse" or Who Framed Roger Rabbit bit ever did. And it also shrewdly raises interest from those wanting a new princess movie.

In the scene that inspired countless trailer views and freeze-frames, Vanellope von Schweetz finds herself in the middle of a room full of Disney princesses (left to right, Ariel, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Moana, Elsa, Tiana, Anna, and Mulan).

If there is an issue to take with all the playful Disney celebration, it's that it seems inessential at best and tangential at worst to the narrative of Ralph Breaks the Internet, which is unwieldy at some times and irrelevant at others. This is, at its heart, an adventurous two-hander about friendship which balloons to a nearly two-hour runtime on funny detours that entertain without really strengthening the story. What do Disney princesses have to do with anything else going on here? That is more of an observation than a complaint.

This is a remarkably fun time and could very well be Disney's funniest movie ever made. But it's also dizzying in its scope and its apparent approach to throw everything in there and leave what sticks. It outpaces Ready Player One in references and cameos, yet also aims to be as epic as WALL-E, particularly in its climax that practically feels like it could have been the centerpiece or starting point of a third movie in the series.

With their box office behemoth Incredibles 2, Pixar felt like they waited a long time to get the sequel just right as a complement to the original film. On Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney didn't have to wait nearly as long to make something faithful to the established universe but just a lot bigger. The second Ralph is undoubtedly more complex than its predecessor visually and narratively. It's existential and conscientious and supremely entertaining. Immersed and amused as it unfolds, hours later the critic must process what he's experienced and let his brain determine if it's okay that he liked it as much as he did.

Ten hours later, I believe it is okay. This may be more muddled and less pure than the original Ralph. It may set a dangerous precedent in cinema for corporate brand advancement and navel-gazing. In just a few years from now, it may be an outlandish relic full of Internet fads that have faded. But right now, Ralph Breaks the Internet is one of the best times you'll have at the movies this year.

Important tip: though the end credits are long, you'll want to stick with them. A couple of scenes, one playing mid-credits and one following the slow scroll, are both great and do their part to ensure you leave this with a big smile on your face.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Dr. Seuss' The Grinch The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Smallfoot Instnat Family The House with a Clock in Its Walls
2018 Animated Films: Teen Titans GO! To the Movies Incredibles 2 Isle of Dogs Early Man
Wreck-It Ralph Big Hero 6 Frozen Zootopia The Emperor's New Groove

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Reviewed November 14, 2018.



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