This November, families have a chance to decide between two cartoon villains to treat their kids to. Illumination Entertainment’s The Grinch, a perfectly affable and admittedly adorable – if toothless – remake of the Dr. Seuss classic, and Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet. A sequel to 2012’s critical and commercial success Wreck-It Ralph, the follow-up directed by Phil Johnson and Rich Moore (Zootopia) reacquaints us with Ralph’s 8-bit world, wherein he happily stars as a stocky bad guy in an arcade game called Fit-It Felix, content as a clam in his closed-loop routine.
When he’s not smashing buildings, Ralph haunts the local root beer dive with BFF Vanellope von Schweetz, who dreams of breaking off the track and experiencing something unfamiliar. Hoping to give her a taste of novelty, Ralph creates a new course in Vanellope’s racing game, accidentally breaking the steering component and potentially dooming her to homelessness. Their only hope? The WiFi recently installed in Litwak’s arcade and with it the hopes of finding a replacement part before Sugar Rush is forever retired. Embarking down the yet entirely unexplored router, Ralph and Vanellope jump down the rabbit hole of the internet encountering much of the web’s foibles we’re so well acquainted with. Once it gets going, Ralph Breaks the Internet moves at nonstop neck-break speed, rarely pausing for any speck of boredom to settle in. Having Ralph and Vanellope explore the ins and outs of the internet makes for some rather amusing meta-humor. From incessant pop-up hucksters to head-scratching search engine autocompletes to the guffaw-eliciting reasons why our networks suddenly drop, there’s a lot of stuff smuggled in here for adults as well as kids, the experience heightened by our shared frustrations with the internet. At times, the animated feature has Inside Out upside, creating a rich, smartly realized, inner-world of the internet. At other junctions, it relies on familiar branding and the easiest road to advance the plot.
Under the banner of the House of Mouse, Ralph Breaks the Internet is privy to an entire stable of characters and iconography (more than any other feature I can think of) and strong-arms everything under Disney umbrella into the feature. Star Wars, Marvel, Winnie the Pooh, Pixar, and – most notably – the entire collection of Disney princesses all factor into Ralph and Vanellope’s journey, the later even getting to riff on the classic Disney princess ballad as she sings about her dreams of featuring in a gritty, post-apocalyptic racing game called Slaughter Race.
The sheer amount of content can be exhausting, and one could spend an easy thousand-words describing the plot, but even as Ralph leans heavily on nostalgia and known properties, it largely manages to give things a new twist and have us look at them in a new light. Basically everything involving the Disney princesses – from Snow White and her poisoned apple on down to the garble-mouthed Merida (“She’s from another studio”) – is pure brilliance; a feminist-leaning meta-commentary on the widely-distributed, and often wildly-outdated, clichés that define these characters. Their cameos are the undisputed bright spot.
The voice cast runs on the easy banter between John C. Reilly’s dim-witted by well-meaning Ralph and Sarah Silverman’s rebellious and sassy Vanellope. Both are firing on all cylinders, giving Ralph Breaks the Internet a big, dumb heart you can’t help but cheer for. Joining them is Gal Gadot as a rough-and-tumble Slaughter Race driver, Taraji P. Henson as a social media influencer algorithm, Alan Tudyk as a Google-like search bar-tender named KnowsMore and Bill Hader as an affable pop-up salesman named Spamley.
The animation is crisp, the humor often on point – despite giving into occasionally groan-inducing scatalogical comedy (burps, farts, “duty” sounding like “doody” jokes; all which get limited mileage from anyone post-pubescent) – and the central message about being a good and supportive friend is kind of impactful if not overwhelmingly emotional. This is not upper-tier Disney Animation nor will it inspire a revisit in the future, but it’s a very charming and amusing theatrical experience nonetheless.
CONCLUSION: Disney’s ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ is the cinematic equivalent of clickbait – you just can’t help yourself but follow it down the rabbit hole. Its easy nostalgia-fueled laughs, clever world-building, and delightful characters make for a breezy distraction, but not one of Disney Animation’s bests.