Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck it Ralph 2 Review
If you didn't know that you've really missed Ralph and his pals over the last 6 years since Wreck-It Ralph and wanted to spend some quality time with him again, Disney is here to tell you about it. For all of Disney's recent cashgrab attempts at peddling sequels and live-action remakes to susceptible audiences, though, Ralph Breaks the Internet turns out to be a sequel whose existence you can still question but not its actual merits.
A loving and hating ode to the internet and the destructive power of something so constructive (and vice versa), the story picks up 6 years after the original events and follows Ralph and Vanellope on a new adventure as they go "into" the Internet to try and save Vanellope's arcade game Sugar Crush before it gets destroyed forever.
To start with criticism, the film puts maybe too much on its plate in term of the themes it comments on throughout its runtime. The apocalyptic visual tone during the initial game shutdown is a nod towards the still ongoing refugee crisis and the identity crisis that comes from such displacement. For an animated Disney film, directors and writers Rich Moore and Phil Johnston have a lot more on their mind than just princesses and wonderfully animated action-adventure sequences (both of which this film includes as well). Then comes Vanellope's constant glitching as a metaphor for young women "acting out" and feeling "emotions" when they feel tied down by patriarchy. The Sugar Crush game itself is the patriarchy and the lack of freedom it affords its subjects.
Then you add to that the symbolism of saving video games as an attempt to protect the innocence in kids that is lost due to such immigration calamities, the "insecurity" virus (that's a straightforward one), the alluding to empty nest syndrome for Ralph, etc and there's more subtext here than actual text.
The reason why RBTI manages to get away with this slight brain muddle is that the setup is simple enough (maybe even a bit predictable) and it has enough potential for visual dynamism and constant gags to keep things interesting, using different backstories of gaming characters and internet beings and melding together a variety of animation styles every now and then, mixing the old-school look of Ralph and his arcade friends versus the modern, more realistic animation of the present day online video games.
More than anything, the film does well to stick with its 2 primary characters through all of this, when there was a lot to distract. The Internet is full of colorful characters after all. Disney went self referential to the point of even referencing their fans and trolls alike. In the world of superhero team ups and shared universes, the Disney princesses were not going to be left behind. And what's a Disney princess film without a song about her feelings while staring into "important" water. By the time the film comes to a close, every single major social media platform has been name-dropped (and laughed at). But throughout, Moore and Johnston never waver from Ralph and Vanellope, keeping their quest at the center, and more importantly, their relationship. In fact, Vanellope maybe gets more screentime than Ralph himself and she's probably the better written, more layered character in the mix.
Coming up with a setup and punchline is hard enough on its own. It's much harder to mine consistent laughter from the interactions of characters while maintaining their integrity and what makes them them. Even harder is to then do it in a second movie with any degree of success and RBTI gets major points for finding new angles to come at its pre-established characters throughout. The film is greatly aided by the performances, which are all great without reaching the point of extraordinary. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman infuse their characters with enough humanity that they make you forget they're in fact just video game characters who are slaves to our whims all the time otherwise. They're ably supported by the who's who of talented indie comedians who come and go and provide a laugh when needed.
The Internet has made the arcade gaming parlors obsolete, destroyed the old world as we knew it. Ours is a generation full of self-obsessed narcissists looking for the next new. But for all the infatuation with social media and its facade, there are still a few left in this modern world who recognize the value of all that's been lost with time and are constantly trying to bring it back in some form. Finding and living the new doesn't have to mean that all you've known so far has to be left behind. It shouldn't be that simple. Rich Moore and Phil Johnston recognize that and just as the end credits start to roll, so do you.
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