Because of the industry’s ever vigilant watch to find the next movie franchise, it was inevitable that after the popularity of Disney’s Wreck-It-Ralph there would be a sequel. This time, the one-time villain, now a lovable lug, Ralph (voiced by the equally lovable John C. Reilly) extends his adventures from the confines of the video arcade and ventures into the wide, wide world of boundless creative possibilities for both the writers and the animators – the Internet. And that’s exactly what happens. Well, at least for the film’s first two acts.
It’s six years since Ralph and the racer with the slightest of technical glitches, Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman with the candy-coated cutesy-pie voice) became the best of buddies. Once the doors close on Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade, and Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) has switched off for the night, Ralph and Vanellope spend their evenings hanging out, playing trivia, and having fun with burping contests, waiting for the sun to rise the next morning when the arcade will open once again.
It’s a life that suits Ralph perfectly fine. He’s hanging out with his best buddy at night and wrecking buildings in his game during the day. But Vanellope is different. Aware that she and Ralph are just a series of ones and zeros, she gets restless and ponders her existence, questioning the meaning of her digital life, wondering if there’s something else out there that could make things that little more, well, exciting. It’s just at that moment when arcade owner Mr. Litwak arrives back at his business for another day of work and plugs in something brand new. Wi-Fi. “Wiffy?” asks Ralph, confused. “Or is that Wyfee?”
Because of a missing part in Vanellope’s Sugar Rush video racing game, a part that is no longer manufactured but can be found on eBay, Ralph and his racing buddy take matters into their own hands. From within, they’ll find eBay for themselves, get the missing part, and have it mailed to the Arcade. After a dazzling speed-of-light ride through the Wi-Fi connecting cable, Ralph and Vanellope stumble into the modem, which from their point-of-view on the inside looks like the most high-tech, elaborately designed shopping mall interior ever. But it’s when they walk through the doors and step outside into the ever-expanding metropolis that is the Internet with its buildings representing familiar names such as Snapchat, Amazon, IMDB, and YouTube they begin to realize the enormity of what they’re up against. “Guess we’ll know where to go if we need a pair of goggles,” states Ralph as he passes the Google building.
Among the themes of friends and family, Ralph Breaks the Internet can also be viewed as a cautionary tale. Like the child who unwittingly stacks up mom and dad’s credit card because he’s not entirely sure what he’s doing when pressing that Enter button, Ralph and Vanellope haven’t a clue when they get to eBay. Making bids and throwing out numbers is so much fun; the higher the number, the more fun it is. It’s only when they’re told that the thousands they’ve just bid represent dollars that their merriment quickly dissolves. Now they’ve got to find the money, a task that takes them from one misadventure on a website to another as they stumble over an endless array of get-rich-quick schemes and various other scams that can regularly pop-up while exploring the web.
Vanellope discovers the game Slaughter Race, an adult-only version of her Sugar Rush, lead by speed racer Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot) and she’s smitten. When Ralph points out that while the violent racing game might initially be exciting for Vanellope, it’s not normal. “I want this to be my normal,” the pint-size heroine declares. It’s as if she’s found what she’s looking for. And even Ralph has to admit, “The attention to detail is pretty amazing.”
But the most creative of all the sites the pair encounter along the way is when they fall into Oh My Disney, a sequence that spoofs heavily on a studio’s own product. At first, you can’t help but wonder if the organization has dangerously pushed the envelope on self-promotion with its entryway tabs that lead to all things Star Wars and Marvel a little too far. But once Vanellope hides from some pursuing Storm Troopers and hangs out with royalty among all the Disney princesses, the episode completely wins you over. Beloved characters such as Belle, Ariel, Anna, and Elsa fuss around the new Disney princess from the video arcade, all voiced by the original performers, Paige O’Hara, Jodi Benson, Kristen Bell, and Idina Menzel, and all asking questions in rapid succession, wanting to know Vanellope’s story and whether it reflects their own. “Do you have magic hair?” asks Rapunzel, “Do animals talk to you?” asks Cinderella, “Were you kidnapped or enslaved?” asks Belle. “Are you guys okay?” asks an overwhelmed Vanellope. “Should I call the police?”
While relaxing out of costume and lounging in pants and sweatshirts – Ariel’s top reads Thingamy-Bobs while Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora reads Nap Queen – they advise Vanellope on how to clear her mind by staring at water, just as Moana did, and a song will come. Even though the film is not technically a musical, Vanellope stares at a puddle in the street, hoping for inspiration, and suddenly bursts into A Place Called Slaughter Race, a hilarious take on any Disney princess soul-searching song, with lyrics “…Was that a metaphor/Hey, there’s a dollar store/Look, I’m rhyming!” The whole sequence leaves you giddy with delight.
There’s also a somber moment of surprising reality when Ralph accidentally walks into a website’s Comments Section and reads just how soul destroying those negative comments from internet trolls can be. But it’s in that final act when things falter.
True to the film’s title, Ralph really does break the internet by accidentally releasing a virus from the ominous dark web. And it’s here where you feel the film’s 114-minute length as the character does whatever he can to save the day. It goes on too long. Way too long. Plus, in on an odd way, without divulging plot-spoilers, what occurs feels uncomfortable. As a result, what began so strong with eye-popping creativity and invention, plus some very big laughs, suddenly stumbles. Because of this, ultimately the film wears out its welcome.
Knowing how the industry works, if box-office returns on the sequel match what happened with the original, which it probably will, Disney will no doubt pave the way to keep the franchise alive with a third. But unlike the Toy Story series that, to date, has never missed a step (there’s a fourth on the horizon) Wreck-it-Ralph has faltered. For the time being, before they start plans for another sequel, maybe the studio should pause before rushing back to the digital drawing board and heed the advice printed on Elsa’s sweatshirt, the one that reads, Just Let It Go.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 114 Minutes